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EPA Seeks Experts for 'Unbiased Review' of WY Water Quality Report

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking nominations of nationally and/or internationally recognized scientists or engineers to conduct a "thorough and unbiased review" of a draft agency report released in December, which found that groundwater in Pavillion, WY, may be polluted by natural gas drilling and well stimulation practices (including hydraulic fracturing).

The EPA notice, which will be published in the Federal Register Tuesday (Jan. 17), is in response to the sharp criticism of the report by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Encana Oil & Gas (USA), the owner of the natural gas field in Pavillion. Mead called on the EPA to cooperate in a scientific review and analysis of the groundwater quality in Pavillion. Encana questioned the validity of some of the report's findings.

The EPA said it was searching for candidates with a "medium to high degree of experience and expertise (and numerous publications, research projects or field experience) in one or more of the following areas:

All nominations for scientific peer review should be submitted via e-mail (peerreview@erg.com) by no later than Feb. 17, the EPA said. Peer reviewers will have access to all public comments on the draft report, which are due to be filed with the EPA by Jan. 27. Encana has asked the EPA to suspend the comment deadline, but the agency has not responded yet (see Shale Daily, Jan. 11).

According to the FR notice, a one-to-two-day peer review meeting will take place in March or April. A second Federal Register notice will be published about one month prior to the external peer review meeting giving the date, location and registration information.

The draft EPA report, released in early December, found that the groundwater in Pavillion contained chemicals that are normally used in natural gas production practices, such as fracking. Encana said the findings were "conjecture, not factual and only serve to trigger undue alarm," while Gov. Mead classified the draft study as "scientifically questionable," noting that more testing was needed (see Shale Daily, Dec. 13, 2011).

Encana Oil & Gas "does not believe the data currently available [in the report] establish a connection between hydraulic fracturing and chronic water palatability concerns in Pavillion field. There are serious issues with the EPA's well construction methods, sampling techniques and data analysis," wrote John Schopp, vice president for Encana's northern Rockies' operations.

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