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Wyoming Governor: Fracking Shouldn't Be Political

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has extended an olive branch to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials in the dispute over preliminary results from two federally managed groundwater test wells near Pavillion, WY, and the shallow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas wells that dominate that portion of the state (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2011).

Noting that the EPA has said the local drinking water is safe, Mead emphasized that the test wells looked at groundwater, not drinking water, per se. However, in response to questions at a press conference Tuesday in Cheyenne, WY, the governor acknowledged that the fracking of gas wells in the area is at extremely shallow depths compared to typical gas drilling, and therefore drinking water supplies may be unusually close to the well work.

Even with assurances about the drinking water, Mead said a "fair number" of the local residents are concerned about the drinking water quality, and as a result, they have five-gallon containers of water being supplied by Encana Corp., which operates the gas leasehold under investigation.

Encana has disputed a draft EPA report, which in January said contaminants found in water wells could be linked to fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 23, 2011).

"I don't think that since the last test results came out, tests have shown anything different," Mead said. "That is why I think the state and EPA need to get back in there to do additional testing. But despite all the public interest in this, I don't think this should be a political issue. To me it is an issue of having valid tests, valid review and valid conclusions, and then developing new policy based on those conclusions. So additional testing does need to be done, and we are working on that now [with the state Department of Environmental Quality and EPA]."

Mead said the geology in the area makes for a "somewhat unique formation." Gas wells are drilled only 1,200 feet in some spots, which Mead said relative to most fracking jobs is "extremely shallow." Aside from fracking, in some cases the depth of a gas well is shallower than a water well, he said.

Along with concerns about the well casings, the formation is different in that there is no hard rock formation that helps wall off the area where the fracking is ongoing, said Mead, who noted that all of these factors leave the state and federal authorities with more questions than answers. "It is too early to draw any conclusions, and I think everyone needs to get back to work with the testing, and the examination of the formation, the geology and the water before we reach any conclusions."

Earlier this year Mead asked that the state be allowed to partner with EPA to do more sampling from the test wells and perhaps drill more wells (see Shale Daily, Jan. 19). In December, he also asked EPA to cooperate in a scientific review and analysis of groundwater quality in Pavillion that federal officials assert may have been polluted by drilling and well stimulation practices.

Mead said he is not fighting with EPA and he is not carrying a grudge against EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "We need to work cooperatively with one another; we don't want to draw a line in the sand," said Mead.

Mead said he has not reviewed the estimated 600 documents of additional EPA information on its testing that were released at the end of January, but state environmental department staff have looked at the documents and are in the process of sorting through what they described to the governor as a "data dump."

"This illustrates why we wanted additional time to get and review all the data that is available," he said. "I think time is needed by EPA itself to convene the review panel and have it operate. That panel is going to need some time to wade through everything, so I don't think we have delayed anything."

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