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Wyoming Oil/Gas Head Resigns After Run-In with Governor

Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll suddenly resigned Thursday, Gov. Matt Mead's office announced late in the day. The resignation came a little more than a week after Doll publicly lambasted the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its handling of the well water and natural gas drilling case near Pavillion, WY, that has evolved into lingering state-federal issue.

"I appreciate Tom's work and his depth of knowledge on oil and gas matters," Mead said. "He has extensive experience in the energy field and has demonstrated a commitment to the [state] Oil and Gas [Conservation] Commission. I appreciate his service and wish him the best."

Mead said his administration will immediately begin the a search for a new supervisor. The state oil and gas supervisor is the director of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Tom Doll was appointed supervisor in 2009.

Although the recent skirmish may have been more semantics than substance initially, by last Wednesday it was apparent that the top Wyoming oil/gas man was at odds with the governor regarding the continuing multi-governmental scrutiny of EPA's two test water wells in the gas fields near Pavillion. EPA initially identified what it thought might be a link between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and local drinking water contamination.

Doll in a presentation earlier in June to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Association meeting in Vancouver, BC, in Canada and in subsequent remarks to news media accused EPA of sacrificing scientific accuracy for political expediency. The remarks came at a time when Mead's administration was trying to work with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and be responsive to residents' concern about the safety of their water supplies and the economic fallout on property values since the EPA began its testing and reports three years ago.

Doll was quoted in an industry trade publication as contending that the EPA Pavillion investigation so far was "more politically motivated than science-motivated." His actual presentation on the association's website said EPA's draft results from the two test wells were inconclusive on whether even local ground water -- let alone drinking water -- had been impacted, and the EPA report was "incomplete, inadequate, erroneous and political science." Doll said it was put out prematurely before Wyoming state officials could review it, or further testing to verify initial data could be done.

Doll went on to say in the presentation that EPA data "erroneously escalated" Pavillion ground water data to national and international levels, and longer term "science based efforts are being planned by the state, the [Native American] tribes, the U.S. Geological Survey, and EPA." Calls and e-mails by NGI's Shale Daily to Doll during the past five or six working days to verify and clarify his remarks at the industry association meeting were not returned.

In the meantime, Doll's allegations of the EPA tests being politicized were strongly denied late last Wednesday by Mead communications director Renny MacKay, who told NGI's Shale Daily Doll's comments "do not reflect the view of this administration," adding that Mead already has directed Wyoming state agencies and their staffs to ensure "an open and transparent process to address the concerns of Pavillion area residents."

MacKay said Doll's comments as presented to him contradict the governor's expectation. "Gov. Mead is committed to ensuring that residents in the Pavillion area have clean drinking water," MacKay said. "It is premature to draw conclusions about the outcome of the current scientific investigation that will be informed by sampling and analysis of the EPA's deep monitor wells."

MacKay added that Mead has emphasized that Wyoming will continue to be "led by science" in the ongoing assessments in the gas fields around Pavillion.

Even though no contamination of local drinking water has yet been confirmed and EPA has said the water is safe, testing and initial reports last year have cast a pall over the area. Businesses and landowners have run into resistance from potential customers concerned about water supplies, according to news reports (see Shale Daily, March 1).

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