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Pavillion, WY, Residents Offered Cistern Systems

Wyoming has set aside $750,000 to help fund cistern systems for Pavillion homeowners whose groundwater may have been contaminated by natural gas drilling, and affected residents will be able to take advantage of that offer, Gov. Matt Mead told reporters last Wednesday.

While attempts to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contribute funding for the individual water reservoirs has not succeeded, talks are continuing with Encana Corp. about helping to subsidize the cost of trucking in water, Mead said during a press conference.

Encana, which has about 250 wells in the region, began drilling in the Pavillion area in 2005, and management contends that the pollution preceded its entry there (see Daily GPI, Sept. 3, 2010). About seven years ago subsidiary Encana Oil & Gas USA enrolled several already contaminated drilling pits into a state voluntary remediation program. According to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, pollution from at least three of those pits had entered the same water zone that several residents tapped for drinking water.

Wyoming and Encana have disputed a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report released last December that linked water contamination in the Pavillion area with chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to stimulate gas production (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2011; Dec. 21, 2011; Dec. 9, 2011). Only preliminary results on the water have been conducted by EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey, and Mead said he couldn't elaborate on the new data until it has been finalized.

An independent review completed earlier this month for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) by consultant S.S. Papadopulos & Associates Inc. concluded that EPA had used unapproved analytical methods, improperly used field procedures and misinterpreted data. IPAA's Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations, said "the science speaks for itself. Unfortunately, the EPA has continued to miss the mark with its draft report. We encourage EPA to work with the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Geological Survey, among other stakeholders, to reexamine the two EPA monitoring wells."

Mead said it was unlikely that Encana would subsidize costs to transport water to the cisterns if it's seen by federal authorities -- and the public -- as an admission of guilt.

"Encana is in this area where there's a lot of spotlight on what they've done," Mead told reporters. "Will they be admitting something if they do this up there?" The Calgary-based producer already is providing Pavillion residents with water in drinking jugs, but Mead said it was "not a good way" to economically deliver water to the area.

The state had considered building a water pipeline to the area, but it would have cost at least $2 million, according to Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Mike Purcell. However, Wyoming would pay the $5,000-10.000 cost for each cistern system using money designated by the state legislature for that purpose earlier this year. However, he noted, each household would be responsible for the $100-200 monthly cost of transporting the water from Pavillion or Riverton, WY, unless the cost is subsidized by Encana, federal officials or the state.

If the affected Pavillion homeowners don't want a cistern system, "I don't know what else we would do," said Purcell.

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