Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), community representatives and Indian tribes will collaborate on the retesting of two water wells near hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations near Pavillion, WY, which were the subject of a controversial EPA report last December (see Shale Daily, Dec. 21, 2011).

The participants will design sampling methodology and other features of testing aimed at resolving issues surrounding the safety of drinking water and ground water in the area. It was announced Thursday that the new testing will take a “best available science” approach to further examine two test water wells. Preliminary results of earlier EPA testing showed chemicals in groundwater similar to those used in nearby fracking in shallow natural gas shale plays.

An announcement of the collaborative agreement was made by Mead, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. They agreed to additional research that meets “the highest scientific standards” and would be subject to independent peer review that is transparent and of the “highest level of scientific integrity.”

“The EPA will work with the state, the tribes and the rural community east of Pavillion to find a long-term and affordable drinking water solution,” said a Mead spokesperson.

The governor got involved after Encana Corp. disputed the draft report of the EPA test, saying the water well testing procedures near the company’s natural gas drilling sites in Pavillion were flawed and failed to account for naturally occurring chemicals.

While the report did not suggest that drinking water had been compromised, the alleged groundwater contamination was widely publicized. Residents and businesses in Pavillion have complained they have been hurt by the agency’s characterization of the preliminary findings (see Shale Daily, March 1). One local news reporter apologized in print for the “scary headlines” and simplistic approach to reporting on the EPA findings.

The fallout led Wyoming state lawmakers earlier this month to unanimously pass a bill that the governor signed to help bring a permanent solution to potential drinking water problems in the Pavillion area. The “Omnibus Water Bill — Construction” would make the state Water Development Commission responsible for the rural domestic water supply program, calling for the design and construction of cistern systems, a water loading station and necessary appurtenances to make the project functional. Lawmakers appropriated $750,000 to get the job done.

In the interim, the EPA has said it will postpone a previously scheduled peer review of its controversial water study.

“EPA has agreed to delay convening the peer review panel on the draft Pavillion report until a report containing the U.S. Geologic Survey data is publicly available,” the parties said. “Wyoming and the tribes appreciate this decision, and in the meantime EPA’s draft report will continue to be open to public comment.”

Once the EPA, USGS and tribes carry out sampling following an approach approved by the state and various stakeholders, the state, EPA and tribes will convene a group of stakeholders and experts to “develop and carry out a plan for further investigation of the Pavillion gas field to identify potential risks to drinking water, including possible sources and pathways for the migration of contaminants.”