An Encana Corp. official on Thursday once again urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw a year-old draft report of groundwater samples near natural gas drilling sites in Pavillion, WY, saying the report was “sloppy” and had led to a “misguided response.”
Saturday marks one year since EPA released the draft on its investigation of groundwater contamination near Pavillion, where Encana has been drilling for natural gas for the past few years (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2011).
Encana’s David Stewart, who leads the company’s environment, health and safety program in Wyoming, talked with reporters during a conference call about what has transpired in the past year. He offered Encana’s perspective on the most recent round of testing by EPA and how Encana management believes the matter should be addressed going forward.
EPA’s “sloppy work” during the sample collection and subsequent testing is reason enough for the agency to drop its investigation, he told reporters.
Groundwater sampling by EPA detected chemicals that are used in gas production, such as hydraulic fracturing. Following complaints about odors and odd tastes, the EPA began sampling drinking water wells in 2009; a second sampling took place in 2010.
“We are very encouraged to report that Encana’s response last winter to the draft was highly bolstered by additional data collected and it supports all of our points expressed last year,” he said. Encana’s conclusions are for EPA to “withdraw the draft report” and “shift from testing the deep underground,” where he said the water samples shouldn’t have been taken.
“A few landowners had ‘palatability’ issues with the water, and that is what brought EPA into this issue to begin with.” EPA instead should be reviewing why some of Pavillion’s water has an odd odor and taste, he said. “First, it was a misguided response…EPA’s involvement was from a handful of complaints on domestic well water quality in the Pavillion field. That relates to palatability, aspects of the drinking water.
“What EPA should have considered is what other data is out there…” A USGS report from the 1950s documented “poor groundwater quality, prior to oil and gas development…Rather than look at elevated sulfate and how it might contribute to palatability, EPA instead focused on the natural gas industry…while ignoring the most likely causes.”
EPA’s conclusions that Encana’s drilling may be linked to the contaminated water already has drawn sharp criticism from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and others. EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the DEQ jointly agreed earlier this year to test and analyze data from two test wells in Pavillion; two USGS reports regarding samples taken in April and May appeared to be inconclusive (see Shale Daily, Sept. 27).
Asked what he thought about the problems some of the homeowners were having with their water, Stewart said there were “a couple of theories that we’ve been looking at. There’s historical groundwater quality issues with the field that need to be taken into consideration,” pointing to the USGS and various groundwater reports. “That should be first and foremost. The domestic samples need to be looked at from a bacterial standpoint to see what’s contributing to the taste and odor palatability problem. That was not done.”
It’s also “unfortunate” that there is no baseline testing on the water quality done before exploration began, said Stewart. Encana now has established “standardized practices in all new plays and around all new wells. It’s pervasive in all operations now.”
EPA had no comment on whether it might withdraw the report.
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