For the fourth time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended the public comment period for its investigation into groundwater contamination near Pavillion, WY, this time until Sept. 30.

The agency’s decision is the latest salvo in a long-running controversy among the EPA, the state of Wyoming, Pavillion residents and a subsidiary of Encana Corp., which drills natural gas wells in the area.

“During the extended public comment period, [we] will post additional technical information on the web,” the EPA said in an announcement posted by Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli in Friday’s edition of the Federal Register. “This will include additional details on how the study was conducted, recent information from…sampling, and responses to issues commonly raised by stakeholders.

“The EPA also intends to meet with key stakeholders during this period. [We] will continue to review the status of [our] work on Pavillion in light of the additional information posted in the record and public comments that are received, and will examine a number of options going forward.”

Doug Hock, spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc., told NGI’s Shale Daily the company was disappointed by the decision.

“We don’t see any credible reason for a delay,” Hock said Friday. “We feel it’s a disservice not only to Encana but to the people of Pavillion and to the state of Wyoming. This issue has dragged on for many, many months, and there’s no reason for it to be delayed any further.”

Controversy erupted in December 2011 after the EPA released a draft report that said chemicals normally used in natural gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), were present in groundwater samples collected in Pavillion over a two-year period (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2011). It was the first time a federal agency had linked groundwater pollution with fracking.

Encana has since made numerous calls for the EPA to withdraw the report — and suspend its associated public comment period — on the grounds that the agency’s testing methods were flawed (see Shale Daily, Dec. 7, 2012; Jan. 11, 2012; Dec. 21, 2011).

Subsequent testing by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and industry groups has also cast doubt on the EPA’s findings (see Shale Daily, Oct. 22, 2012; Sept. 27, 2012; May 18, 2012), and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has raised concern as well (see Shale Daily, Oct. 3, 2012; Feb. 8, 2012; Jan. 19, 2012).

The public comment period on the EPA’s draft report began on Dec. 14, 2011 and first expired on Jan. 27, 2012. It was subsequently extended to Oct. 16, 2012, and then to Jan. 15.

“It just seems to go on and on,” Hock said.

The EPA, USGS and Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality agreed to test and analyze data from two test wells in Pavillion on a joint basis (see Shale Daily, March 1, 2012). Pavillion residents first complained about water quality issues in 2008. The EPA collected water samples and began testing in 2009 and 2010 (see Daily GPI, Sept. 3, 2010; Aug. 28, 2009).