Oil and natural gas regulators in Wyoming on Tuesday initiated a rulemaking process for exploration and production (E&P) operators regarding water testing as part of the drilling permit application process.

The proposed rulemaking would require E&Ps to include a groundwater sampling and monitoring plan with drilling permit applications that would cover “water sources” within a half-mile of drilling locations for “proposed oil and gas wells,” as well as “dedicated injection and monitoring wells.”

When there are more than four water sources within the half-mile radius, the E&P operators would need to include a plan for selecting the four sources that would be used for approval by the OGCC. With four or fewer sources, the operator must sample and monitor all of the sources. The draft rulemaking includes proposed criteria for operators to use in their selection plans for the water sources. There also is a prescribed set of requirements and protocols for each operator’s sampling and analysis plans.

“Copes of all final laboratory analytical results and spatial coordinates of the water source shall be provided to the OGCC within three months of the sample collection,” according to the draft rules. “All analytical results and spatial coordinates of the water source will be made available to the public.” More than 1 milligram/liter of “free gas” or a dissolved methane detected in a water sample would require a further methane analysis to determine the type of gas involved.

After 10 days of a review by Gov. Matt Mead’s staff and 45 days for more public comments, the three-member Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) is to vote on the proposal in late summer or early fall, an staff member told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. Mead is one of the three commission members.

“The baseline water initiative is a key component of the Wyoming Energy Strategy and part of Wyoming’s responsible approach to oil and gas development,” said Mead following Tuesday’s meeting. “I hope this initiative moves forward sooner rather than later. I recognize the value of the input we have received so far and also know the real work starts now.”

Environmental groups reacted positively to Tuesday’s action. “On the whole, this [draft] rule establishes a solid, scientifically valid framework for groundwater quality testing,” according to Jon Goldstein, senior energy policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). He said he wants the state to preserve the “well-by-well” approach.

EDF intends to stay involved in the rulemaking process, citing the use of a new “master plan” concept covering multiple well sites as needing further clarification and work. “We need to ensure these plans are not a way for each operator to invent their own sampling plans out of whole cloth; these plans must adhere to the core purposes of the program,” Goldstein said.

Wyoming Outdoor Council coordinator Amber Wilson thanked Mead for his leadership on the issue, noting that the draft rule “establishes a foundation that can be added to over time.”

Wyoming regulators, working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have taken the lead in a continuing study in the Pavillion, WY, area of the potential impact on drinking water from gas production activities (see Shale Daily, June 24). For several years regulators had bumped heads over two EPA test wells (see Shale Daily, Dec. 7, 2012; Dec. 9, 2011).