Even with more cooperation between state and federal officials in the testing of ground water in Pavillion, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Tuesday that unilateral actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are raising concerns.

The EPA, the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) and Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) agreed earlier this year to test and analyze data from two test wells in Pavillion on a joint basis (see Shale Daily, March 1). Last week the USGS issued two reports about groundwater samples taken in April and May but provided no new conclusions (see Shale Daily, Sept. 27).

The governor told a press conference Tuesday that the process has gone pretty smoothly for one of the test wells, but on the second one there has been some disagreement.

In response to hypothetical questions about the disputed original EPA test data that indicated the possible cause for ground water contamination coming from the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the gas wells in the area, Mead said this is not a problem that has a “political fix.” He reiterated that “whatever the science is, whatever the data shows, is what we ought to react to.”

If the hypothetical is right tying fracking to the water contamination, Mead said the Pavillion area itself needs to be examined, recognizing that extremely shallow (1,500-foot deep) wells were drilled compared to the majority of wells being drilled, and the overall geology of the area is unique.

“In addition, these wells were drilled prior to the state’s hydraulic fracturing rules being in place,” Mead said. “In other words, things have changed significantly since these wells were drilled, and it is an area in which there is gas and water at relatively shallow depths.

“So if they find EPA was right on certain points, then we as a state have to figure out how we avoid that, and to determine if the fracking rules we have would have prevented whatever impact there was. We’ll look at that and whatever we need to, we will make sure the rules and regulations we have are adequate. If they are not, then we will make some changes.”

Given the speculation about fracking and the chemicals the process uses in the EPA test well case, the well operator in the area, Encana Corp., late last month asked EPA for “key technical data and information” about water wells retested near its natural gas development to enable the company to properly respond by an October deadline. Meanwhile, the USGS issued two reports last Wednesday that may fill in some of the blanks.

Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. President Jeff Wojahn sent a letter in September to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking the agency to clarify whether the producer would be receiving more data on the well tests. EPA apparently had said it would provide the data to Encana by last Thursday. The data being used by EPA could determine whether Encana would be allowed to continue developing natural gas in the Pavillion area, where it has been operating since 2005.

The USGS reports released last week about groundwater samples taken in April and May “are intended to provide additional scientific information to decision makers and all interested parties on the composition of the groundwater represented in the aquifer underlying Pavillion,” said David Mott, who directs the USGS Wyoming Water Science Center. “While USGS did not interpret the data as part of this sampling effort, the raw data results are adding to the body of knowledge to support informed decisions.”

The first report describes the sampling and analysis plan that was developed to collect groundwater data. A second report provides the raw data and information from the groundwater-quality samples. The groundwater-quality samples were analyzed for water quality properties, inorganic constituents including naturally occurring radioactive compounds, organic constituents, dissolved gases, stable isotopes of methane, water and dissolved inorganic carbon, and environmental tracers.

Mead emphasized in his press conference that all the analysis is still not in. As he has done in the past, he called for avoiding coming to premature conclusions on the matter.

“Well No. 1 we all agreed could be flushed out appropriately and tested, and those are the results that we cooperatively have now,” Mead said. “But on Well No. 2, Wyoming and USGS did not feel there was sufficient water source there to do the flushing necessary to get adequate tests. EPA disagreed with that and proceeded on its own and tested, so we had a data dump [from EPA] last week of all these results.

“As you look at this data you can draw comparisons between EPA’s initial data and where we are now, but I don’t want to go down the road that EPA did previously and draw conclusions prematurely. I have asked [state] DEQ and their experts to get to a point of identifying differences and making reasonable conclusions.

“It is an important enough issue to Wyoming and the rest of the country that early conclusions need to be avoided, and we need to wait until the scientists tell me what they think. I think the collaboration on the first well was a much better process, and I would have preferred for EPA not to go outside that on Well No. 2.”