Baseline water testing proposal under scrutiny

Baseline water testing proposal under scrutiny

Source: http://www.wyomingnews.com, July 21, 2013
By: Trevor Brown

Proposed new regulations move forward after an informal rule-making process.

A plan to require energy companies to test groundwater quality before and after drilling in Wyoming is closer to becoming a reality.

But environmentalists, landowner groups and industry members say how the state implements the policy could shape its effectiveness.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted this week to move into a formal rule-making process to consider mandating baseline water testing.

The proposal calls for companies to sample and test water sources within a half mile before they drill.

Two rounds of water testing then would be required after the drilling.

The water will be checked for pH levels, odor, color, sediment and a list of dangerous chemicals that often are used during hydraulic fracturing.

Gov. Matt Mead announced his plan to require baseline testing when he released his energy policy in May.

The idea was praised by several environmental and landowner groups that longed have lobbied for the policy. But these groups also offered changes to the initial proposed rules released by the state.

The Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition was among the groups that offered public comment during an informal rule-making process that just ended.

Among its recommendations is to require domestic, stock, industrial, municipal and irrigation wells within one mile n instead of the proposed half mile n of the site be tested.

“We basically thought the half-mile radius was not good enough,” said the coalition President Alex Bowler. “The worst thing that could happen to us is our water getting contaminated.”

Bowler said the coalition remains happy that the state is moving forward with requiring baseline water testing.

He added that he understands this could be “an incremental” process. But he said it’s important not to cave to the interests of oil and gas firms who, he says, are against anything that costs them money.

Other groups argued that the proposed rules do not hold oil and gas companies liable if contaminations are found.

It says contaminated samples “shall not create a presumption of or against liability, fault, or causation against the owner or operator.”

The Powder River Basin Resource Council requested that section of the rule be deleted.

“The specific concern is that the rule, as drafted, primarily provides additional ‘cover’ for oil and gas operators and additional evidence to argue against responsibility in the event that pollution or public health problems eventuate,” the group wrote to the state.

“We think (it) reduces the rule’s one potential n incentivizing increased care in fracking operations.”

The council also asked that a special tracer be added to fracking fluid so it can be determined if that enters the water system.

Documents show energy firms also argued for changes n both big and small n to the proposal.

Mark Dalton, general manager for Samson Resources, wrote that the sampling radius should be one-quarter mile instead of the one-half.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming and many other companies suggested the rule only require initial testing and not after-drilling tests.

Darren Smith of Devon Energy said follow-up testing “triples the cost of the rule with no clear environmental benefit.”

Other companies, including Shell, said they are fine with follow-up testing and only requested minor clarifications.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission made some changes to the plan following the informal rule-making process.

That includes letting companies submit a baseline testing “master plan” for drilling activities in a large development.

But much of the proposed rule is unchanged.

The interested groups and the public will have another chance to seek changes.

Jerimiah Rieman, natural resource policy adviser to Mead, said the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission likely will send its proposed rule to the governor next week. The governor will have 10 days to respond and offer changes.

Rieman said there then will then be a 45-day public comment period. He also anticipates that a public hearing will be set because of the large interest in the rule.

After that point, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider further changes. It then could adopt the rule later this year.

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