In an agreement announced yesterday, the EPA, the state of Wyoming and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes are cooperating to delay a peer review of the EPA's draft report on groundwater contamination in central Wyoming's Pavillion area—the region affected by the groundbreaking announcement by the agency in December that said fracking may have been responsible for polluting groundwater in the area.
The peer review was supposed to begin within weeks, but will now be postponed until after additional groundwater testing has been done.
In yesterday's announcement, the EPA said the reason for the delay is to ensure the report will meet proper scientific standards:
The EPA, the State of Wyoming, and the Tribes recognize that further sampling of the deep monitoring wells drilled for the Agency’s groundwater study is important to clarify questions about the initial monitoring results…
Together with the Tribes, the EPA and the State will convene a group of stakeholders and experts to develop and carry out a plan for further investigation of the Pavillion gas field to identify potential risks to drinking water, including possible sources and pathways for the migration of contaminants. Additional research will be conducted collaboratively using the highest scientific standards and will be subjected to independent peer review.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said the U.S. Geological Survey will conduct two more rounds of testing before July.
More from the Journal:
The water samples will be taken from the same two monitoring wells the EPA previously drilled to test for groundwater pollution in the Pavillion gas field. As before, the samples will be divided up and sent to different labs for analysis…
"Recent discussions between EPA, the State of Wyoming and the Tribes have recognized the value of further sampling of monitoring wells to develop additional information on groundwater quality," Mylott wrote.
People near the tiny community of Pavillion praised the December report. Some had complained for years that their well water began to stink of chemicals around the time that drilling and fracking increased in their neighborhood in the early 2000s. They asked the EPA to investigate their water after what they have described as a reluctance to do so by state environmental officials.
Some Have Doubts
But the announcement does not come without concerns. Again from the Journal:
John Fenton, president of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, said he hoped "the state is here to actually do real science and get real results and not just try to impede the work the EPA is doing. I see some positives, but I also have some reservations about it, too."
The oil and gas industry, especially Calgary-based Encana, the primary operator in the Pavillion gas field, objected to much of the EPA study and report. Wyoming officials, including Mead, faulted the report as well.
Who turns out to be right here—whether it's Fenton and the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens or whether the delay is really to ensure the best possible science—will have tremendous implications for the future of fracking, the potential for any real environmental oversight of the industry, and concerns about industrial groundwater pollution generally.