Public won’t see Pavillion water report data until after its been reviewed, corrected by Encana, EPA

(Pavillion, Wyo.) – East Pavillion landowners, and others, expressed concerns Thursday afternoon that the public will not have an opportunity to look at independent expert reviewed data on the East Pavillion water well investigation until after the Environmental Protection Agency and Encana Oil and Gas have had a chance to review the data and make corrections.

Landowners in the East Pavillion Gas Field have charged that hydraulic fracturing, a process known as fracking, is the cause of water well contamination in their domestic water wells. Their suspicions were confirmed by an initial EPA two-year-long study, but after industry push back, EPA withdrew from the primary investigation and turned it over to the State of Wyoming.

“I have real reservations about the process that Encana can make corrections,” said landowner John Fenton following a meeting of the Pavillion Working Group Thursday afternoon at the Wind River District 6 Recreation Center. “Especially since Encana granted the state the funds for these studies. I feel like a mushroom here, we’re being kept in the dark. This process isn’t very transparent.”

Todd Parfitt, Director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, who is co-leading the agency review of existing and new data along with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, defended the process. “What we laid out was a framework document to look at all four components, the well bore integrity, surface pits, domestic water wells and the cisterns project. All of that was covered, and as part of the process, we’ll put our report together, the experts review the information, we get feedback from Encana and EPA and then it goes to the public.”

When he was asked why the public couldn’t see the data before it is sent to Encana, Parfitt said, “some of that (information) may get changed in the process. We want to provide info we can all agree on that is reviewed and the best available, rather than have info out there that is not the final conclusion.” He then indicated, “there is still an opportunity for individuals to comment once it is made publicly available.”

Jeff Locker, another East Pavillion resident with a contaminated water well, asked if the public could see what changes were made in the document after Encana’s review. “Otherwise there is no transparency at all, other agencies get to see it, but not us. That bothers me,” he said.

Parfitt said that possibility had been discussed. “We’ve had discussion about that or about adding an attachment to the final report with comments from EPA and Encana. We haven’t discussed how to present that. It’s a possibility.”

Several members of the Powder River Basin Resource Council in attendance also questioned if the well bore integrity review results would be shared publicly. “We will make that data available to the landowners whose wells we sample,” he said, indicating it would be just their own well they could get results for, not all of the wells.

Parfit also noted that the EPA monitoring wells #1 and #2, where traces of hydrocarbons were found in the initial EPA investigation, would not be resampled. Wyoming EPA Water Quality Division representative Mark Thiesse said a total of 13 domestic water wells would be tested. “We just finished sampling the fourth well, we hope to have it all done by June 20th. It’s taking about one day per well.”

Parfitt said the timeline for getting the reviewed data to the individual experts in each focus area would be in the November, December time frame this coming winter.

In reaction to the story on Friday, Governor Matt Mead’s Communication Director, Renny MacKay, asked to clarify that Encana cannot edit the findings after an independent expert review, but they can make suggested corrections if they find mistakes in the data, especially if it is on one of their wells. “EPA has the same opportunity, if a mistake is found, they can suggest a correction, it then goes back for further review before it is finalized.” MacKay also noted that 14 domestic water wells were found with constituent contamination, not several dozen, as originally reported. MacKay said of the 32 total cisterns to be installed in the East Pavillion area, the majority, all but 14, did not have any contamination but were installed “to protect property values.”

From right to left, Todd Parfitt, Wyoming DEQ Director; and Mark Watson and Tom Kropatch from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave updates at the Pavillion Working Group meeting Thursdy in Pavillion. (Ernie Over photo)

From right to left, Todd Parfitt, Wyoming DEQ Director; and Mark Watson and Tom Kropatch from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave updates at the Pavillion Working Group meeting Thursdy in Pavillion. (Ernie Over photo)