Groups offer support, suggest improvements to Wyoming groundwater testing program for oil and gas drilling

July 11, 2013
Contact: 
Jon Goldstein, 505-603-8522, jgoldstein@edf.org
Chris Merrill, 307-223-0071, chris@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org
Lauren Whittenberg, 512-691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org
Richard Garrett, 307-349-2423 richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org

Draft rules that would require oil and gas drillers to scientifically establish the quality of aquifers around sites before drilling occurs — if done well — would be cheap insurance and provide “a first line of defense” for Wyoming citizens, two environmental groups say.

A coalition of groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, submitted comments on Thursday on draft regulations establishing a statewide groundwater testing program in Wyoming.

"Governor Mead and his staff are showing great leadership in this effort,” said Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “The governor is right — and just about everyone agrees — collecting baseline water quality data prior to drilling, and following up with post completion sampling, are necessary steps. If done right, it'll protect everyone: landowners, Wyoming citizens, and industry. Our task now is to participate and do everything we can to help ensure that the final rule is strong, scientifically valid, and protects the people of Wyoming."

Jon Goldstein, senior energy policy manager with EDF, said “On the whole, the draft rule would create a strong, scientifically-valid groundwater testing program. Wyoming regulators and the governor should be praised for the solid, science-based approach outlined in this draft. If these rules stay strong, this program will give Wyoming residents important information about the quality of their water.”

A solid, scientifically-valid testing program will provide a first line of defense in detecting any groundwater contamination that may occur as a result of well development activities – including both surface and subsurface activities – in order to protect public health and quickly remediate any problems that arise.

The draft rule requires sampling from existing water wells within a half-mile radius of proposed oil or gas wells when submitting an application for a permit to drill. Subsequent sampling must be conducted in two future time windows.

The Wyoming draft rule’s statewide applicability, use of a radial approach without an artificial cap on the number of wells tested, ability to rely on the experienced technical staff of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and their understanding of local hydrogeological conditions in reviewing and approving testing plans, and the use of a required Sampling and Analysis Protocol are of special importance.

In particular the groups’ note, Wyoming’s proposed SAP is currently the most detailed guidance provided by any state regarding how private wells should be sampled.

“Overall, Wyoming’s draft rule fixes the mistakes others have made and establishes a strong, scientifically-valid program without costing operators any more than what they will need to spend to comply with other, less valid approaches,” EDF’s Goldstein added.

While the groups offer overall support for the approach taken in the draft, they also recommend several improvements to the program. These include adding clear statements of program and sampling objectives, requiring that well logs and groundwater gradient survey information be reviewed whenever possible, adding a phrase to the liability clause to ensure no assumption is made either for or against liability, requiring baseline sampling reports be completed and submitted with all sampling results to help add explanation and context, and adding a clause requiring consideration of equal treatment of proximate landowners.

The WOGCC is expected to consider comments on the draft rule and decide on proceeding to a formal rulemaking process at a July 16 meeting.

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EDFEnergyEX; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund; and http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council (wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org) is Wyoming’s oldest independent conservation organization. The Wyoming Outdoor Council’s mission is to protect Wyoming’s environment and quality of life for future generations.