Ever been to Wyoming?
Well, it’s not known for its environmentalism, with company towns popping up nearly side by side.
Wyoming’s reputation for its oil and gas reserves is growing rapidly with the natural gas boom and State regulators are known for sitting with dollar signs in their eyes and giving the energy companies the right of way. Meanwhile Pavillion, Wyoming has become the poster child for water contamination related to the process of fracking.
Back in 2008, residents complained to state agencies about foul smelling and tasting water from the wells on their property. Turns out the increase of these complaints coincided with the booming natural gas development in the area. Then a couple of years later, Gasland hit theaters and we all watched residents from across the country light their water on fire.
When the Wyoming state agencies failed to conduct water monitoring in Pavillion, residents took it to the regional EPA, who finally listened to the concerns of the residents and began monitoring the well water in Pavillion, WY.
Turns out, the EPA study found that there are hazardous chemicals in the drinking water, like methane, petroleum hydrocarbons and naphthalene. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) actually recommends that residents “use ventilation when showering” and “avoid fire or ignition sources while water is running”.
Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Last month, the US EPA announced that it was abandoning the study. No more samples, no more peer review, it’s time for them to pack up their bags and go home claiming that the State of Wyoming will take it from here- with the $1.5 million grant they received from EnCana, the very same company likely responsible for the groundwater contamination in the first place.
To give you a first hand look at what the residents are feeling, below is a letter from John Fenton, the Chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens to the Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead.
Governor Matt Mead
State Capitol, 200 West 24th Street
Cheyenne, WY 82002-0010
June 24, 2013
Dear Governor Mead,
It was unfortunate you were unable to attend your meeting in Riverton on June 20th; we hope your condition has improved.
After reviewing the State’s plan for addressing the contamination impacts in our community, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens (PACC) has the following initial comments and questions.
Although it appears that some of the stakeholders who have worked in the Pavillion area, such as EPA and EnCana, have been included in your planning process, we were not. As you know, PACC was formed by people who live in the affected area. We work on the issues in our community because we are heavily impacted. At this time our main concern is that we were not consulted during your planning process and your plan does not give us any process for input as the investigation moves forward.
We were surprised to learn that the State will now be in charge of the Pavillion groundwater investigation. We were extremely disappointed to learn that we were the last to know. After reviewing your plan, we are also concerned. We have worked with the EPA experts for five years and are concerned that the new experts you are proposing to enlist are yet to be identified. Please clarify this situation for us. We fully support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pavillion, Wyoming groundwater investigation for the following reasons. EPA initially toured our community in 2008, after we had asked the state and industry for help for over five years with no results. The EPA experts and consultants used the latest technology to conduct a strong science based investigation and sampling plan. Throughout the process, their experts continuously kept the people who live here in the loop. They explained their testing procedures and protocols, and helped us understand and navigate the data they produced. They also listened to the information we provided; information that only we have, because we live and work with the gas development. They were always kind, courteous and genuinely concerned with the conditions we live with. They always tried to find answers to the many questions we have. We have had a good working relationship.
As you know, the EPA produced a draft report of their investigation. We believe the EPA draft report should be peer reviewed, as scheduled. We recommend the State also support peer review of the report. The information in the draft report is relevant and should be used to help source, identify and remediate the contamination in our community. Regardless of who conducts the investigation and how it moves forward, the EPA report should continue to be considered. Ignoring or misinterpreting any part of the study will be extremely detrimental to our health, our right to clean water and air, as well as our property values and quality of life.
The EPA’s communications with the impacted citizens was one of the strengths of their investigation. We hope to have the same communication with the State. We believe it is our right as affected residents and landowners to have a seat at the table during all phases of the investigation, plan development and implementation of the plan. The investigation was initiated and continues because of our impacts.
Pavillion residents must be included as stakeholders, with a voice in how the investigation and plan move forward, before we can support any plans that are developed. We need assurance that our consultants can fully review and comment on the investigation and plans as they are being developed and implemented.
Please provide us with the time frame for consideration and hiring of experts. We must have the right to review the list of experts being considered and have ample time for our consultants to review the list and comment on the experts’ qualifications. We must also have the right to recommend experts for consideration.
Please provide us with the schedule(s) for all meetings involving the investigation and planning process; both public and stakeholder meetings. Please explain how our input will be heard and accepted during the meetings.
Please identify the State Agency and personnel who will be our contacts, and provide their contact information.
It appears there will be a final report on Well Bore Integrity and Pits. Two of our members, Jeff Locker and I, are on the working groups. Please provide us with how the working groups will move forward and what the schedule is for the next meetings.
Your plan does not include complete information about private water well testing. Please provide the exact sampling procedures, protocols and guidelines referenced in the plan, including (Attachment A).
Your plan does not include complete information for how the state proposes to access private water wells. Who will contact residents, and when will they be contacted? Who will construct the proposed agreement? When will residents be provided with the proposed agreement? What is the time frame residents will have to consider and sign the proposed agreement?
How will the health issues and impacts from the contamination in our community be addressed by the State? Will you consult with the ATSDR, or will you hire experts to evaluate our health impacts?
Your plan does not outline any process for public comment. Please provide us with how public comment will be accepted, evaluated and considered during the investigation, in the planning process and in the final documents.
We may have other comments and questions after our consultants have had time to review your plan. We look forward to your written responses.
John Fenton, Chair
Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens