PINEDALE – When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its water quality data analysis for Pavillion last year, many in both the state government and industry were skeptical of the results showing containments from natural gas drilling had reached some residents’ water wells.
Despite rejecting the findings, Encana, the company operating in the area, supplied drinking water for two years to a handful of people near the small town in an effort to be a “good neighbor.” Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead, while also voicing skepticism on the EPA’s conclusions, worked to secure funding for cisterns to ensure Pavillion residents have safe drinking water.
Still, neither industry nor government has expressed satisfaction with the EPA study, specifically citing the agency’s methodology for collecting samples.
Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released data on its own sampling of water wells in the Pavillion area, detailing its methodology. While the state is waiting on the analysis of the results, Mead said he is more confident of how the data was secured.
The sampling and analysis plan was developed by the USGS in collaboration with the state, the EPA and the Wyoming Native American tribes, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“The collaborative effort used to gather this data allowed Wyoming experts to have a say about sampling methodology and testing procedures,” Mead said in the statement. “I feel that the process used to acquire this data was an improvement on the process used for the draft EPA report last December.”
The USGS is making the data available to the public through its two reports describing the sampling and analysis plan, as well as publicizing the raw data collected.
As part of its agreement with the state and EPA, the USGS did not interpret the data it collected. Instead, the raw data were given to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the EPA. A USGS release said the data, along with previous information collected by the EPA, would be available to any peer review panel looking at the EPA’s study.
“While USGS did not interpret the data as part of this sampling effort, the raw data results are adding to the body of knowledge to support informed decisions,” Director of USGS Wyoming Water Science Center David Mott stated in a release.
When the EPA released its draft report last year, Mead challenged the agency’s methodology, calling it “scientifically questionable.”
“We believe that the draft study could have a critical impact on the energy industry and on the country, so it is imperative that we not make conclusions based on only four data points,” Mead said in a December 2011 release. “Those familiar with the scientific method recognize that it would not be appropriate to make a judgment without verifying all of the testing that has been done.”
In the same release, DEQ Director John Corra also questioned the EPA’s study and conclusions, which came from two test wells drilled in 2010 and tested once that year and once in April 2011. The DEQ said those wells were deeper than traditional drinking wells.
In March, the EPA, Mead and representatives from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes vowed to work more collaboratively regarding the study of ground water in Pavillion, which is on the Wind River Reservation.
“We believe that collaboration and use of the best available science are critical in meeting the needs of Pavillion area residents and resolving longstanding issues surrounding the safety of drinking water and groundwater,” the groups said in a joint statement.
The statement went on to acknowledge the need for more sampling to clarify outstanding questions. This is when the EPA announced it would pair with the USGS, working with the state and tribes, to gather those samples this past April.
The EPA also announced it would delay convening a peer review committee until after the USGS samples were gathered and the data reported.
The USGS samples were taken from the same monitoring wells drilled by the EPA in 2010. Groundwater-quality data and quality-control data were collected from the first monitoring well, but only yield and quality-control data were collected from the second well.
According to a USGS release, the water was tested for basic water-quality properties, as well as inorganic constituents, including naturally occurring radioactive compounds; organic constituents; dissolved gases; stable isotopes of methane, water and dissolved inorganic carbon; and environmental tracers.
The reports are available on the USGS’s website, and the state and industry are waiting for analysis and the peer review process to be concluded.