Friday, May 4, 2012

Wyoming Governor Lobbies USEPA To Back Off Fracking Pollution Findings

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead dialed USEPA Director Lisa Jackson’s direct line last November and persuaded her to delay for weeks release of USEPA data on well water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming which EPA had concluded was a result of increased fracking operations in the area. During the delay, Wyoming officials mounted a vigorous campaign attempting to debunk the federal agency’s conclusions and persuade Pavillion residents that shale oil and gas operations in their neighborhood hadn’t polluted their wells.

According to e-mails between Wyoming state officials, the state took advantage of the delay until December 8 in releasing USEPA findings to “take a hard line” and coordinate an “all-out press” against the federal agency’s conclusions about the cause of the pollution. Wyoming’s State Oil and Gas Supervisor Thomas E. Doll worried over the effect the EPA findings could have on the state’s revenue from shale oil and gas operations there. One of Doll’s agency engineers, Gary Strong, warned that state objections to the EPA findings would be ineffective. “It’s already too late,” Strong wrote. “The White House has already seen the report with conclusions.” Lamenting the likely ineffectiveness of a surreptitious lobbying campaign to modify or weaken EPA conclusions about fracking pollution in the state, Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission natural resource analyst Tom Kropatsch described the situation at a November 16, 2011 meeting: “Once local folks received the data and it showed what it did they had the responsibility to take it to HQ and in fact it ended up with them in front of the White House. HQ and the White House decided that now that data is released EPA must release conclusions quickly.”

Now, Governor Mead is complaining that USEPA has tested well water in the Pavillion area from private wells as well as the two monitoring wells the agency drilled itself. “I won’t tell anybody not to test,” Mead said April 30. “But if you’re going to test, you need to bring everybody into the process.” EPA Region 8 Director Jim Martin responds that EPA “has been transparent and relied on the best science” in keeping Pavillion area residents informed about the pollution in their wells.

Almost all of the oil and gas in Wyoming comes either from coal mine beds or from fracking operations, and amounts to a $7.7 billion/year industry accounting for 20% of the state’s gross domestic product. Summarizing the reasons behind Wyoming’s attack on the EPA pollution findings, Oil and Gas Supervisor Thomas E. Doll circulated an e-mail message among top state officials. “Limiting of the hydraulic fracturing process will result in negative impacts to the oil and gas revenues to the state of Wyoming. A further outcome will be the questioning of the economic viability of all unconventional and tight oil and gas reserves in Wyoming, across the United States, and ultimately in the world,” Doll wrote.

USEPA testing of its fracking monitoring wells in the Pavillion neighborhood found the carcinogen benzene at 50 times the allowable level. EPA tests also  found high pH water in the wells due to potassium hydroxide, a chemical used in fracking operations. Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens Chairman John Felton is unhappy about USEPA’s delaying the release of its findings for several weeks, but reflects his neighbors’ distrust of Wyoming government and Supervisor Doll: “Those of us living out here, we don’t trust the state.”

When it comes to pollution of private wells and Wyoming tax revenues, the big money wins every time.

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