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Forum To Update and Discuss Ongoing Issues With Pavillion Contamination

Environmental Protection Agency's January 2010 sampling.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Scientists and landowners are gathering in Riverton Thursday night to discuss ongoing issues in the Pavillion gas fields. There have been signs of oil and gas components detected in water wells and sediment for years but the extent and cause of the contamination is still unknown.

Evelyn Griffin has lived directly in the Pavillion gas fields for decades. With 24 wells on her property, she's experienced the issues firsthand saying her water tastes funny. Griffin said she believes it caused her to lose her sense of smell and taste.

"I've been to several doctors, but they just can't pinpoint that that's it, but I don't know what else it could be," she said.

Encana is the oil and gas company with wells on her land. They're now paying another company to provide her clean water. This year, a family in the same area believes contaminated water caused their cattle to die. Griffin said she believes contamination problems have improved though and a number of gas wells have been plugged recently.

Michael Wireman, a hydro-geologist consulting for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said the story is not over. There's still much unknown about the source of the contamination and its extent.

"There needs to be more done and this scenario needs to be looked at in detail to either rule it out or rule it in," he said. "Because it's important to understand at some point what caused the problem. Because you really can't move ahead to a remedy until there's clear understanding of what caused the problem."

Wireman said there's still methane-eating bacteria causing water to become unpalatable - or so bad tasting it's undrinkable. He said it's not easy to fix.

"There is some widespread contamination of the groundwater with dissolved methane. That's difficult to clean up," Wireman said.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has done two samplings to learn more about the bacteria and contamination, but the report has yet to be released. It's expected next year. DEQ representatives won't be attending the forum given the report is still underway. The forum will be held at Central Wyoming College in Riverton tonight from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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