Baseline water testing rule draws criticism from all sides

Oct 15, 2013

Opinion is sharply divided on a proposed rule that would require water testing at oil and gas wells before and after drilling.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been taking public comment on the rule since August. Two dozen groups and individuals submitted written comments, and a handful spoke at a public hearing in Casper on Tuesday.

Bob LeResche is vice-chair of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a group that represents landowners. He says as they stand, the rules have no teeth.

“I think of it as the emperor’s new clothes," LaResche says. "It’s a rule that the governor bragged about being something that would help preserve our water quality, but it does nothing of the kind.”

Landowners asked for a number of changes, including a requirement that companies add a tracer to their frac fluids and more thorough analysis of dissolved methane in the water wells.

Industry also took issue with the rules, albeit for different reasons. Half a dozen companies submitted written comments to the Commission. Some, like Shell, requested few, if any changes to the rule, while others, like Devon, asked the Commission to scrap it altogether.

The most consistent objection was to a requirement for two rounds of testing after drilling occurs. John Robitaille is vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. He says that while one round of testing makes sense, two is redundant.

“Our point was, if the first sample came back and showed some discrepancy, then a second sample should be taken," Robitaille says. "If not, then the second sample should not be necessary.”

Companies also asked the Commission to limit testing to water wells within a quarter mile of the well pad, as opposed to the half mile currently suggested, and to exclude areas with nearby abandoned wells.

The Commission will take up the rule again at its November meeting.