Let the EPA finish its work in Pavillion, Wyoming

  • John Fenton

 

Over the last few weeks, the gas industry and their advocates have gone to great lengths to refute the Environmental Protection Agency's draft report about the effects on groundwater of hydraulic fracturing - fracking -- for gas in Pavillion, Wyo.

In case you missed the story, on Dec. 8 the EPA released "confirmation of highly contaminated shallow groundwater occurring in the same aquifer as drinking water wells." Of course, this was no surprise for those of us who live and ranch here. We live with fouled drinking and stock water every day.

Now, a smear campaign is under way to cast doubt on the EPA's findings. Some of the Wyoming press has already passed judgment on the draft report, even though the investigation has not been criticized by any scientists or by those of us who live with the contamination.  The agency's report is also being attacked by the state of Wyoming and the gas industry before a peer review of the findings by scientists has even begun; what's more, 10 Republican U.S. senators are calling the EPA's work into question. They've asked for a more rigorous review, even though the EPA says its highest, most rigorous standards have already been followed.

A recent Casper Star-Tribune editorial says, "The report's flaws appear to be so substantial that it borders on worthless. Instead, it would be nice to redirect our efforts at designing a better study, one that will have more credibility in the eyes of the industry and state."

With all due respect, who at the newspaper has the education, expertise or experience to determine the quality of this complex, detailed scientific report?

The EPA draft report is a result of years of testing in Pavillion by over 20 scientists from across the county.  The most up-to-date testing protocols were followed to understand the condition of drinking water wells and water aquifers in the Pavillion area.  The EPA also took samples that were analyzed at multiple labs to ensure quality control.  The testing was not "more about politics than science" as the Star-Tribune charges; it is only becoming political because the gas industry is afraid of the results.

The newspaper calls for a do-over of the report:  "It would be nice to redirect our efforts at designing a better study, one that will have more credibility in the eyes of the industry and state." Why is the primary concern for the industry and the state?  Both have tried to bury the Pavillion area's problems for over a decade.  The EPA study finally did just what the agency is charged with doing -- protecting human health and the environment.

Wyoming state agencies never tested the water in Pavillion, and state staffers were more than happy to report to impacted residents that tests taken by EnCana Corp. proved their water was fine. But the EPA testing shows that the Pavillion area's water is not fine.

The media battle is being fueled by the most influential and least-regulated industry in modern times. Meanwhile, life hasn't changed for those of us living in "the gas patch." We have continually asked for information to help explain why we're getting sick.  That information now comes in the form of lab data from testing. To its credit, the EPA took the time and made the effort to monitor our wells and collect the data.

Our health is being impacted by the toxic elements and explosive levels of methane in our drinking water and aquifers.  When we turn on the tap, the water still reeks of hydrocarbons and chemicals.  Our drinking water now comes from five-gallon jugs. We wonder how we're going to support our families and pay our bills if the contamination affects our livestock and farming operations.  Selling out is no longer an option because property values in our community have declined to nothing.  Our homes and farms can't even be used as collateral.

All of us need to consider Wyoming's water, air and future before rushing to an uneducated opinion fueled by an industry that makes billions of dollars from fracking. And thanks to the EPA, we all have the opportunity now to read its draft report: (). Let's allow the scientific work to be peer-reviewed in a timely manner as the EPA intends; let's allow it to be analyzed, shared and understood. It's time for all of us, and in particular the gas industry and government, to see what oil and gas development does to the water that lies beneath the earth.

John Fenton is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of NewTowncarShare News (newtowncarshare.info). He is a rancher in Pavillion, Wyoming, chairman of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens and a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • 2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...