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Pavillion group spells out water study concerns

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm •  Published: June 26, 2013

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — People who live in a central Wyoming gas field with tainted groundwater are pressing Gov. Matt Mead for more details about how Wyoming plans to take over and carry on with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigation into the contamination.

They ask whether they might be able to weigh in on the investigation — funded with $1.5 million from the Encana Corp. subsidiary that owns the Pavillion gas field — considering nobody sought their input about the change in plans before the governor's office and EPA jointly announced the shift last week.

"Our main concern is that we were not consulted during your planning process and your plan does not give us any process for input as the investigation moves forward," the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens said in a letter to Mead dated Monday and delivered Tuesday. "We were extremely disappointed to learn that we were the last to know."

The letter also asks for details about any upcoming meetings about the new state investigation, how the local residential water wells will be tested, whether the state will address health problems Pavillion-area residents say are caused by the pollution, and if the state investigators will seek public comment.

Pavillion-area farmer John Fenton, chairman of the group, signed the letter.

Mead spokesman Renny MacKay described the change in plans as a decision that needed to be made between the EPA and state. Wyoming officials also consulted in advance with Encana. Mead held a conference call with Pavillion residents right after the announcement, MacKay noted.

He said the governor planned to make the announcement an hour later but a draft news release outlining the deal had been leaked to The Associated Press and the news agency was preparing a story.

"We're still going over it and definitely planning to prepare a thorough response to it for the residents up there," MacKay said of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens' letter.

Pavillion-area residents asked and got the EPA to investigate their well water four years ago. They say the water began to stink of chemicals around 2005, when Encana began hydraulic fracturing in the area.

A 2011 EPA draft report tied local groundwater contamination to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is the petroleum industry practice of splitting open oil- and gas-bearing rock by pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down well holes. Never before had the EPA blamed groundwater pollution on fracking, and environmentalists seized upon the report as proof that fracking is a threat.

Along with announcing that Wyoming was taking over the study, the governor's office and EPA also said last week that the federal agency no longer plans to have independent experts review the initial findings or finalize the report.

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