News Feature | October 21, 2013

Wyoming Writes Rules Safeguarding Groundwater From Fracking

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Wyoming is writing new regulations designed to help protect groundwater from contamination by fracking sites. 

The proposed rules would require oil and gas companies to monitor groundwater for contamination. Baseline testing would be required before drilling starts. Wyoming's state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is crafting the regulations. 

The rules were proposed "after residents outside the central Wyoming town of Pavillion said their water was contaminated as a result of fracking, which the industry denies," according to the Casper Star-Tribune

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and members of the commission believe testing "will protect companies and landowners who depend on the water around drilling sites," the report said. 

The public comment period for the proposed regulations ended this month. The Star-Tribune noted that, so far, all of the stakeholders have criticisms. "Environmentalists, landowners and the oil and natural gas industry all had changes to propose," the newspaper said. 

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says that the groundwater testing rules cover too many substances. For instance, it said nitrate in groundwater comes from agriculture, not drilling, according to the report. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists said the rules should include a greater number of groundwater tests to establish a baseline. They also wanted the rule to include stricter requirements on dissolved methane levels.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the effects of fracking on Wyoming water may not be representative of its effects in other states. "The EPA itself said the Wyoming field differs from most fracking sites because the fracking 'is taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells' — unlike most sites where fracking is done far below the water table," the newspaper said

In a high-profile move, the EPA backed off the Wyoming fracking issue earlier this year. The agency announced in June that is was "abandoning its longstanding plan to have independent scientists confirm or cast doubt on its finding that hydraulic fracturing may be linked to groundwater pollution in central Wyoming," The Associated Press reported. The decision alarmed fracking opponents.

For more on the divisive issue of fracking, check out Water Online's coverage of a potential "fracking coverup."