Industry tabulates cost of proposed Wyoming groundwater testing rule

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CHEYENNE – Oil and gas industry officials estimate that the cost to test four water sources within in a half mile of a well, in accordance with a proposed state groundwater rule, will be $18,000.

That’s according to Jerimiah Rieman, Gov. Matt Mead’s natural resources policy adviser, who addressed the Legislature's Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee on Friday about the proposed rule. Rieman said industry representatives shared that figure with state officials about the proposed groundwater testing rule.

Mead and other state officials want a rule to require water testing – many in the industry already test water – to protect the industry and landowners. The data from testing would help protect industry from allegations of groundwater contamination if data proves there is no change in water quality. Conversely, landowners would be better protected if the data shows change.

The groundwater testing rule has come about since a dispute outside the central Wyoming town of Pavillion, where some residents say their water was ruined as a result of hydraulic fracturing -- the process of pumping chemicals, water and sand underground to release oil and gas trapped in rock. Industry officials deny such claims and the state is investigating the issue.

The proposed rules require companies to test water wells and springs that the state consider for domestic, livestock, industry, municipality and irrigation use. The rule states that companies only have to test water sources within a half-mile radius of the oil or gas well. If there are more than four water sources in the half-mile area, operators would submit to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission a plan to test water closest to the well and other water sources chosen in a radial pattern covering different aquifer zones.

The proposed rule requires various rounds of tests beginning 12 months before drilling. In most cases, each round of testing must be done during the same month because water can vary by season, Rieman said.

The tests are made public by being published on the oil and gas conservation commission’s website, Rieman said. If private landowners don’t want such personal information online, they can opt out of the groundwater testing rule or work out a private contract with an operator to get the tests but not submit them to the state, Rieman said.

Testing must be for pH levels, oxidation-reduction potential, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, dissolved gases such as methane, alkalinity, petroleum hydrocarbons such as benzene, among other things, the proposed rule states.

John Robitaille, of the Casper-based Petroleum Association of Wyoming, thinks the overall concept of testing is a good idea.

“It’s probably 10 years overdue,” he said.

But some of the testing requirements are questionable, he said. For instance, the proposed rules require identification of nitrate.

“That has nothing to do with us and everything to do with agriculture, so why are we testing for something that has nothing to do with us?” he said.

Jill Morrison of the Sheridan-based Powder River Resource Council, a landowner rights group, said the state rules don’t go far enough. If landowners’ domestic wells are beyond a half mile from the well, their water won’t be tested.

“Industry has been doing more voluntarily,” she said.

While about half of the members of the resource council embrace the rule, the other half are concerned about privacy if the data is published.

“I think the concern is this is private property,” she said. “If they choose to, the data should be published.”