Wyoming commission changes course on letting Encana, EPA, see Pavillion reports before public


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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming officials have changed course and no longer plan to allow an energy company to preview and suggest changes to two draft reports on possible causes of groundwater pollution in the Pavillion area before the state allows the general public to see those documents.

Responding to a public records request filed by The Associated Press, Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson said the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will release the draft reports simultaneously to the public, Encana and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After releasing the draft reports to the public, the state will take comments on them for 30 days.

"In so doing, WOGCC is waiving all applicable exemptions to disclosure under the Wyoming Public Records Act for the draft final reports," Watson wrote in an email Thursday in response to the AP request filed July 7.

He declined to comment Friday on which exemptions under the act were applicable, saying Gov. Matt Mead's office had made the decision to open up the process of reviewing the draft reports.

"In looking at the original promise of transparency, we believe that the draft report can only be improved with a broader review," Mead policy adviser Mary Kay Hill said by email Friday.

Wyoming officials initially had planned to let Encana, owner of the 125 wells in the Pavillion gas field, and the EPA suggest changes before finalizing the reports and releasing them publicly. The group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens also sought to see the reports no later than Encana.

"You can't provide public records to a private entity and not provide them to the public," Jill Morrison with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, an affiliate of the Pavillion group, said Friday.

Encana spokesman Doug Hock said by email the company had no issue with the state releasing the draft reports to the public, Encana and the EPA at the same time.

"We trust the state to run a transparent process driven by science," said Hock, whose company donated $1.5 million toward the state's recent studies in Pavillion.

The two reports will be the result of a pair of state investigations into what might have caused well water in the Pavillion area to turn foul-smelling. Several residents of the area about 20 miles northwest of Riverton in central Wyoming began complaining about the problem around the time the pace of gas drilling picked up in their area eight years ago.

Officials plan to release in mid-August a draft report on the possibility that one or more gas-well bores in the area might have ruptured, spewing contaminants in the ground. An independent expert has reviewed that report and a draft is near completion, Watson said.

There is no current timetable for releasing a draft report on an investigation into whether old petroleum industry waste pits might have caused the pollution. That report has not been reviewed by an independent expert yet, Watson said.

An EPA investigation culminated in a draft report released in December, 2011, which said hydraulic fracturing may have caused groundwater contamination in the Pavillion area.

That report caused a nationwide stir. Environmentalists pointed at the report as evidence that fracking — the process of splitting open oil- and gas-bearing deposits with a high-pressure mix of water, fine sand and chemicals — can pollute groundwater.

Wyoming officials immediately expressed skepticism about the findings, however, and complained that the EPA had released its draft report without consulting with them first.

The EPA has yet to finalize its draft report or submit it for peer review, as originally planned. The EPA handed over its investigation into the Pavillion problem to state officials last year.

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