Environmental groups are urging the Bureau of Land Management to quickly develop a plan for preventing future groundwater pollution in the Pinedale Anticline gas fields.
The BLM released a report this week that said groundwater contamination in the area was mostly not a result of natural gas production. But Bruce Pendery with the Wyoming Outdoor Council says regulators still need to be vigilant in preventing potential future problems.
Encana broke ground today on a treatment facility for produced water -- the contaminated water that's pulled up along with oil in the drilling process. The Neptune Water Treatment Facility will sit outside of Casper and serve the Moneta Divide field, which currently has about 300 wells but could eventually have more than 4-thousand. The facility will treat some of the produced water from current wells. A controversial plan to inject wastewater into the Madison Aquifer is another water disposal method Encana plans to use in the field.
Calling water a valuable Wyoming resource, Governor Matt Mead’s office is in the process of developing a long term water strategy similar to the recently developed energy policy. Beginning this week a series of meetings will take place across the state that will gather feedback from citizens on how the state should proceed.
Mead policy analyst Nephi Cole said they expect to hear about a number of issues.
Hydrogeophysicist Steve Holbrook marks the GPS coordinates of points where he and his team will seismically measure the subsurface. Holbrook co-directs the Wyoming Center for Hydrology and Geophysics, which hopes to better understand snowpack and aquifers in the state.
In such an arid state as Wyoming, water is precious. Last year, the University of Wyoming created the Wyoming Center for Hydrology and Geophysics, combining field experts and state-of-the art technology to better understand where water goes in after it falls from the sky, since much of it ends up in snowpack or underground.
There isn’t too much information available about that, but it’s important to state and local water managers, who need to know just how much water they have to work with. Rebecca Martinez reports.
How to deal with future variability in water supplies was the topic of conversation at a conference Wednesday about water use and energy development.
Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Harry LaBonde says managing the state’s water supply will require a multi-pronged approach: conservation, storage and weather modification, or cloud-seeding.
Many of Wyoming’s landfills are leaking or approaching capacity, so the Department of Environmental Quality is working with state agencies and municipalities to develop and fund a plan to close facilities that aren’t environmentally sustainable, and move new waste to landfills which are.
DEQ Spokesman Keith Guille says the existing landfills in the state are permitted, and were built to environmental standards at the time.
Legislators had a lot of questions about a proposed water-testing rule for oil and gas wells during a meeting of the Minerals Committee last week.
Governor Matt Mead proposed the rule, which would require water testing before and after drilling. Industry estimates it would cost $9,000 to $18,000 per well. The governor’s natural resources policy advisor, Jerimiah Rieman, told legislators it’s worth the cost.
“From my perspective, it’s pretty cheap insurance for the companies,” Rieman said. “It’s pretty cheap for the state to have a rider on that policy.”
Three conservation organizations have released a series of web videos, encouraging Wyomingites to improve water quality.
The videos highlight best management practices some landowners are using to handle E. coli, selenium and sediment, among other issues.
Kathy Rosenthal is the watershed coordinator for the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, one of the partner groups producing the videos. Rosenthal acknowledged a lack of awareness as one of the major obstacles for Wyoming’s water quality going forward.
A new report by the environmental group Sierra Club says at least three coal-fired power plants in Wyoming discharge pollution containing metals into streams. According to the report, some plants do not monitor how much waste they discharge or what it contains.
The Environmental Protection Agency says coal plants nationwide contribute more than half of the toxic pollutants discharged to water bodies by regulated industry, but discharge standards have not been updated since 1982.
Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell has placed restrictions on groundwater use near LaGrange in Goshen County.
Tyrrell says there’s not enough water to go round in the Horse Creek Basin, and that groundwater and surface water in the area are connected. That means people with wells could be taking water that surface water users are entitled to.
Dirty water from the oil wells flows through oil-caked pipes into a settling pit where trucks vacuum off the oil. A net covers the pit to keep out birds and other wildlife. Streams of this wastewater flow through the reservation and join natural creeks and rivers.
The Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comments on the extension of several water discharge permits on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The EPA is looking at renewing existing permits that allow companies to pump waste water from oil and gas fields to the surface on the Reservation. The produced water exemption allows this practice only in the arid West. In general, state agencies have tighter regulations than the EPA about what can be pumped to the surface, but tribal land is under the EPA’s jurisdiction.
The Summit on the Snake – an annual conference about use of the Snake River – will take place in Jackson this Saturday. Speakers will discuss the wildlife, history, ecology, and management of the Snake River and there will be a panel regarding the future of river management in Jackson Hole.
Snake River Fund Program Director, Margaret Creel, says the Bureau of Land Management will transfer management duties to Teton County soon, and the county needs to figure out how to manage the resource responsibly. Currently, river use is unregulated.
An international conference about mining reclamation ended in Laramie today. The American Society of Mining and Reclamation and the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center hosted the event, which featured technical presentations about reclamation issues as well as policy questions and case studies.
UW professor and director of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, Pete Stahl, says there were many Australian and Chinese stakeholders in attendance.
The Sierra Club and partner organizations filed a lawsuit today against BNSF Railways and several coal producers. The suit claims the companies are violating the federal Clean Water Act when they discharge coal dust along railways from the Powder River Basin without permits to do so.
Pacific Northwest Regional Press Secretary for Sierra Club’ Beyond Coal campaign, Krista Collard, says a letter of intent to file the suit was sent to all parties two months ago, but they did little to limit coal dust pollution.
An energy group says a recently released report overstated issues of water use by the oil and gas industry. The Western Organization of Resource Councils released the report last month and said regulators need to consider the quantity of water the energy industry uses, in addition to the quality.
Last year’s drought could impact the Wyoming water supply this summer.
The National Weather Service says that, although recent storms have helped replenish mountain snowpack, there might not be enough to get back to normal levels of runoff, which is state’s most common water source for crops and municipalities.
NWS Hydrologist Jim Fahey says that’s because the upper soil levels were parched by the drought and will likely absorb much of the runoff. Fahey says this could become especially problematic for some people during the summer months.
An environmental group in Pinedale is trying to help residents understand water quality issues, by creating an online map of gas wells, water wells, and other hydrologic data.
Linda Baker with the Upper Green River Alliance says she got the idea for the project when water wells in the Pinedale Anticline gas field started showing traces of benzene and other pollutants several years ago.
A report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils says the oil and gas industry is using at least seven billion gallons of water per year in just four states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The report says after industry is done with that water, it turns into a hazardous material, and in some cases cannot be reused for other purposes.
Powder River Basin Resource Council member Robert LeResche says he’s also worried about states’ lack of regulations regarding the quantity of water used.
‘Gasland 2’, a sequel to the 2010 documentary ‘Gasland,’ premiers this weekend in New York City. The original film focused on land owners alleging that oil and gas development on their land contaminated their water sources. The movie is thought to have brought the terms ‘fracking’ into the mainstream. The films’ director, Josh Fox, says the sequel investigates how government and regulatory agencies have dealt with what affected land owners say is contamination by industry.
Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell says he’s optimistic that community members will be able to come up with voluntary measures to manage water resources in the Horse Creek Basin in southeastern Wyoming.
Tyrrell says there appears to be a water shortage, and he says it’s complicated figuring out how much water everyone is entitled to, because groundwater and surface water are connected in the area.
Tyrrell hosted a public hearing in LaGrange on Friday to gather input from water users about what to do, and he says the meeting was productive.
The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for more information from Encana Oil and Gas before signing off on the company’s request for an aquifer exemption. Encana wants to pump waste water into the Madison Aquifer from their oil and gas field in the Moneta Divide. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has already approved the request, but the EPA says the modeling of the plume that Encana did is too broad and the agency wants more information about why, according to Encana, the relatively clean water can’t be used for other purposes .
Native American tribes need to make sure they are protecting their natural resources. Eastern Shoshone Business Council member Wes Martel, from the Wind River Indian Reservation, spoke during a University of Wyoming American Indian Studies program this week. Martel said tribes need to be more careful about the kinds of contracts they enter into for energy development. He added that water is the new gold but very few tribes are taking real steps to secure this resource.
The state engineer’s office says in parts of Laramie and Goshen Counties, demand for water appears to exceed supply.
State Engineer Pat Tyrrell says groundwater and surface water are connected in that area, so people who draw down the water in their wells are affecting water in streams, which means less water flows into the Hawk Spring Reservoir. He says there hasn’t been enough water to go around for quite some time.
A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that streams in Wyoming are in better condition than the national average. The study collected about two thousand samples from streams nationwide to determine the quality of the water. Denise Keehner is Director of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She says Wyoming is divided into four eco-regions – in those eco-regions water quality is poor in 26% to 43% of streams, while the national average is 55%.
The state engineer says Laramie County residents could see new restrictions on groundwater use in the future.
Much of the county gets its water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can recharge. The state engineer’s office is launching a study to figure out what would happen to the aquifer if current water use continues.
State Engineer Pat Tyrrell says it’s important to come up with a management plan before the water runs out.