Water quality, Baseline testing initiative moves forward
Casper – Following a formal comment period on baseline water testing rules, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held a public meeting on Oct. 15 to hear final comments and receive a better understanding of comments already submitted.
“Our objective is to capture any new thoughts from the public,” said Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Supervisor Grant Black during the meeting.
Governor’s Natural Resources Policy Advisor Jerimiah Reiman further noted, “We are looking to find those significant or substantive comments and information that we should support those changes. This is one more opportunity to put those ideas on the table.”
“We hope, as we are the folks who are going to implement this rule and do the work on the ground, that the Commission considers our comments carefully,” remarked Tim Barber of Yates Petroleum.
Yates Petroleum was concerned about water sources that are appropriate for sampling and disclosure of testing results.
“One of the things that we asked the Commission to look very closely at is what sort of water sources are appropriate to be sampled,” Barber said. “We don’t want to put our people in a situation where they are withdrawing water from a water source that is not a legal appropriation.”
As a result, he continued that the Commission should carefully consider the definition of a water source to clarify that only legally appropriated water sources are tested.
Testing was of concern to several energy operators in the area.
As a result of the need for increased testing, operators worried about approved vendors for water quality testing to ensure high quality test results.
An additional concern of oil and gas operators was the release of information to the public. As the rule stands, the water quality testing information will be publicly released.
“This is the only rule that requires results of sampling from privately-appropriated waters to be disposed to the public,” says Barber. “We feel like this disclosure of the results of water analysis is a very oddball approach to regulations.”
He continued that little value results from releasing the private data to the public.
“There are a lot of reasons water source owners may not want their data disclosed,” Barber added. “The point is, the public does not need the data, and there is no added value in providing it.”
He further noted that Yates Petroleum feels that fewer landowners will give permission to operators to sample their water if the disclosure requirement remains in place.
Another top concern for several operators was the economic viability for small producers, particularly coalbed methane operators.
Terry Webster of Summit Gas Resources noted that in many cases, a separate set of parameters is required for coalbed methane operators, but the sampling procedures in this rule are not differentiated.
The Department of Environmental Quality, for example, lists separate parameters for coalbed methane and oil and gas.
“I also wonder,” Webster added, “if there has been an economic analysis to find out what sort of impacts this rule has on operators.”
As a small company, he noted that the rule could be very onerous and detrimental.
“We are probably looking at a third party to do the testing, and those costs should be considered,” said Webster. “I think an economic analysis should be required before the rule moves forward.”
The additional costs of testing could be economically harmful, particularly for small operators.
Members of the Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also provided comments on the rule with concerns about maintaining the water quality.
“We do feel, on the whole, that the rule can provide the state, industry and Wyoming residents important information,” noted Amber Wilson of the WOC. “We are confident it will help establish Wyoming as a leader in management of oil and gas and protection of water resources.”
Wilson noted that the WOC’s concern with the rule was held in that master plans, which are available for companies, are not reviewed or available to the public.
“The WOC and EDF understand that if the plans are a way to coordinate required testing protocols to improve data management or to seek efficiencies, it could be positive,” she explained. “We feel it requires careful clarification of the language.”
Dissolved methane levels
One area of contention between the WOC and EDF and operators was the level of dissolved methane allowed in water.
“Initially, the testing level for dissolved methane was set at one milligram per liter,” said John Goldstein of EDF. “It was changed to 10 milligrams per liter, which is the immediate notification level. We feel that having that set at the same level is a big weakness that could be fixed.”
Dissolved methane levels, Goldstein noted, could act like a canary in the coalmine, warning water users of potential problems before they get to dangerous levels.
Mark Hansworth of Chesapeake Energy noted that reporting levels across the country range from two milligrams per liter to seven milligrams per liter.
It remains to be seen how levels of dissolved methane will be addressed in the final rule.
“I am personally pleased with the volume and breadth of the comments we have received,” said Black. “We will be putting together our synopsis of these comments and making recommendations to the Commissioners with respect to those comments and any potential changes.”
After a recommendation is submitted to the Commissioners, Reiman noted there are three avenues to take.
“One option is that we recommend no changes. The second is recommended changes, and of course, we will have to make the determination of whether the changes are substantial,” explained Reiman.
If substantial changes are made, the rule will go out again for public comment.
“Other areas that we might highlight will be put to a policy decision,” Reiman stated. “We appreciate the comments we have received, and we look forward to digging into the comments further.”
Reiman continued, “We will make recommendations to the Commission during their November meeting.”