Oil and natural gas producers in Wyoming will be required to test groundwater within a half mile of their wells before and after drilling, under a rule approved by the state Oil and Gas Commission.
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Governor Matt Mead, who pushed for passage of the rule, was on the board of commissioners who voted unanimously Tuesday for the regulation.
"This is another example of Wyoming leading the nation in striking the right balance between producing needed energy and protecting our natural resources," Mead said in a statement.
The rule, which is scheduled to take effect March 1, requires oil and gas operators to test water wells and springs that serve as water sources for domestic, stock, industrial, irrigation, municipal or other permitted uses. Under the rule, landowners must give consent for operators to sample their water sources.
Regulators say the rule will generate baseline data on the quality of groundwater in an area before the start of gas or oil drilling. Advocates of the rule say if it had been in place years ago, it might have helped solve the mystery of what led to the contamination of groundwater sources outside Pavillion, Wyoming.
John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said in an interview Wednesday that industry advocates were happy the final rule did not set an even greater radius within which testing would be required.
"We would have preferred to see a quarter mile, but a half mile is better than five miles," he said. "We had anywhere from one to five miles being advocated for."
Now that the rule has been passed, Robitaille said, the industry trade group will focus its attention on how state regulators implement it.
"The rule is pretty black and white," he said. "We're going to be watching closely to see how the state will address any kind of changes between pre- and post-drilling operations."
He said the required post-drilling survey might reveal changes in water quality that occurred naturally or that were the result of a contractor doing work on a water well.
"We're concerned that blame will instantly be assigned to the oil and gas operation, when in fact it may be another circumstance that caused any of the changes," he said.
Representatives of several environmental groups that took part in the rulemaking deliberations praised the final rule and the process leading to its passage.
"We are very happy with the rule that was passed," Amber Wilson, environmental quality coordinator with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said Wednesday. "We think it's a very strong rule, very scientifically sound. It sets a standard of Wyoming being a leader for the nation."
She added the final rule would benefit all the stakeholders in the process, including the exploration-and-production industry.
"This is cheap insurance for the industry," she said.