Wyoming has once again taken the lead in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or as it is commonly referred to as "fracking". In response to Governor Matt Mead's Energy Strategy, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Commission) adopted rules on November 14, 2013, with an effective date of March 1, 2014, requiring companies to perform baseline water testing before and after spudding a well. This testing must be performed within 12 months prior to spudding a well and twice after setting production casing or liner, once between 12 and 24 months and once between 36 and 48 months. The testing must be performed on wells within a 1/2 mile radius as approved by the Commission.
Fracking is the process of injecting water and other chemicals into shale formations deep underground to create fissures within the rock, thereby releasing natural gas. Fracking technology has opened heretofore inaccessible deposits of hydrocarbons to exploration and production. The practice, however, is not without its detractors. Environmental and other public advocacy groups argue that fracking contributes to environmental contamination, specifically contamination of groundwater supplies. This has led to moratoriums and outright bans on the practice nationwide.
In Wyoming this battle reached a crescendo in 2008 in the tiny town of Pavillion, where residents complained of groundwater contamination and attributed it to fracking. The EPA initiated an investigation and a fierce battle continues to this day over the source of the contamination. The investigation has been greatly hampered by the lack of baseline information.
This newest rule, in conjunction with the previously adopted rule requiring disclosure of fracking fluid ingredients, goes a long way towards establishing the baseline information necessary to track the effects, if any, of fracking on groundwater. Both the Environmental Defense Fund and the Wyoming Petroleum Association are strong proponents of this requirement and hail this initiative as a model of cooperation which will protect both industry and public interests. For more information on testing protocols, required information and reporting, contact the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.