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June 12, 2012 9:18 am

EDITORIAL: Groundwater and 'greed' - State official's comments unacceptable

Written by Tessa Schweigert

For Wyomingites, water is a precious resource.

Just look around the Powell Valley — without water, our green irrigated fields would be nothing more than dry dirt and sagebrush.

Wyoming's constitution recognizes water as an essential and limited resource. The constitution calls for the state to equally guard water for "all the various interests involved."

Considering just how precious and essential water is, recent statements from the state's top oil and gas official are especially shocking.

During a meeting in Canada last week, Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll said Pavillion-area residents who blame drilling for groundwater pollution are motivated by greed.

"I really believe greed is driving a lot of this ... I think they're just looking to be compensated," Doll was quoted as saying in EnergyWire, an energy news publication.

Gov. Matt Mead's office said Doll's comments do not reflect the views of the governor's administration.

Doll later apologized for his comments Wednesday, calling them "inappropriate and inconsiderate," the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Yes, Mr. Doll. You're exactly right about that.

After such inappropriate comments, it's difficult for Wyoming residents to believe Doll is an objective leader. Instead, we're left questioning if concern for the oil and gas industry outweighs his commitment to Wyoming's residents.

Doll has questioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's draft report that theorizes that fracking might have polluted groundwater in the Pavillion area. The controversial December report has thrust Pavillion — population 231 — into the national spotlight of the ongoing fracking debate. Whatever the outcome in Pavillion, many far beyond the Cowboy State will be watching closely.

This month, the New York Times featured Pavillion in an article headlined, "In Land of Gas Drilling, Battle for Water that Doesn't Reek or Fizz."

Doll is well aware of the national attention surrounding Pavillion's polluted groundwater. His decision to make insensitive and judgmental statements while this unresolved issue remains at the center of public scrutiny is staggering.

Before the EPA findings were made public last year, Doll expressed worry about how the report could impact state revenues and the economic viability of oil and gas deposits, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Oil and natural gas development provides a crucial revenue stream to Wyoming — no one here questions that.

But the state also must make a continuing commitment to our other natural resources as well as public health and safety.

It's important to note that testing in Pavillion is ongoing, and no definitive conclusion has been drawn.

"It is premature to draw conclusions about the outcome of the current scientific investigation, which will be informed by sampling and analysis of the EPA’s deep monitor wells. Gov. Mead continues to say Wyoming will be led by the science," said Renny MacKay, Mead's press secretary, in a statement last week.

What happens in Pavillion matters to those of us throughout Wyoming. The situation in Pavillion is unique, but all of us who live around oil and gas development need to know state officials put objective scientific data and public safety before their personal opinions.

We also need assurance that the state is honoring our constitution by working for “all the various interests involved.”

1 Comment

  • Comment Link June 25, 2012 4:42 pm posted by David Haire

    As someone who has spent many days attending public meetings regarding the management of our state's natural resources, it didn't surprise me one bit to read about Tom Doll's comments.
    There are many state employees who feel their main duty is to assist industry in extracting whatever it is they extract. Those rules and regulations protecting the human health and the environment are nothing but a royal PITA - and I don't mean the bread.

    A perfect example of this was several years ago when the DEQ hired several dozen new employees. At the time, there was (and still is) a desperate need for the oversight of oil and gas well operations. These operations include well drilling, completion, re-working, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), waste and water disposal, and even that rarest of occurrences - shutting in old wells. I'm talking on-the ground oversight - inspections, compliance with existing environmental rules and regulations, etc. Well our state bureaucracy decided to hire more permit writers, and no new inspectors. That's right, those folks who write approvals of new wells were seen as a necessity for industry to get the stuff to market. I guess we didn't and still don't need those inspectors - just more wells.

    And now that the price of natural gas has gone so low, guess what? They need to start shutting wells in - but they won't because they don't have to - there are no inspectors to bother them with these little problems - you know, like following the state's laws, rules and regulations.

    If the state wants to cut back on spending, they should consider all the permit writers at DEQ, and maybe they shouldn't fill Tom Doll's position. I hear that alone would save about 200K per year, with benefits and travel (to British Columbia) and such.

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