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Top Wyo official says Pavillion fracking investigation motivated by ‘greed’

Top Wyo. official says Pavillion fracking  investigation motivated by ‘greed’

While speaking at a meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 5, Wyoming’s top oil and gas supervisor Tom Doll said he believes Pavillion area residents are motivated by greed in the ongoing groundwater contamination investigation.

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Related story: Wyo. official pins Pavillion pollution complaints on greed, by Environment & Energy Daily

On Wednesday June 6, Environment & Energy reporter Mike Soraghan quoted Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission supervisor Tom Doll saying, “I really believe greed is driving a lot of this. … I think they’re just looking to be compensated.”

(View Tom Doll’s presentation below in DocumentCloud.)

According to the E&E story, Doll went on to suggest that state officials have “concluded” that the contamination found in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation actually came from the drilling of EPA’s own monitoring wells, and that the EPA had predetermined that it would blame hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — as the cause of contaminated drinking water.

Renny MacKay, press secretary to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, told WyoFile that the governor could not comment immediately because he was in China, 14 hours ahead of the Mountain Standard Time zone.

Regarding Doll’s comments in the E&E story, MacKay told WyoFile, “I’m shocked, personally.”

Later on June 6, MacKay issued this statement:

“The statements made by Supervisor Doll do not reflect the view of this Administration. Governor Mead has directed state agencies and their staffs to assure an open and transparent process to address the concerns of Pavillion area residents. The comments made by Mr. Doll are contrary to the Governor’s expectation,” MacKay said. “Governor Mead is committed to ensuring that residents in the Pavillion area have clean drinking water. 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. Governor Mead continues to say Wyoming will be led by the science.”

Pavillion, Wyoming

Irrigated farming operations have long been a part of the Pavillion area economy, as has oil and natural gas development. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Doll issued his own statement at 5 p.m. June 6.

“I sincerely apologize for my inappropriate and inconsiderate remarks; and my comments about conclusions I have drawn which were premature because the scientific investigation to address the concerns of the Pavillion area residents is ongoing,” Doll said. “The State and citizens of the State demand that I am objective in this investigation and any other investigation of impacts to the public health and safety.”

Contacted by WyoFile on June 6, Pavillion area resident John Fenton said Doll’s earlier comments in Vancouver “show a complete lack of integrity on his part.”

Fenton said that while Doll and other state officials seem focused on protecting the oil and gas industry, there are dozens of Wyoming residents fighting for their livelihoods, their homes, and added, “we’re fighting for our lives.”

“He only cares for industry. He’s not there working for the people of Wyoming. … To keep him as administrator of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would be a great disservice to the people of Wyoming,” Fenton said.

Doll was appointed Oil and Gas Commission supervisor in March 2009 by then Gov. Dave Freudenthal, with a beginning annual salary of $140,400. Prior to taking the position, Doll had served as manager for Williams Production Co., overseeing the company’s coal-bed methane gas operations in the Powder River Basin from 1997 to 2008.

Rift over EPA findings

Doll’s comments at the Vancouver event last week appear to escalate an ongoing rift over the Pavillion groundwater pollution investigation, with state officials and Pavillion field operator EnCana Oil & Gas USA on one side, and Pavillion area residents, EPA, and industry watchdog groups on the other. At the center of the controversy is a December 2011 draft report by EPA suggesting that chemicals commonly used in fracking indeed contributed to contaminated drinking water in a rural area outside Pavillion.

After the EPA’s preliminary data was made public in November, Gov. Mead asked EPA to delay the release of its draft report and, according to a May 2012 Associated Press report, the state immediately began formulating a plan to discredit EPA’s suggested groundwater pollution link to fracking. The AP report released email exchanges among state officials, including Doll, that suggested great concern over the potential damage to the oil and gas industry, which has become almost completely reliant on hydraulic fracturing technology.

Following the AP report, a group of Pavillion area residents called upon Gov. Mead to renounce statements made by state-level employees regarding the ongoing groundwater contamination investigation in their neighborhood. Among other things, they asked the governor to consider taking corrective action — including possible termination — against state employees who may have failed to meet the mission statements of their respective departments in pursuing the matter.

In a May 22, 2012, letter to the governor, the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens (PACC), representing 55 area residents, charged that the state “not only ignored its mandates, it organized and conducted a campaign to discredit the on-going EPA Pavillion groundwater contamination investigation and postponed the release of scientific conclusions that Wyoming citizens need to protect their health and well being.”

The PACC letter, signed by Pavillion area resident John Fenton, stated, “Agency directors are quoted with worrying about how investigation results will affect state revenues instead of Wyoming citizens’ health.”

Reached before Gov. Mead departed for a trip to China, press secretary Renny MacKay told WyoFile that the governor had not had time to respond to PACC members.

In an earlier interview with WyoFile regarding the PACC letter, Pavillion area resident John Fenton said the group wants a public statement by the governor indicating that state officials will place emphasis on helping Wyoming citizens over the welfare of the oil and gas industry.

“In their mission statements, it doesn’t mention looking after the welfare of oil and gas companies,” Fenton said. “It [the PACC letter] asks them to admit that they haven’t done their job correctly. I think for them to cooperate with EPA, they should acknowledge the fact that they were asleep at the wheel.”

This year, Wyoming lawmakers set aside $750,000 to install cisterns (water tanks) for 35 homes. For several years, EnCana has paid for a water delivery service to many of those homes.

CORRECTION: This story was updated June 7 to correct information regarding the timing of the release of EPA data, which was made available to both state officials and the public in November 2011.

UPDATE: Below is “EPA and Pavillion, Wyoming Groundwater Study,” a presentation by Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission supervisor Tom Doll on June 5, 2012, at the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission’s mid-year meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. (6/11/12)


— View the presentation “Hydraulic Fracturing in Wyoming; HF 101 March 2012,” by Tom Doll, in which Doll claims, “RISK OF GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION FROM HYDRAULIC FRACTURING IS APPROXIMATELY EQUAL TO DYING FROM FALLING OUT OF BED.”

Click here to view a 2011 Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission update on the Pavillion groundwater contamination investigation.

— Below is the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens’ May 22, 2012, letter to Gov. Matt Mead:

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or [email protected].

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About the Author

[email protected]

Energy and policy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer recently completed a John S. Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford University. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 18 years. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer

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9 Responses to Top Wyo official says Pavillion fracking investigation motivated by ‘greed’

  1. Fred Jackson June 12, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Tom has my support. An official willing to state the truth. Not everyone whether from public, govertment or industry is out for greed, but some are and we have an official who takes his job seriously and calls a spade a spade. We need more people like Tom Doll.

  2. Jeff Streeter June 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    See ya Tom.

  3. Inky June 9, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    What Tom Doll said in a room full of industry officials is what industry officials either believe or bitterly joke about over a beer when they’re feeling particularly frustrated. Of course Doll’s sympathies are with industry — that’s his background. Although he is supposed to be working for the public in Wyoming, his emotional focus is on the needs and wants of industry. In order to feel better about that emotional connection to industry, he must demonize the residents of Pavilion as being greedy and seeking monetary compensation from his industry friends, rather than the simple desire to turn on a tap and have clean water.
    This proposal by the state to build cisterns for Pavilion residents, then have them pay for trucking in clean water, is an insult to average citizens and a big, sloppy kiss to industry. Mead and the Republican Legislature continue to demonstrate that they represent industry, not citizens.

  4. Shannon Anderson June 8, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    While I appreciate that Mr. Doll attempted to apologize for his comments, it appears that the apology only came after the prodding of the Governor’s office once his comments went public through the media. Regardless, his statement is one that the people in the Pavillion area living with water contamination should not have to forgive. The fact that he said it openly in a very public forum (in a room full of his peers no less) demonstrates that it is what he really feels. Of course, the people in the Pavillion area living with this contamination DESERVE full compensation for what has happened to them. But that desire for compensation comes from public health concerns, property devaluation, and general quality of life impacts, NOT greed. That Mr. Doll doesn’t recognize and respect that perspective of the impacted people demonstrates where his true alliances lie – to industry not the public interest. This is one “mistake” you cannot correct.

  5. Jill June 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Tom Doll’s statements and actions demonstrate his servitude to the oil and gas industry over and above the health and safety of Wyoming’s good people. This state appears to be more interested in protecting industry and regulating and insulting citizens who are trying to raise families and make a living while their property and health are being destroyed by the oil and gas industry. Tom Doll is a perfect example of how Wyoming coddles and protects one of the richest and most powerful industry’s in the world while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to protection of Wyoming families and our clean water, air, land and abundant wildlife. We know where the true greed lies in this state.

  6. Resident2360 June 7, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    I believe Mr. Doll probably knows all about greed. Haven’t Americans been victims of corporate greed for years. Why do these companies think that the Wall Street movement occurred? Perhaps Mr. Doll is projecting his own responses onto the victims in this scenario. He owes the people of Pavillion more than an apology; he owes them a review of the situation and why so many permits for fracking were issued to a company in an area of geology with no lithologic barrier, poor casing, shallow depths among domestic water wells, and the list goes on. Couldn’t someone have identified the problems earlier? What was he doing while collecting a substantial salary from the taxpayers of Wyoming?

  7. Bob LeResche June 7, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Another important and thoughtful piece by Dustin.
    Tom Doll’s “apology” is laughably insufficient. This guy has no grasp of the responsibilities of a Public Servant.
    He has probably ruined the Mead family’s trip to China.
    I sent the following note to Matt Mead:
    Governor –
    You must be terminally chagrined that one of your top appointed officials has so thoroughly embarrassed Wyoming by reviling our own citizens to an international audience (the IOGCC in Vancouver).
    Tom Doll has every right, of course, to disagree with anyone’s opinion, but as a public employee and a moral man, he has NO right to impugn Pavillion residents’ motives and characters publicly in such a forum. He is obviously too full of himself to represent you and the citizens of Wyoming.
    Doll’s actions have made it impossible for Wyoming citizens to deal on a level of trust with our OGCC as long as he heads it.
    Please remove Tom Doll from office immediately.

  8. DeweyV June 7, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    When it comes to the consequences of oil and gas development impacting consumers and residents, it’s true there is a lot of “greed” at work.

    But it’s in Cheyenne, not places like Pavillion .

    Wyoming leadership, Wyoming agency personnel, and especially the Wyoming legislature are mostly blinded by greed. When it comes to minerals and energy , they see mostly the Big Money and everything else lines up behind that —and is often totally occluded by it.

    If Doll still has his job come July 1, that is all the indictment you need of Wyoming’s sellout to industry at the Statehouse. The vast majority of Wyoming’s citizens do not grasp the extent to which energy and mineral corporations have co-opted policy , and indeed government itself, in Wyoming. Our ( alleged) leaders even let them write the laws and the regulations that govern the energy and mineral industry. We are a Second World colony beholden to the corporate hegemony , who at the end of the day do not care about the health , wealth, and general welfare of Wyoming and will toss it over the rail without hesitation when the energy/mineral market goes south.

    Ask the good people of Pavillion about that last point.

  9. Patrick June 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Fenton’s right but doesn’t go far enough. Doll wasn’t just asleep at the wheel, he was colluding with the oil and gas industry to discredit a federal agency’s report about a situation they had ignored for years.

    This is dereliction of duty on Doll’s part. He ignored his obligations to the people of Wyoming in deference to the oil and gas industry and seems to think he can continue doing so. He should do more than admit that he was asleep at the wheel. At the very least, he should be fired.

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