It’s not common to read stories that describe a breach of the public trust by Wyoming’s public servants. This week, however, was different — with news from Vancouver that Tom Doll, the supervisor of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, in a speech to an interstate group of regulators, accused people in the Pavillion area of being driven by “greed” as they have voiced concerns about groundwater pollution that, EPA scientists say, is the likely result of gas drilling.
Like all state officials, Mr. Doll should honor the state constitution, which says that private property shall not be taken or damaged for public or private use without justification, and also says that the state must guard water equally for the benefit of all. These provisions suggest that Mr. Doll should be tough but fair, and it’s hard to see how he can be both, going forward, when it comes to the issue of water contamination near Pavillion.
Some residents near Pavillion have sought the state’s protection from documented groundwater contamination that the EPA, in a draft study, has said in all likelihood is the result of natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing.
Mr. Doll was quoted as saying about the people of rural Pavillion: “I think they’re just looking to be compensated.”
This isn’t the first time that Mr. Doll has weighed in on the Pavillion-area groundwater contamination investigation in a way that exceeds his normal duty of overseeing the oil and gas industry’s activities in Wyoming.
After the EPA agreed, this winter, to postpone the release of its draft investigation into the groundwater contamination, the Associated Press reported that officials with the state of Wyoming, including Mr. Doll, took advantage of the postponement to “take a hard line” and coordinate an “all-out press” against the EPA. As part of its report, the Associated Press quoted from an internal email in which Mr. Doll expressed concerns that the EPA’s results could lead to “the limiting of the hydraulic fracturing process [and that] will result in negative impacts to the oil and gas revenues to the state of Wyoming. A further outcome will be the questioning of the economic viability of all unconventional and tight oil and gas reservoirs in Wyoming, across the United States, and ultimately in the world.”
While Mr. Doll has apologized for his accusations that “greed” is behind the Pavillion-area residents’ concerns about their groundwater — and has been scolded by the governor for making these remarks — the story probably isn’t over, particularly since the governor won’t return from his trip to China for a few more days. This winter, in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Governor Mead wrote that officials with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have “demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with the EPA,” describing them “as experts in their field.” Mr. Doll’s remarks would seem to jeopardize not only his relationship with the people near Pavillion but also with the EPA.
Meanwhile, Mr. Doll’s skeptical appraisal of these Wyoming citizens’ motivations, and his concern for the state’s revenues, call to mind the need for a more responsible and protective approach to oil and gas development — one that will better protect human health and continue to maintain the viability of an industry that is important to Wyoming.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council (and others) have long advocated the need for baseline testing of groundwater resources within a reasonable radius of natural gas and oil drilling.
Governor Mead has said “the collection and analysis of baseline testing is a direction we need to explore.” And even the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission (and Mr. Doll) has recommended to operators that they baseline test. By requiring this basic practice, along with routine and regular monitoring, the state can be proactive in making sure that groundwater is safe and industry is able to move confidently forward in its development plans.
We believe the practice of testing water before oil and gas development takes place makes sense because it would protect residents and oil and gas companies alike. It would also arm citizens, regulators, and oil and gas companies with the information necessary to determine if water contamination existed prior to any drilling.
This would render bad politics and ad hominem attacks, such as those levied by Mr. Doll against these rural Wyoming citizens, irrelevant.
Groundwater is a fantastic resource — a gift that belongs to everyone in the state of Wyoming, and it is one that this generation inherited from our mothers, fathers and all of those that came before us. It is our duty and obligation as stewards to pay that gift forward to our children and every generation ahead.
— Richard Garrett of Lander, Wyoming, is the legislative and energy advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-332-7031.