- Associated Press - Thursday, May 3, 2012

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s governor persuaded the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to postpone an announcement linking hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination, giving state officials - whom the EPA had privately briefed on the study - time to attempt to debunk the finding, an investigation by the Associated Press has found.

During the delay before the study rocked the oil and gas industry more than a month later, state officials raised dozens of questions about the finding that the procedure may have tainted groundwater near the gas-patch community of Pavillion.

Gov. Matthew Mead contacted EPA Director Lisa P. Jackson and persuaded her to hold off any announcement, according to state emails and an interview with the governor.

The more than 11,000 emails made available to the Associated Press in response to a state records request show that Wyoming officials took advantage of the postponement to “take a hard line” and coordinate an “all-out press” against the EPA in the weeks leading up to the announcement Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, the chief state regulator of oil and gas development fretted over how the finding would affect state revenue. Even as the state questioned the EPA’s science, there were internal doubts about how effective those objections would be.

“It’s already too late. The White House has already seen the report with conclusions,” wrote Gary Strong, an engineer with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, after a presentation by EPA deputy assistant regional administrator Martin Hestmark.

The emails indicate that the federal agency was being pressed by the White House to release its report.

But the state’s questions did set the stage for additional groundwater and household well-water sampling in the Pavillion area that began a couple weeks ago.

The struggle by both Wyoming officials and the EPA for message control shows the extent to which they fretted about the findings. Wyoming depends on oil and gas for its economic well-being while environmentalists have pushed the Obama administration to crack down on the process.

The worry wasn’t misplaced: Though the findings were unique to Pavillion, they ricocheted amid heightened scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing in other drilling regions, including the Marcellus Shale states of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The emails also suggest an uneasy partnership now that the EPA and Wyoming, as well as U.S. Geological Survey and two American Indian tribes, say they are working together on further study of the Pavillion groundwater.

However, some recent re-sampling by the EPA of household well water in the Pavillion area took Mr. Mead and other state officials by surprise. They had presumed that only two monitoring wells the EPA had drilled to test for groundwater pollution would be retested this spring.

“I won’t tell anybody not to test. But if you’re going to test, you need to bring everyone in the process,” Mr. Mead said in an interview Monday.

The EPA did not make Ms. Jackson available for an interview. EPA Region 8 Director Jim Martin said in a statement through spokesman Richard Mylott that the EPA “has been transparent and has relied on the best science” to inform Pavillion-area residents about their water.