WASHINGTON The governor of Wyoming pressed the top U.S. environmental regulator to delay its December, 2011 release of a draft study linking fracking for natural gas to contamination of drinking water, a news report said on Thursday.
Governor Matt Mead contacted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and persuaded her to delay for about a month releasing the study that found fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had likely polluted an aquifer in the small town of Pavillion, the Associated Press report said.
The delay gave state officials time to raise dozens of questions about the draft study and coordinate an "all-out-press" against the EPA in the weeks before the agency released the study on December 8 last year, said the report, which relied on emails obtained from a state records request and an interview with Mead, a drilling supporter.
The Obama administration has been walking a fine line between promoting natural gas drilling and regulating technologies including fracking that have given the industry access to vast new supplies.
Just a few years ago the country was trying to import natural gas, but now it could become a major exporter. But environmental and health groups say fracking operations near schools and homes can pollute the air and water.
Last month a blow out at a Chesapeake Energy Corp well in Wyoming triggered a leak of unknown quantities of natural gas and drilling mud.
Under pressure from officials in Wyoming, which produces about 10 percent of U.S. natural gas and ranks as the third biggest U.S. onshore producer of the fuel, the EPA announced in March it would retest the aquifer with cooperation from the Wyoming state government.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order last month streamlining oversight of shale gas drilling that acknowledged states are the main regulators of the industry as most production occurs on private land.
Jim Martin, a regional EPA administrator in Colorado, said the agency had "consulted with and relied on the expertise of a range of stake holders," including officials in Wyoming's government, the federal Bureau of Land Management and local tribes, since the start of its investigation in Pavillion.
The draft study on the Wyoming water is open for public comment through October. Then a peer review of the report will be conducted by independent scientists.
(Reporting By Timothy Gardner)