OUTCOME OF THE cogcc hearing on WELLINGTON OPERATING

by Rick Casey, with assistance from other members of the Larimer Alliance

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, the COGGC Commissioners heard public testimony during an important hearing: whether to renew the operating license for Wellington Operating Company’s three permits for its RIBs (Rapid Infill Basins), or pits, for another five years. In the end they approved the permits but not before they heard five powerful testimonies from the local community and read numerous comments from the public.

The Larimer Alliance has been aware of Wellington Operating’s (WO) dumping of produced water into RIBS or pits into the Boxelder Creek alluvial for some time and knew the permits for the pits were coming up for renewal this Fall 2021.

The produced water from WO oil field is created when the oil wells pump water from deep aquifers containing the oil. After the oil is removed with Enhanced Oil Recyclers (EORs), the remaining water is either injected back 5,000 feet into the aquifer where it came from, or it is lightly treated and dumped into the RIBs or pits located in northern Larimer County, south of E CR 70 and N CR 11. Wellington Operating estimated two thirds of the total wastewater is injected and one third is dumped into the pits. The pits allow wastewater to enter the groundwater flowing under them to be carried down the Boxelder Creek watershed to the Cache la Poudre River.

This might remind readers of the old saying, “Dilution is the Solution to Pollution” and now, even when we know this pollution never goes away, this concept is still being used as a means of disposing contaminants. To justify this, the industry and governments call this dumping to groundwater a “beneficial use” or “recycling” and “waste minimization” — all euphemisms crafted by industry to conceal their highly negative environmental effects. We believe Larimer County and the COGCC should be describing these pollutants more accurately.

This water is toxic due to the naturally occurring radioactive particles, salty brine, heavy metals, and oil and gas contaminants that are commonly found in it. There are also additional chemicals added to this wastewater to prevent bio-fouling in the pipes which adds to the toxicity of the water. The permit provided details on the process of treatment of this wastewater and included numerous tests for contaminants including for PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals, and one was found in a very small quantity. This triggered the Commissioners to require PFAS testing of this water at least once per year and more often, if any are found.

It is likely more contaminants are in this water but exactly what they are won’t be known unless oil and gas operators are required to have water quality lab tests for others and then required to report them to the COGCC. The industry is self-regulated so operators not regulators take the samples and submit them to labs. Should this be allowed?

The COGCC Commissioners also required WO to notify Larimer County in any future actions after Matt Sura, an oil and gas attorney for Larimer County government, entered the discussion during the hearing and asked that the Commissioners pause the hearing until Larimer County is able to review the permit. The Commissioners declined to consider this request but from now on the County will be informed of any permit action by Wellington Operating. According to the COGCC Director, notification to Larimer County about this permit reissue was not legally required.

COMMENTS TO BOCC ON O&G EMISSIONS NORTHEAST OF FORT COLLINS

On Tuesday, September 28, Doug Henderson delivered these remarks in the Administrative Matters meeting of the Larimer Board of County Commissioners. Tim Gosar, Gayla Martinez, Cory Caroll, and Jonathan Singer (LOGIC’s new executive director) also made comments to the Board:

Good morning Commissioners,

In a Tues morning BoCC meeting in June, we addressed the problem of
harmful, often illegal, emissions from oil & gas facilities – emissions
that damage people’s health, degrade air quality, and gravely harm our
planet’s climate.

We presented evidence about such emissions from a Prospect Energy
facility northeast of Fort Collins, including imaging of the emissions
taken by Earthworks in January and March 2021. A local resident also
told of his experience, health impacts, and harm suffered for years from
toxic emissions from this facility.

After the January investigation by Earthworks, a complaint was submitted
to the state, and Prospect subsequently said it had stopped the leaks
and emissions.

The next investigation in March showed that the facility was still
leaking, and another complaint was submitted to the state.

Prospect then actually made some repairs, and the leaks and emissions
stopped. At least temporarily.

But before long, local residents again were suffering from emissions
from this facility. So in early September, Earthworks investigated
again. Here is video from that investigation – which shows the facility
was leaking again
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAWHJ8CzY5E

The illegal emissions documented in January, March, and September this
year are not the first. CDPHE cited Prospect last November for
regulatory non-compliance and illegal emissions at this facility – for
violations documented in November 2018, June 2019, and October 2019.

(A copy of the letter from CDPHE to Prospect Energy is attached.)

Only 2 months after CDPHE’s warning letter to Prospect, Earthworks
documented the January 2021 violation. Then came more documented
violations – in March and again earlier this month.

A few weeks ago, Earthworks also documented illegal emissions from
another Prospect facility in the Hearthfire neighborhood
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC1anPkau_E

Unfortunately these emissions happen at O&G sites all the time. This is
oil & gas business as usual, how the industry has operated for decades.

Colorado law is clear: protection of public health holds priority in oil
& gas development. Larimer County’s oil & gas regulations uphold this law.

It is time to protect public health and the environment from these
harmful and illegal emissions.

It is also time to hold Prospect Energy fully accountable for its record
as a repeat violator.

Thank you for your attention to this.

Doug Henderson

Doug, along with our colleagues in Earthworks, has also been maintaining communication with Cassie Archuleta, Air Quality Program Manager for the City of Fort Collins, bringing attention to these sites Northeast of Fort Collins. Particular attention has been paid to one located near the Hearthfire neighborhood.