Today the Larimer Alliance learned that the Larimer County Community Director sent a letter to the COGCC regarding Prospect Energy, requesting that Prospect submit a Form 2A (location application for oil and gas operations) because the recompletions (redrilling the wells to a different formation) of 3 wells Prospect applied for last year are considered to be a significant change to the current operations. Prospect had originally applied only for drilling permits to drill to a different formation for the 3 existing wells.
A letter was also sent to Prospect Energy asking Prospect to comply with County oil and gas regulations.
The two letters are attached to this post.
The 41 page letter to the COGCC begins by stressing the proximity of the Prospect wells to residences (290 feet to the closest, and 22 homes within 1,000 feet), how this is in an Urban Mitigation Area, and is a “disproportionately impacted community”…and goes on from there, requesting the COGCC grant the request for a “Form 2A” review. The upshot seems to be, if granted, this will result in a delay and extra cost to Prospect…but a greater emphasis on proceeding safely, thereby increasing the chances that residents are not going to get exposed to more harmful pollution from unsafe operations — which Prospect has been known to do in the recent past.
The following is an email I sent on 12/14/2021 in response to an EPA Grant Competition offered to local communities to improve their air quality monitoring capabilities; I found out about it on the listserv for CCLC ( Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate). Ms Archuleta is Cassie Archuleta, the head of the Air Quality Department in Fort Collins:
Dear Larimer County Commissioners and Ms. Archuleta:
I would like to bring to your attention, if you were not already aware, of this EPA Notification of a grant competition for $20 million for Community Air Pollution Monitoring; please find attached. The public meeting for it will be on January 11, 2022. It is targeted at “communities with health outcome disparities.”
I think if the data on respiratory illnesses in Larimer County were summarized, I believe it would have communities that qualify. The bad ozone conditions here in the summer must certainly be having its effect. Just publishing that data would be useful in and of itself.
If the state air quality regulators were serious about discovering the sources of what’s causing all this ozone — instead of just installing ozone monitors to tell us how bad it is, and what days to stay indoors — they would have installed an array of BoulderAIR monitors from Wellington to Pueblo by now. Instead, the cities and counties have had to take on this job in piecemeal fashion, as you well know. It is no way to manage a regional air pollution issue.
If Larimer County were to coordinate with the five other BoulderAIR monitoring stations from Boulder to Erie, we would be able to find the real causes of our air pollution. And then, and only then, will we be able to start to managing this pollution problem with data driven results. I hope some staff can be directed to evaluate this opportunity; and hopefully take advantage of it.
Best regards, Rick Casey
PS — This is the positive response from Commissioners Kefalas and Stephens in reply:
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.
Thanks to efforts by Councilwomen Laurie Anderson of Broomfield, and to Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson of LOGIC, an idea for a tour became a reality last week. On short notice, a select crowd of community leaders, including some from the Larimer Alliance, were asked if they would like to attend a tour of one of BoulderAIR‘s monitoring stations. Would a few of us be interested in attending the tour, at noon on Thursday, September 23, 2021?
You betcha! was the response. The organizers were trying to limit it to about a half dozen, but nearly twice that number showed up. People were from Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Loveland, including past Colorado legislator Mike Foote, who helped craft the historic SB-181 legislation.
When we arrived at the Soaring Eagle Park in Broomfield, Dr Helmig, the CEO of BoulderAIR, was just finishing up a tour provided to members of the Aurora city government; so it was a busy tour day!
The Soaring Eagle Park in Broomfield is located in the Anthem housing development, which does have expansive views:
Unfortunately, this upscale housing development is also home to fracked wells, some just a few hundred feet from homes, which were drilled in the years prior to SB-181. Hence the strong interest by local government in getting such monitoring stations installed.
A stable tower anchors the mobile trailer that houses all the equipment, and provides the means of attaching the various sensors that record environmental conditions and air pollution:
The trailer contains sophisticated equipment, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and analyzes the air samples in real time, and automatically publishing the data on the BoulderAIR website in less than 15 minutes. The equipment is under constant maintenance and calibration; though largely automated, the entire system nonetheless needs a good deal of tender loving care to keep it in good operating condition.
The presentation wrapped up with an explanation of the key piece of equipment: a gas chromatograph. The heart of the machine is this delicate part:
On the same site is another sampling station, an AJAX system, which is not part of BoulderAIR, but which Broomfield contracted to build prior to contracting with BoulderAIR:
The Soaring Eagle BoulderAIR station has the most complete set of sensors of any of the seven stations that they operate. It went into operation in April 2020, and has helped Broomfield identify several local pollutants, even ones not associated with oil and gas. There are two new fracked wells that went in within the past two years within about a mile radius; a third well’s drilling rig was just visible about a mile to the southeast from this site, which is being drilled now. So the city has ample reason for wanting a monitoring station in this area.
One of the many interesting facts that Dr. Helmig mentioned during the tour was that this station measured 40 days of non-compliance for ozone this past summer; the recommended threshold for maintaining human health set by the EPA is FOUR DAYS — in other words, this location in Broomfield was 10 TIMES THE RECOMMENDED SAFE THRESHOLD FOR SURFACE OZONE THIS SUMMER! It would be interesting indeed to study the data from those days and find out what percentage of the VOCs causing the ozone were from oil and gas sources versus VOCs coming from vehicular pollution. Why hasn’t this been done, one might wonder?
Well, apparently the state of Colorado is not interested in pursuing that question; and Broomfield does not have the expertise in-house to answer it either. But if BoulderAIR had the resources to hire more qualified staff, they could answer the question for us. But, as Dr. Helmig joked, you can’t just put out a Craigslist ad for this kind of job! Up until now, he has been so busy keeping the monitors going, his small team has not been able to pursue such questions; that might change in the future if BoulderAIR could hire more staff.
As far as anyone knows, these monitoring stations are unique: there are simply no other monitoring stations in the US, or in the world for that matter, that can match their analytical capability. Given the extreme amounts of ozone and, on occasion when accidents happen at oil and gas sites, dangerous amounts of other toxic chemicals that go wafting over the landscape, it would seem a no-brainer that more of these stations need to get built, AND more powerful regulations put in place to allow the state and local governments to shut down chronic pollution sources.
The Larimer Alliance is engaging with the city and county departments to support the installation of one or more such monitoring stations in the county, and support the important work of BoulderAIR. We will keep you posted of developments!