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.

2 thoughts on “OUTCOME OF THE cogcc hearing on WELLINGTON OPERATING”

  1. Comment shared by Robert Viscount:

    RE: DOCKET #210500085

    Dear Commissioners,

    Thank you for allowing me to submit comments pertaining to Wellington Operating’s request for a reissue of the permits 281818, 281824, and 416077 for three (3) RIBs located in northeast Larimer County. I ask you to deny the renewal of these permits.

    1. Open pit treatment of “produced water” should be prohibited. Migratory birds and other wildlife are attracted to these pits, thinking that they are just open water. The animals die. There is no way to prevent these deaths except by ending the use of open pit treatments.

    2. Whatever the treatment used with “produced water,” we need periodic independent testing to ensure that all the contaminants that can be harmful to human health have been removed. This certification should be done by an independent laboratory, not by the company that does the treatment.

    3. “Produced water” contains known hazardous and cancer-causing constituents. If these seep into the aquafers and contaminate drinking water sources, the damage to people’s health – especially children – is devastating. If the contaminants are in the drinking water, it is too late and the damage is done. The preventative measure needed is to ban open pit treatment of “produced water.”

    4. Chemical treatment of this “produced water” is not a solution because it cannot remove all the toxins and the radioactivity from it. In addition, the chemicals themselves add another layer of danger in this process.

    On many levels, this process of disposing of “produced water” in the Rapid Infiltration Basins managed by Wellington Operating is dangerous and deadly. I urge you to deny these permits.

    Robert Viscount.
    Fort Collins, CO

  2. Transcript of my written comments to the COGCC on this issue. . .

    10/20/2021 Hearing
    Edward Behan
    DN 210500085

    My name is Edward Behan, and I live with my wife Pamela in Fort Collins at the address on file with this submission. I have concerns about renewing the processed wastewater discharge permit for Wellington Operating’s (WO) drilling site located Northwest of Wellington in Larimer County, to the Northeast of Fort Collins. It is my understanding that produced water from WO’s drilling operations at that site will run through a water treatment plan to remove the most noxious of the chemical products. The treated wastewater will then be left in unlined Rapid Infiltration Basins (RIBs), to settle through the porous rock beneath the basins before ultimately flowing into the subsurface gradient of the alluvium of Boxelder Creek.

    I also took the time to review the recording of your session on February 24 which you all have added to the public record. One issue that came up, if I am recalling correctly, is whether there were any PFAS or “forever chemical” compounds included in the mix of Wellington’s fracking fluid. Your reporting staff were not sure if any had been in that mix as a surfactant, although the Operator’s safety data sheet indicated there may be. But your staff also seemed to have been informed there would not be enough to be of concern.

    These are highly pernicious compounds which can have grave health consequences if present in a water supply, and my understanding is there is practically no safe level for them in domestic water. They are notoriously difficult to screen out of any environment, and I would question the effectiveness of any wastewater processing. Of course, I am aware of many other chemicals being analyzed in this process, and all bear close scrutiny. But these PFAS materials would be particularly problematic if they were to be found in even low levels in water used for agricultural or potential domestic use.

    The secondary concern is that the COGCC relies on the operator to monitor the effective outflow from this RIB site of the treated water as it moves into the subsurface water channels. WO is charged with maintaining a series of sampling wells at the edge of the site and down gradient across the Boxelder alluvium. This may be standard operating procedure, but how is the COGCC assured of the veracity of these samples? Is there a process for independent monitoring of the groundwater quality samples by someone other than the operator? If not, I would think this would be something the Commission should be putting place. I myself would be pleased to begin advocating to our elected officials for such funding of State originated testing if the current budget did not allow for that.

    It would be important for the public to know the response to these concerns, or if raising them here today suggests the need to modify the sampling protocols before the permit is allowed to be renewed. Thank you for you attention to this matter.

    Edward Behan
    Fort Collins, Colorado

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