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.