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January 3, 2011
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Garfield County considers produced water disposal method

PARACHUTE, Colo. - The Garfield County commissioners on Monday will be asked to approve an injection well for disposal of "produced water" from the area's gas drilling industry, a disposal method the use of which has been predicted to increase in the coming years.The injection well, on land owned by the Puckett Land Co. about six miles north of Parachute, had been a gas production well and is to be converted to its new use, according to documents submitted to the county commissioners.The site is on roughly 5,100 acres of company land in the Garden Gulch area, west of County Road 215, which has "significant oil and gas activity" already, according to the application. The well pad itself is located on a ridge to the south of Garden Gulch; the operator is the Petroleum Development Corp. (PDC) of Denver.Also planned for the site are 10 storage tanks with a capacity of more than 15,000 gallons apiece, in which the produced water is to be held prior to injection deep beneath the surface.The injection well is to deposit the waste water in the Ohio Creek formation, at a depth of about 4,000 feet. The Ohio Creek formation sits above the Williams Fork formation, which holds vast quantities of natural gas, but below the level of groundwater aquifers, according to industry statements.Currently, according to the PDC application, the produced water is trucked down CR 215 and transferred to tankers that take it to a storage facility in Utah.According to a "white paper" on produced water, written for the Environmental Protection Agency, produced water primarily is water that is trapped alongside gas and oil deposits deep underground and released along with the oil and gas when wells are drilled.The fluids must be handled with care due to the toxic chemicals they contain, according to the paper."Produced waters from gas production have higher contents of low molecular-weight aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) than those from oil operations; hence they are relatively more toxic than produced waters from oil production," stated the report, which came out in 2004. "Studies indicate that the produced waters discharged from gas/condensate platforms are about 10 times more toxic than the produced waters discharged from oil."Critics of the industry worry that injection wells could contaminate underground water aquifers, and thereby threaten drinking water supplies in the region.The industry, however, has long held that the well bores are sealed with concrete casings and isolated from water aquifers, preventing contamination."Significant environmental benefits are produced when produced water injection wells are permitted in Garfield County," wrote David Ludlam, director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association. "Reduction in traffic, fewer vehicle emissions and real cost savings for natural gas companies occur when produced water is put back where it was found - underground."In 2009, a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman predicted to the county commissioners that the use of injection wells for disposal purposes is likely to increase.Denise Onyskiw noted that gas drilling companies "have all this water and don't have anywhere to put it."She said the state permits this kind of disposal only when it affects aquifers that produce hydrocarbons on their own; are too deep to be used economically for drinking water; or too contaminated already to be used for drinking water.The disposal wells, she said, are lined to prevent contamination of aquifers through which the bore passes, and regulations require that the pressure used to inject the waste water be well below that used in hydraulic fracturing of actual gas wells, so that the subterranean rock around the well is not broken up.After the presentation, Onyskiw told a reporter that the likelihood of greater use of disposal wells is related to changing regulations governing the use of pits, lined with impermeable membranes, to hold a variety of waste fluids during the drilling process.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission now requires that, once the fluids are drained and disposed of, the liners themselves must be sent to a receiving site for disposal.Garfield County's landfill will no longer accept the liners due to their bulky and potentially toxic nature, and the COGCC has been asked by the industry to return to a former rule that allowed the companies to simply bury the liner in place.jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 3, 2011 06:40AM Published Jan 3, 2011 01:18AM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.