A natural gas producer will be allowed to bore underneath one of Rifle's potable water sources to allow a two-mile long water pipeline so the company can meet future needs.
Rifle City Council approved the project, with conditions, on Feb. 20, despite misgivings by one councilmember.
In 2009, the City Council approved a watershed district permit for Williams Production RMT to drill and operate within the city's Beaver Creek watershed. Williams Production RMT is now WPX Energy and wants to build and operate two miles of buried production water pipelines and related facilities. They applied for an amendment to the permit.
The project is located within five miles of the city's Beaver Creek water intake structure in the city's watershed district. Rifle receives 9 percent of its potable water from Beaver Creek, the rest from the Colorado River.
Jason Raley with WPX said the pipeline was needed to help the company handle the volume of area gas produced in the future.
"We know there is a lot of rock out there, so we think boring under the creek will likely be successful," he said.
The pipeline should allow WPX to "almost totally eliminate our water truck traffic" in that immediate area, Raley noted.
Michael J. Erion, a water resources engineer for Resource Engineering Inc., reviewed the application for the city and, in a letter to the council, concluded the project "created a cumulative impact and presents or creates a clear or foreseeable risk
of significant injury to the city's waterworks or pollution to the city water supply."
The pipeline would run from a well pad east under Beaver Creek and an unnamed tributary of Beaver Creek to a centralized hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, facility. A temporary 36,000 barrel (1.5 million gallons) water storage tank would also be located at the frack facility.
Erion recommended several conditions to mitigate the risk to the city water supply and system, including requiring a six-inch "flex steel" pipeline made of a polyethylene inner pipe, a steel reinforcement outer pipe, and an ultra-violet-light-resistant shield cover over the steel, with no joints within 50 feet of the creek banks.
Erion also found the existing permit's $250,000 was adequate for the added project.
If WPX cannot successfully construct the pipe with a boring machine, they proposed to open cut a trench across Beaver Creek with bypass culverts and erosion protection, Erion wrote. The city has already approved a permit for Bargath to install a gas line across the creek at a nearby location, Erion noted, and Williams already installed a gas line and water line across the creek in that same area several years ago.
If WPX cannot successfully bore under the creek, Erion recommended WPX coordinate with the Bargath project, or explain why they cannot do so.
If all conditions are met, Erion wrote, the project "should not pose any clear or foreseeable risk of significant injury to the city's water facilities and potable water supply."
Councilwoman Jennifer Sanborn said she was concerned about having a pipeline carry produced water under the city's watershed and wondered how long it might hold up before a leak occurred.
Raley noted the flex steel material has very few joints, and WPX installs meters along all its pipelines to alert the company if leaks occur or pressure drops.
"I'm confident the useful life span of this pipeline will be well past what our field will sustain," Raley said.
He also said the fracking facility is more than a half-mile outside the Beaver Creek watershed and will be on a high ridge.
Raley's statements did not ease Sanborn's concerns.
"I still feel the risk to our watershed is not worth it," she said. "My loyalty is to serve the community, and I can't see why we should take the risk."
Council voted 4-1, with Sanborn opposed and Mayor Jay Miller and Councilman Keith Lambert absent, to approve the amended permit for the project.