GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An energy company has applied to Garfield County for permission to set up and operate a “pug mill,” which operates much as a cement mixer does, but to clean up soils carrying contamination from oil and gas activities.
The Metcalf Soil Treatment Facility, which would be located just west of the Battlement Mesa mobile home park on County Road 300 (Stone Quarry Road), would operate only when there is contaminated soil to be cleaned up from the activities of the Caerus Oil and Gas LLC.
Caerus, which reportedly is active in oil and gas drilling in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma, recently purchased the Piceance Basin assets of the Petroleum Development Corp., which originally submitted the pug mill application on Sept. 3.
Caerus now has assumed control of the pug-mill application, according to county officials. Representatives of Caerus Oil and Gas could not be reached Thursday for comment.
A hearing was set for Oct. 9 before the county planning and zoning commission, but the county’s senior planner, Kathy Eastley, said it has been postponed to give Caerus representatives time to meet with residents of Battlement Mesa.
The P&Z hearing is now set for Nov. 13, Eastley said.
According to the applications documents, the pug mill would be set up on less than 10 acres of a 35-acre parcel of private property, owned by Metcalf Property Management. The property is split by the Colorado River, and according to Eastley the northern portion is about 14-15 acres in size, of which 9 acres or so would be used for the actual operation of the pug mill and its ancillary equipment.
One or more monitoring wells are proposed for the site to detect any contamination of the site itself, through contact with the contaminated soils trucked in to be cleaned.
The mill, according to the application, is a portable piece of equipment that can be removed whenever it is not needed, leaving the site unencumbered by equipment. The machine combines the contaminated soils with water and microbes intended to consume the contamination, the application explains.
If testing shows that not all of the contamination has been removed by the pug mill, the application states, the soils can then be spread out on an impermeable membrane, still mixed with water and the microbes, which would be expected to keep functioning as a cleansing agent. Eastley said the spread-out soils would be “tilled” periodically for aeration purposes.
A second soil remediation site, Eastley said, has been proposed for a location about 8 miles east of Parachute on the old U.S. Highway 6, close to the Rulison interchange for Interstate 70.
That site, Eastley said, does not call for a pug mill.
Instead, she explained, the Highway 6 site would rely on spreading the contaminated soils out on the ground, mixed with the same kind of microbes used in the Metcalf site. This passive process is meant to consume the hydrocarbons mingled with the soils, and “let nature do its work,” Eastley said.
It is the spreading of contaminated soils on the ground, Eastley said, that may prompt some concerns among the P&Z members and the Board of County Commissioners.
“The concern is the permeability of the soil and the barrier that they place the contaminated soils on,” she said, noting that the tilling procedure may tear holes in any kind of liner or membrane laid under the contaminated soils.
The company may have a form of special sealing substance it plans to use instead of more traditional liners or membranes, she said, but she is still going through the thick application booklet and has not seen any such proposal yet.
“As we move through the process, we’ll get more into those kinds of details,” she predicted.