County looks at possible civil suit against Barrett
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs Co Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Garfield County commissioners on Monday gave the go-ahead for the county to possibly file civil litigation against Bill Barrett Corp. after county staff discovered the company was allegedly running an unauthorized operation near Silt.
That operation was apparently using one pit for storing produced water from several well pads in the area ” a use of the land that would require a special-use permit from county commissioners, according to county staff. Possible litigation filed by the county would largely seek to have that operation stop until the company receives a permit.
The county’s problem with Bill Barrett, which says it has complied with all state and county regulations, is based on what is occurring on a 280-acre property near Silt.
That property has an Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) conservation easement covering it, which precludes industrial operations and auxiliary oil and gas facilities.
In June, the company sought a special-use permit to build a facility that would have collected produced water from on-site and surrounding gas wells, separate oil and recycle the used water through a pipeline back into its operations, according to county records.
The intent behind the project was to minimize wasteful disposal of water and the need for taking additional fresh water from the Colorado River.
However, the county commissioners ruled that Bill Barrett Corp. had to join with the AVLT in its application for the permit. They did that based on advice from county attorneys who suggested the group could be considered a co-owner of the surface property because of its ownership of the conservation easement.
The county has the ability to approve industry-related facilities through special-use permits. However, conservation easements can disallow industrial uses on a certain property regardless of the county’s zoning regulations.
David Pesnichak, a senior planner for the county’s building and planning department, said the county began looking into Bill Barrett after Jim Rada, the county’s environmental health manager, saw a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) notice of alleged violation filed against the company on Aug. 27.
That document reported that produced water was hauled to a pit and then pumped to other locations for the company’s operations. COGCC staff said that constituted an exploration and waste management facility, which was not permitted by the agency.
However, the COGCC later determined there was no violation, Pesnichak said. The county then began looking at the matter and conducted a site visit of the property about two weeks ago, he said.
Pesnichak said that visit indicated there were several pipelines sending produced water from area well pads to one centralized pit. He said the purpose of the operation was essentially the same as what the company proposed in June, but just that it was on a smaller size.
“They can have a pond or (at a well pad) to store water, but they can’t bring in water from other facilities,” Pesnichak said. “A company needs a special-use permit for a water storage pit if it is serving more than one well pad.”
Pesnichak said if Bill Barrett wants to move forward to receive a special-use permit for that operation, it may require AVLT to sign on with it.
Scot Donato, manager of environmental health and safety for Bill Barrett, said the county’s move comes as news to the company, and that Bill Barrett officials believe they are operating well within the guidelines of the state and the county.
He said the county’s interpretation would largely mean that many of the pits in the Piceance Basin would require a special-use permit from the county. Donato added the COGCC did not view the company’s pit as a centralized waste management facility.
“Thus it doesn’t require a special-use permit,” he said.
Donato said the special-use permit the company applied for in June was to take and use produced water from multiple mineral leases, but the company has since scaled that plan back to use water among well pads and wells from one mineral lease at the center of the dispute. That is a scenario that doesn’t require a COGCC permit for a centralized waste management facility, he said.
Donato said he thought the company and the county both understood that since that permit was not required, the county did not require a special-use permit.
Martha Cochran, AVLT executive director, said she was delighted the county “has stepped up” to take possible enforcement action against Bill Barrett. She said the county was led to believe the company had dropped its June application for a water gathering facility on the property.
“Clearly, the company is operating it anyway,” she said. “They felt they weren’t going to get what they wanted from the county so they went ahead and built it anyway.”
Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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