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Pit liner discussion awaits federal study

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The ongoing discussion over whether to let gas drillers bury “pit liners” where they sit has been put on hold while federal environmental watchdogs study the issue.

The Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) recently asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which oversees gas and oil drilling activities, to change its rules to permit the burial of pit liners “on site.”

Pit liners are thick rubberized sheets used to line pits that hold water and other fluids and solids generated in the drilling process.



Current COGCC rules require that the liners be disposed of according to existing local solid-waste guidelines.

But last year the Garfield County landfill banned the liners, as they are too difficult to deal with using the landfill’s existing equipment and technology. A Mesa County landfill is believed to still accept the pit liners, as will one in Utah, but companies complain about the cost of shipping the liners those distances.



Garfield County public works official Marvin Stephens told the Board of County Commissioners last July that the liners clog up the landfill’s compactors and that “shredding is the only answer.”

The commissioners also have been investigating the idea of building a new “cell” or landfill area to accept the liners, but so far nothing has been done and the liners are still banned.

In a related development, Williams Production RMT recently won an award from the COGCC for a new program to recycle pit liners, and industry watchers are hopeful that recycling may become a more common way of dealing with the vexing issue.

Meanwhile, the CPA has petitioned the COGCC to change their rules to allow pit liners to be buried “on site,” next to the drilling pads once the wells have been completed.

But, according to Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources “is unsure whether it has the authority to grant CPA’s petition because it [depends] on whether pit liners are ‘Exploration and Production’ waste that is uniquely associated with the petroleum industry and therefore exempted from the federal solid waste law,” Jordan reported to the commissioners this week.

She said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing a “guidance letter” on the status of pit liners under federal law – whether they are considered unique to the oil and gas industry, or should be lumped in with other kinds of “solid waste.”

The COGCC voted on July 8 to put off further consideration of the matter until a September meeting, hoping they will hear from the EPA before then.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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