Open fracking water pits now allowed without county permit
Open-air pits used to hold water for hydraulic fracturing will now be allowed at remote fracking sites in Garfield County as a use-by-right, under a decision ratified by county commissioners on Monday.
Earlier this year, WPX Energy asked the county to clarify its definition of allowed facilities at remote, centralized locations used for fracking operations, and whether open pits and enclosed tanks used for storage of fracking fluids should both be exempt from land-use reviews.
Previously, tanks used to hold produced underground water that results from the drilling process are allowed at remote fracking sites without a permit, where open pits required a county permit review similar to that required of larger water treatment and impoundment ponds associated with natural gas production sites.
Water storage pits and tanks are still subject to separate approval and regulation by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Following a public hearing May 4, county commissioners went against the unanimous recommendation of the county Planning Commission and agreed to allow the open storage pits without a permit, after WPX argued it needs the flexibility to use either tanks or pits, depending on the situation.
Remote frack sites are used by energy companies to conduct the hydraulic fracturing process on multiple wells from a single location via pipelines, rather than having those materials and equipment located at each drilling site.
In bringing the issue before the commissioners in February, WPX officials said they had constructed several ponds without county permits, on the understanding that they were treated the same as tanks.
Most remote fracking facilities are allowed as a use by right by the county, in an effort to encourage companies to centralize operations and cut down on the footprint of drilling sites as well as truck traffic.
Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison, reiterated at the May 4 hearing that odor complaints, including those associated with open pits, account for about a third of resident complaints that come to him.
The Planning Commission urged against allowing fracking pits as a use by right, saying they are too hard to distinguish from wastewater pits that do require permits.
County commissioners, however, supported the countywide exemption for fracking pits, including rural residential zones, on testimony from industry representatives that such facilities are typically located far away from residential areas.
Michael Sullivan, an alternate member on the county Planning Commission and a candidate for county commission last year, said at the May 4 meeting that allowing such facilities, including tanks, near homes is a dangerous precedent.
“Having open pits next to any residential zone is a failure on our part to protect the citizens,” he said.
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A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.