Wyoming regulators OK Encana aquifer waste well by Adam Voge, March 12, 2013, Star-Tribune
Wyoming’s oil and natural gas commission approved a plan Tuesday to dispose of wastewater into an aquifer used in some parts of the state for drinking water, overruling no votes from the two geologists on the commission. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved an Encana Oil and Gas request for permission to inject water produced from the company’s operations into the Madison formation at a rate around 25,000 barrels — or about 750,000 gallons — per day for 50 years. The well would serve existing operations in a small field about 60 miles west of Casper. The commission, which includes Gov. Matt Mead, voted to approve the plan after a lengthy discussion about the proposal at a Tuesday hearing in Casper. The commission approved the plan largely on the grounds that it would be too expensive to pump and treat water from the 15,000 foot-deep aquifer. Two commissioners — State Geologist Tom Drean and the recently-appointed Mark Doelger, also a geologist — voted against the plan. Drean, who as state geologist oversees geological data about Wyoming, told representatives of the company that he had concerns about company modeling used to project the well’s effect on the water-bearing formation. He told the company that he thought its modeling didn’t put enough weight on the possibility that the formation is more porous than Encana believes and exists in varying thicknesses. Both factors could mean the company’s projected 4.5-mile wide impact zone around the well is too narrow. “I am in no way faulting the work that Encana has done,” he said late in the hearing. “What I do have questions about is, when they’re representing the 4.5-mile impact area, I don’t think that’s accurate.”
Encana first proposed drilling the well, used to dispose of water produced in the oil and gas drilling and production process, in late 2011. The commission initially approved the plan in 2012, contingent on water in the formation hosting a measure of total dissolved solids — a metric of suspended organic and inorganic matter used to gauge quality — greater than 5,000 milligrams per liter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends drinking only water with a TDS below 500. Company testing showed the water had a TDS content nearer to 1,000, so the approval wasn’t granted. Encana then resubmitted its proposal. It said because the water is deep and far from civilization, it would be economically and technologically impractical to drill into the formation for drinking water. It would cost about $20 million to purify the water for drinking, according to company estimates. The commission initially approved the request in January and asked for input from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and EPA. The DEQ originally objected to the plan, but backed off the objection after Encana answered a series of concerns raised in February. The EPA first submitted a series of questions without a judgment, and is now reviewing the matter and is expected to comment soon. The plan drew opposition from the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowner group based in Wyoming. The council opposed the plan in a formal letter to the commission. “We are increasingly concerned about future sources of drinking water in Wyoming and in the Wind River and Big Horn Basin,” wrote John Fenton, the council’s chair. “We believe that a decision to allow a potential drinking water aquifer to be exempted and removed from the potential for future use would be shortsighted.” Commissioner Bruce Williams questioned on Tuesday why the size of the impact zone was significant. Company projections showed that the well would have only a minor effect on water quality on the outskirts of the area affected by injection. “I agree that the (impacted) area could be larger,” he said. “My question is, ‘So what?'” [Emphasis added]
Water must be preserved for Wyoming’s future by Star Tribune, March 12, 2013
Oil and water — two things Wyoming can’t live without. … So what does the state do when those two things come into conflict? That’s just the sort of tension that’s existed in the controversy about the Pavillion-area drinking water. And, now it’s at the heart of whether Encana Gas and Oil can pump water from its operations into the Madison geological formation, about 60 miles west of Casper. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality has already submitted a letter opposing the project, noting that while the water is not used or even very feasible by today’s standards, it might be water needed for the future. With a growing demand for water, especially in the Rocky Mountain West, finding usable water is indeed precious and no small challenge. … Encana claims the water is twice the recommended limit for dissolved minerals in drinking water. The company says the water also contains a cocktail of arsenic, radium, lead and mercury, making it undrinkable. Meanwhile, the DEQ also says that the Madison formation is part of a system that furnishes water to many towns and cities. Contamination in one part of the formation could mean literally poisoning the water hole. That’s why we believe stopping this particular Encana project, though there might be a very real economic impact, is not only essential for the Wyoming of today, but also the Wyoming of the future.
While the water from this particular area is miles from cities and towns which would use it, today’s technologies and needs aren’t the needs of the Wyoming in the future. It may someday be feasible — or necessary — to transport that water. Moreover, purification and filtration also might mean that water with more dissolved solids can be treated economically in the future at these levels. We simply don’t know. How many people in 1973 — 40 years ago — could have imagined surfing the Internet on a mobile phone? Times, technologies and needs change. But even if you believe there will never be a time when that water will be needed, then residents should be concerned for the water they already have. The Madison formation provides water to many communities. It stretches into Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming and much of western South Dakota, including Rapid City and Spearfish which are dependent on it for drinking water.
The problem is that geologists and Encana can’t say for certain that pumping well water in a remote part of Wyoming won’t contaminate drinking water for large numbers of people — some of whom may not even live in this state. Because of the risk and potential for great harm, the state of Wyoming should really have no other option than to deny this permit. It’s just too big of a risk with no guarantees. And, if something goes wrong, what’s the back-up plan? How do we just find more water for affected communities in the dry West? Or how do we start treating water that has been polluted? We hope there is another way for Encana to proceed without having to pump water into the Madison formation. But even if there’s not, this could be a potential health threat and public safety concern. We applaud the DEQ for raising this serious concern and watching out for what could shift from being a discussion about natural resources to a conversation about an environmental disaster. [Emphasis added]
Encana allowed to pump wastewater into aquifer by Irina Zhorov, March 12, 2013, Wyoming Public Media
The oil and gas development company asked for the exemption based on the Commission’s economic and technological impracticality criteria…which grants an exemption based on the idea that it’s impractical to use the aquifer for drinking water anyway. Both the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially expressed concerns with the plan, D-E-Q has retracted its concerns after hearing from Encana. The EPA has not reacted to the Commission’s decision. Encana’s Moneta Divide Project Manager, Paul Ulrich says it’s rare for the impracticality criteria to be used, but Encana felt it was appropriate in this case. “We took a look at many other potential sources of water that could be used at shallower depths, and at much shallower depth, and our analysis demonstrated to us and clearly to the Commission that there are many other sources that would be used for many many many years, 50, 100, years instead of drilling a 15,000 foot, $10 million well.” However, the Powder River Basin Resource Council says it’s a bad idea to remove a potential source of drinking water in a place where water shortages could get even more acute in the future. [Emphasis added]
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