Driller proposes disposal of treated water in creek
An energy company is proposing treating contaminated water produced during oil and gas development and disposing up to 756,000 gallons of it per day in Yellow Creek, 20 miles west of Meeker.
The proposal by BOPCO, L.P., is unusual for Colorado, and particularly for energy development in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin. About 20 percent of what’s called produced water from energy development is treated and discharged to surface water statewide, but much of that activity occurs in connection with coal-bed methane development in Las Animas County in southeast Colorado.
Piceance Basin energy companies have been recycling an increasing amount of their produced water for further oil and gas development. Where disposal does occur, it usually involves injecting the water into geological formations deep underground or sending it to a brine-disposal facility.
Steve Gunderson, director of the state Water Quality Control Division, said one reason more discharge to surface waters doesn’t occur is because of how much it can cost for produced water to be treated to meet stringent state standards.
A development plan being considered by the Bureau of Land Management says BOPCO doesn’t want to haul produced water to commercial disposal sites in Colorado or Utah because of the cost and the environmental impacts from truck traffic. BOPCO says the capacity of two injection wells it plans to use won’t support full development of its oil and gas field, but that it would handle the concentrated brine left over after treatment.
Produced water may consist of water contained in the underground formations where oil and gas development occurs, plus hydraulic fracturing fluid, which usually is introduced with a small percentage of chemicals.
The Water Quality Control Division issued BOPCO a surface-water-discharge permit. Andrew Neuhart, in the division’s permits section, said BOPCO plans to use a degasification process, membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and other measures to clean the water. The water must fall below limits for numerous contaminants, such as ammonia, benzene and mercury, and it will be tested for its ability to sustain aquatic life.
Shane Cross, an attorney with Trout Unlimited, said his organization is preparing comments on the proposal.
“It’s something we want to monitor because of the increased flows in Yellow Creek, and we don’t know what actually would be discharged in there yet,” he said.
The treatment facility would be on six acres of BLM land, and pipelines and a power line would cross Colorado Parks and Wildlife land, pending that agency’s approval.