Judge upholds oil, gas waste rules

A Denver District Court judge has rejected a legal challenge to new state rules for disposal of oil and gas brine waste at commercial sites.

Judge William W. Hood III issued the ruling Tuesday in the case brought by Fourmile Recycling Facility Inc. of Moffat County, and a second operation there.

The operators challenged rules adopted by the Colorado Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission, which was implementing a new state law. The Legislature passed the bill in 2008 out of concern about the potential health effects of the facilities in places such as the De Beque area in Mesa County. Its principal sponsors included state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Bernie Buescher, a former state representative from Grand Junction now serving as secretary of state.

The law requires new facilities to be located at least a half mile from homes, other occupied structures and parks. Companies also must now use synthetic rather than more permeable clay liners for disposal pits unless they qualify for waivers.

Brine waste from oil and gas exploration and production consists of salt water mixed with small amounts of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of wells, along with crude oil and other hydrocarbons.

The new rules don’t apply to brine waste disposal by oil and gas well owners, who instead are subject to similar regulation by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Hood disagreed with plaintiffs’ contentions that the new rules were contrary to the 2008 law, unreasonable and unconstitutional, and that they usurped local regulatory authority over such disposal sites.

Fourmile Recycling could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

It had objected to the fact the rules require synthetic liners even though the law’s language is ambiguous on that point. Hood ruled that despite the ambiguity, the commission correctly interpreted the law as intending to make the synthetic liners mandatory.

He said legislative history supports that interpretation, including a comment by Penry to fellow lawmakers that the measure mandates the liners because they are the “best technology available to protect ground water from any undesirable consequences” associated with the pits.

The plaintiffs also unsuccessfully contended they should be exempt from the new liner requirement as pre-existing operations.

Frank Smith, energy organizer for the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, which had pushed for the new law, was glad to hear of this week’s ruling.

“Pit liners, absolutely that helps protect people and water,” he said.


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