Mesa County rejects facility for oil, gas wastewater
The Mesa County Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal to treat and dispose of oil and gas wastewater south of Whitewater, saying evaporation ponds would have been too close to a creek that drains into the Gunnison River.
Commissioners voted 2-0 to deny a conditional-use permit that would have allowed Goodwin Septic Tank Service to expand its 96-acre, solid-waste-disposal facility at 5180 U.S. Highway 50. Commissioner Steve Acquafresca was absent from the meeting.
Thomas and Kathleen Panter bought 80 acres off U.S. 50 in 1992, four years before Goodwin opened its neighboring waste-disposal facility. The couple is in the process of building a yurt, where they plan to live upon retirement, that would have been just one-third of a mile away from the nearest evaporation pond.
After the nearly three-hour hearing, Thomas Panter said he was “very excited” about the commissioners’ decision.
“There were too many problems. That’s why we were fighting it in the first place,” he said.
Craig Creel, co-manager of TC Operating LLC, an oil and gas company that would have leased a portion of Goodwin’s site to dispose of oil and gas wastewater, said he will re-evaluate his company’s plans and resubmit an application.
“We’re very disappointed in the commissioners’ responses,” Creel said.
TC Operating intended to build 10, double-lined ponds equipped with a leak-detection system to evaporate produced water. The remaining brine would have been injected into a well 2,500 feet below ground.
Goodwin representatives tried to convince commissioners the operation wouldn’t harm the environment or the handful of properties within a mile and a half of the site. They said no leaks have been detected in the existing evaporation ponds used to treat other waste during the facility’s 14-year history. And they noted the oil and gas wastewater ponds would be placed within holes in the ground and surrounded by berms, arguing that made it virtually impossible for the ponds to overflow and potentially contaminate nearby land or waterways.
But neighbors pointed to the fact one of the evaporation ponds would be within 200 feet of Deer Creek, which was swollen with Monday’s heavy rain.
“To think that there is no way there could be an accident probably isn’t a good attitude,” Panter told commissioners. “The Titanic wasn’t supposed to sink. The Exxon Valdez wasn’t supposed to run aground. The well in the Gulf (of Mexico) wasn’t supposed to blow up and spill millions of gallons of oil.”
Other residents who live on the opposite side of U.S. 50 from the waste-disposal facility said they were concerned about additional truck traffic and noise.
In rejecting the conditional-use permit, commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland said the Goodwin project didn’t meet the county’s energy master plan policies that call for evaporation ponds to be located more than 1,000 feet away from surface water and more than a half-mile away from homes.
“You gotta get these things away from people,” Meis said, pointing to the recently approved Indian Mesa solid-waste-disposal facility north of the Goodwin property as a project that’s in a good location because it is not near any waterways or residents.
Meis also said the size and scope of the Goodwin facility exceeded the county’s capability to provide services to it.
Meis asked Goodwin representatives whether they had considered any alternative locations. TC Operating co-manager Tom Pool said he and others looked at operating the facility at the former Gilsonite refinery near Fruita but steered away from there because of state health officials’ concerns about nearby groundwater. Pool said the state preferred the Goodwin solid-waste-disposal facility because of the existing evaporation ponds.
“The state doesn’t know Mesa County very well,” Meis shot back.