Plan would allow solid-waste disposal at Cheney site

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One of two U.S. Department of Energy “No Trespassing” sign rises above a padlocked gate on the road that leads to Cheney Reservoir northeast of U.S. Highway 50 near the Mesa County line with Delta County. The Cheney Reservoir area, which is a uranium mill tailings disposal site, has recently been proposed as a waste site for oil and gas.



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One of two U.S. Department of Energy “No Trespassing” sign rises above a padlocked gate on the road that leads to Cheney Reservoir northeast of U.S. Highway 50 near the Mesa County line with Delta County. The Cheney Reservoir area, which is a uranium mill tailings disposal site, has recently been proposed as a waste site for oil and gas.

Mesa County commissioners unanimously approved a plan last month that would allow oil and gas producers from across the Piceance Basin to dump radioactive solid waste and production water on a small mesa south of Grand Junction, near current radioactive waste site Cheney Reservoir.

The proposed oil and gas site still needs approval from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment before construction can proceed.

The county board advanced Alanco Energy Services’ plan to construct the landfill and 12 holding ponds on 160 acres located less than a half-mile west of U.S. Highway 50 in Whitewater, according to the application before the state health department.

The 900 million-cubic-foot landfill would receive solid oil and gas waste like drill cuttings, tank bottoms, and sock filters, the application said.

The landfill will be expanded in 13-acre sections as needed. Each cell will be lined with an “impermeable layer,” Mesa County planner Randy Price said.

State regulations require the burial of petroleum contaminated soils. Waste will be compacted daily and ultimately capped to prevent water from infiltrating and leaching contaminants.

“The landfill ... will substantially reduce emissions because material will be covered with clean soil daily, reducing the release of volatile hydrocarbons and any other by-products,” Alanco officials said in a letter to commissioners as part of an application for the conditional use permit approved Dec. 10.

“The landfill will be a more efficient and environmentally friendly method of operating and providing a much-needed service to the petroleum industry and the Mesa County community,” the letter said.

Liquid collected in the cells will be pumped to the evaporative ponds. The holding ponds would receive up to 1 million barrels of production water each year.

Production water is a mixture of brine water and oil, a by-product of the extraction process.

Once the brine water evaporates, trace oil would be collected from the holding ponds and sold, Alanco officials told the state.

The proposed site, situated in an area known as Indian Mesa, would also receive oil and gas waste containing naturally occurring radioactive material in both solid and liquid forms, according to the state application. 

Trucks hauling oil and gas waste to the landfill will use the same road constructed to haul uranium tailings to the nearby Cheney disposal site, which is operated by the Department of Energy, Price said.

If the state ultimately approves the disposal site, trucks will travel a shorter distance across Mesa County to deliver oil and gas waste than is the current practice, which requires waste to be hauled to the nearest disposal site in eastern Utah.

The conditional use permit approved by county commissioners amends Alanco’s initial permit issued in 2010, which approved disposal of production water in evaporative ponds.

Final construction approval from the CDPHE for the ponds is expected in February, Alanco officials said.

Final state approval of construction for the landfill is expected in the fall of 2014, they said.

Complete build-out of Indian Mesa will create the state’s first “one-stop shop” oil and gas disposal site serving Piceance Basin producers, said Bob Kauffman, Alanco CEO.

Currently, the only disposal site in the state allowed to receive naturally occurring radioactive waste is Clean Harbor’s Deer Trail facility east of Denver, Kauffman said.

The Indian Mesa site is surrounded by land under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, but there are some smaller, privately owned parcels along U.S. Highway 50. All are zoned agricultural, forestry or transitional, Price said.

“The properties in question, including nearby privately owned lands, do not lend themselves to residential development due to lack of services, especially water,” a county report states.

There are no residences within one half-mile of the permit area.

Agricultural uses are limited to grazing operations due to lack of irrigation water and agronomically poor soils, Price said.

The landfill will employ five people full-time and operate on a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule, Alanco officials told the county.



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