Struggling Black Mountain gets OK to expand oil, gas waste recycling facility

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Black Mountain Recycling has received the approval of Mesa County to accept waste from oil and gas production into more ponds at the facility. The business had been allowed to reopen last year on a limited basis and drew praise from county commissioners Tuesday for its efforts to comply with county and state regulations.

Black Mountain Recycling received the go-ahead Tuesday to expand its De Beque-area oil and gas waste-disposal business, a move that should generate vital revenue for the financially struggling company, which entered bankruptcy two months ago.

The Mesa County Commission unanimously agreed to amend Black Mountain Recycling’s conditional-use permit and certificate of designation, which will allow the company to receive production water and fracking fluid in four evaporation ponds and construct a new pond. The business currently can accept waste only in one pond.

“This is what we’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years,” Black Mountain Recycling owner Jeff Been said after the conclusion of a three-hour hearing. “We can finally bring the facility into full operation.”

Years of scrutiny

Been said he hopes to complete the expansion by summer.

Commissioners credited Been for his handling of the facility and efforts to comply with state and county regulations, making it clear they prefer him over the previous owners of the business, Elaine Wells and Jeff Pratt, who operated it as Black Mountain Disposal. In fact, the commissioners adopted a condition that would suspend the facility’s permit until it is brought before the board for review and approval should Wells or Pratt regain ownership or operation of the business.

“I think he’s done a great job from the standpoint that we don’t have a hearing room full of opposition,” Commissioner Craig Meis said of Been.

The commissioners’ decision marks the biggest step forward for a business that has been on the receiving end of state and county scrutiny and criticism for years.

The county closed the 45-acre site south of De Beque in 2008 after Black Mountain Disposal failed to report and clean up a 2001 spill and accepted more waste than its permit allowed. Been bought the business from Pratt and Wells in 2009, and commissioners last year agreed to allow Black Mountain Recycling to reopen on a limited basis.

Violation addressed

In September, Mesa County Chief District Judge David Bottger granted receivership to a consultant to Wells and Pratt after Black Mountain Disposal sued Black Mountain Recycling for falling behind on payments. The following month, Black Mountain Recycling filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, halting the appointment of a receiver and allowing Been to at least temporarily retain ownership.

Although officials note Black Mountain Recycling is actively working to meet state air-quality and health standards and county conditions, it still has some work to do. A state inspection of the business in October found fans used to evaporate production water were blowing mist off-site and onto private property.

Charles Johnson, solid-waste unit manager with the state Department of Public Health and Environment, told commissioners during a conference call that the department likely will soon issue an order and assess penalties in conjunction with that violation. Been said the business has stopped using the fans.

Neighbors said while they continue to harbor some concerns about the business, they appreciate the improvements.

“The new operators have given me the impression they’re trying really hard to be good neighbors,” Lee Cassin said.


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