Williams finds way around pit-liner problem: recycling

In an oil and gas company’s efforts to keep them out of landfills, liners that the state now requires to be removed when drilling pits are closed are being recycled as plastics and also used to fire an asphalt plant.

“We’re turning that waste into a resource,” Mike Gardner, an environmental specialist for Williams, told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday.

Gardner described a pilot project that Williams began exploring after the commission’s rewrite of its rules took effect last April. One of the new rules prohibits burying pit liners in place.

The industry immediately ran into challenges with the rule change, including Garfield County’s decision that it was unable to take the liners at its landfill. Faced with costs that included hauling liners elsewhere,` Williams began exploring ways to put them to other uses.

A contractor came up with a squeegee-like process to scrape a pit liner clean without tearing it, Gardner said. The liner is allowed to dry, and then shaken so that “probably 99.9 percent” of remaining residue falls off, he said.

The liner actually consists of a plastic membrane and an underlying felt layer that helps protect the membrane from punctures.  The plastic and felt are separated, and mobile equipment developed specifically for the purpose is used to bale them for shipping.

The felt is being shipped to Utah to fuel burners at an asphalt batch plant. A Denver facility is accepting the plastic, which is recycled into nonfood-related industrial-grade products such as pallets and parking-lot bumpers.

Gardner said it costs Williams about $2,400 to transport liners to landfills and dispose of them, compared with $1,750 to reuse them in these ways.

The liners are sampled to ensure they are not hazardous and that they meet the criteria of recycling facilities, Gardner said. State health officials will be meeting with Williams to discuss its program. Recyclers must register with the state health department so it knows the materials they are recycling.

The Colorado Petroleum Association has asked state regulators to reconsider the ban on burying pit liners. Williams supports that request because, although it’s easier to remove the contents and liners of some pits, it’s very difficult in the case of those that hold drilling cuttings, the company says.

Williams hopes to get other energy companies involved in its alternative to dumping liners.

So far, it has kept about 47 dump trucks worth of liners out of landfills, Gardner said.

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