Energy policy — oil and gas: Likelihood of increased use of deep injection wells for disposal of produced water forecasted

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

“We’ve talked in the past about regulating oil and gas activity,” confirmed Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt, although the talk has focused on regulations for surface land-use considerations only. “We haven’t talked about subsurface regulating,” Houpt said, adding that she is unsure if it is feasible, given overriding state and federal laws, or advisable.

[Denise Onyskiw, of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission] told the commissioners that both types of wells regulated by her program involve the injection of water and other fluids into well bores. The “recovery” wells, she said, are for the purpose of getting at oil or gas deposits that could not be brought up to the surface by normal methods. The “disposal” wells, she explained, are used because “[the gas drilling companies] have all this water and don’t have anywhere to put it,” referring to the thousands of gallons of water used in the process of drilling the wells and extracting the oil or gas.

Onyskiw told the commissioners that both types of wells regulated by her program involve the injection of water and other fluids into well bores. The “recovery” wells, she said, are for the purpose of getting at oil or gas deposits that could not be brought up to the surface by normal methods. The “disposal” wells, she explained, are used because “[the gas drilling companies] have all this water and don’t have anywhere to put it,” referring to the thousands of gallons of water used in the process of drilling the wells and extracting the oil or gas. This water carries varying levels of certain chemicals, known as “hydrocarbons,” that are either used in the drilling process or occur naturally. The fluids are injected into the disposal wells, according to Onyskiw, and the substances permitted in the wells include produced water, drilling fluids, “spent well-treatment fluids” and others. Not permitted, she said, are “unused frac’ing fluids, lubricating wastes and sanitary wastes,” among others…

Use of a well for disposal purposes, she said, requires notification of adjacent landowners within a quarter-mile of the well, and the provision of documents to the COGCC describing the existing water quality of the aquifers that might be affected, among other kinds of information. Onyskiw said the state permits this kind of disposal only when it affects aquifers that produce hydrocarbons on their own; are too deep to be used economically for drinking water, or too contaminated already to be used for drinking water. The disposal wells, she said, are lined to prevent contamination of aquifers through which the bore passes, and regulations require that the pressure used to inject the waste water be well below that used in hydraulic fracturing of actual gas wells, so that the subterranean rock around the well is not broken up.

After the presentation, Onyskiw told a reporter that the likelihood of greater use of disposal wells is related to changing regulations governing the use of pits, lined with impermeable membranes, to hold a variety of waste fluids during the drilling process. The COGCC now requires that, once the fluids are drained and disposed of, the liners themselves must be sent to a receiving site for disposal. Garfield County’s landfill will no longer accept the liners due to their bulky and potentially toxic nature, and the COGCC reportedly has considered returning to a former rule that allowed the companies to simply bury the liner in place.

More coverage from the Grand Junction Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Traffic is likely to be the biggest issue Garfield County officials will face as they deal with an expected increase in the use of injection wells to dispose of fluids associated with natural gas development, a state official said Monday.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is stepping up regulation of stormwater runoff from drilling pads, according to a report from Dennis Webb writing for the Grand Junction Sentinel. From the article:

The state also is seeking information such as schedules for stormwater-management inspections and maintenance on the pads, and the number of associated pits and whether they have fencing to keep out wildlife. State regulators inspect sites once wells are drilled, and they can ensure requirements such as those for any interim reclamation are met. But companies aren’t required to notify the state when pads have been constructed. Oil and gas officials are concerned about pads that may have been built before companies realized they would be cutting back on drilling, leaving state inspectors unaware of them because drilling never began. The issue is particularly pertinent for Western Slope operations because climate and topographical factors often cause companies to build pads months in advance of planned drilling, which because of the slowdown may not have ended up occurring on some pads. “What we want to do is get the location of these pads, work with the operators, see where we stand on interim reclamation,” said Margaret Ash, the agency’s field inspection manager. Oil and Gas Commission Director Dave Neslin said the agency is particularly concerned about runoff problems that could occur on inactive pads during the snowy winter. Ash said inspectors want to make sure the sites are stabilized from an erosion control standpoint and are properly secured if no activities are taking place on them.

Michael DeBerry, manager of Chevron’s operations near De Beque, said its temporary suspension of drilling has caused it to go ahead with interim reclamation efforts such as stormwater control and weed management on some pipeline rights of way and other oil and gas development sites. “It’s purely a matter of, with the slowdown, it’s appropriate to take these steps. It’s just a matter of environmental stewardship,” he said.

More oil and gas coverage here.

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