Garfield County still pondering how to handle pit liners
November 30, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Now that the state has decided to stick to rules requiring disposal of “pit liners” used to contain holding ponds next to gas drilling pads, Garfield County is trying to figure out what it should do with the expected influx of liners.
The county’s oil and gas liaison official, Judy Jordan, announced at the Nov. 5 meeting of the county’s Energy Advisory Board that a state agency announced recently that the pit liners must be disposed of in accordance with solid waste regulations, in keeping with current regulations.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had been contemplating a return to an old rule that permitted operators to dispose of the pits on private property under certain conditions.
But the commission decided on Oct. 26 to stick with the new rules, enacted in December, 2008, requiring that the liners be removed once the pits are no longer in use, and disposed of.
The liners typically are large sheets of synthetic material covered in sludge from the drilling process, and have been banned from the county’s landfill facilities since early July, when the Garfield County commissioners were told that they are too bulky, and possibly too toxic, for the landfill staff to deal with effectively.
Currently there are an estimated 1,700 gas wells operating in the county – with up to 7,000 more anticipated in the coming years – although there are no estimates for how many pit liners may require disposal in the future.
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Not all gas drilling companies use pit liners all the time. EnCana, for instance, has only “seven or eight liners in use” in Garfield County, according to company spokesman Doug Hock.
“Our preference is to use a “closed loop” system … tanks rather than pits,” he explained.
“For pits related to drilling, the resultant cuttings [the sludge left over from a drilling operation] can be buried on site as long as they meet COGCC standards,” Hock continued. “For the liquids used in completions [hydraulic fracturing] the produced water is recycled … and reused.”
Officials say they do not know how many companies use pit liners, and Dave Neslin, executive director of the Oil and Gas Commission, said there are “other options than a landfill, or a county dump” for disposing of liners, which the commission is now researching.
Donna Gray, a spokeswoman for Williams Production, said her company also uses the “closed loop” system in many cases, although liners are still used. While currently the company has cut its drilling activities, she said it is expected that in the future Williams will need to dispose of an unknown number of liners. She said that some liners have been accepted by the Rio Blanco County landfill.
Gray also said the company is exploring the possibility of selling the liners to companies that would recycle the material into some other use, although she said the matter is in negotiation and could not give details.
At present, Garfield County’s options are to spend a considerable amount of money to build a special repository at the county landfill, dedicated to disposal of the liners; or find some other disposal site, possibly in Mesa County or Utah, where landfills accept the liners.
Garfield County Manager Ed Green said on Tuesday that the staff is studying how to build a special landfill area to deal with the liners, one with sufficiently thick and non-porous lining to keep any toxic ooze from spreading.
Green said he helped to demolish an outdated nuclear power plant in Ohio in the early 1990s, where some of the components could not be disposed of in any other way than by building long, trench-shaped landfill cells lined with layers of clay and synthetic fabric. Special lead-detection systems were also installed, he recalled.
“It was a lot of money,” he said about the cost of the disposal cells, although he could not recall the exact amount.
“Clearly, it would be a very expensive proposition,” agreed Jordan, who predicted that building a special landfill site for the liners would cost “millions.”
Green said the county will continue to study the matter, keeping in mind such considerations as the cost to the county, as well as cost-effectiveness for the gas industry.
The matter is expected to come before the board of county commissioners early in 2010.