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Commission overrides zoning commission – Drilling fluid recycling business may locate in Mills

June 19, 2012 in Events, Features, News, Opinion

The Natrona County Commissioners approved an oilfield waste recycling facility adjacent to Mills last week, overturning a Planning and Zoning Commission denial of the permit application.

In making the decision, four of the five commission members said Department of Environmental Quality provisions would ensure the health and safety of area residents and businesses.

The lone dissenter on the commission was Rob Hendry, who said despite DEQ monitoring, he was concerned about locating such a facility so close to town.

“You know I said that in my other life I mixed those [oil waste] pits, and I’m around them, and I’ll tell you I’d go home after mixing them and I would stink,” Hendry told his fellow commissioners. “I support the concept … but I think it’s on the wrong site, it’s too close to town. I mean, I wish it was in an area 40 acres on the east side of town, down wind.”

Jim Skovgard, the owner of Anchor Environmental who’s proposing the oil treatment transfer and storage facility near the intersection of Hanly and Gehring Roads on a 5.8-acre site west of Mills, told the commission that concerns over potential smell had led him to change the design, and place the oil waste drying pads inside the facility building.

“I’m not sure that there will be any odors,” Skovgard said in response to a question by commission chairman Ed Opella. “You know there’s a smell when you deal with some drilling fluids, so I’m not going to say there’s not going to be any. We’ve addressed that, I’ve had the engineers look at enclosing the facility in the building, and I don’t see it as being an issue. If it’s an issue, we’ll take care of it.”

Skovgard said the design called for separating the drilling fluids from the cut stone, sand and other materials coming out of the drilling process. The recycled drilling fluid would be sold, and the remaining material hauled to the Casper landfill, which apparently has an area designated for such waste.

“The material would go through the centrifuge, and whatever’s left, you know, the small amount that’s left, the cuttings, the semi-liquid waste, would be dropped to the pad, mixed with fly ash and removed from the facility on a daily basis, I mean if not more often, depending on how much goes through there,” Skovgard explained. “But there’s not going to be an open pond or a pit, like, say, Jim’s Water Service out of Gillette has several pits where they haul waste for the oilfield and just dump it, and that’s where it ends up in. Who knows what happens to it. That’s not what I’m talking about building.”

Thad Hunter of Inberg-Miller Engineers, who’s designing the facility, said if odor was a problem, there were ways to manage it inside the building.

“Since the Planning and Zoning Commission, we felt that enclosing the ponds in the building would address not only any possible odor concerns, if there are odors, which we don’t believe there will be. Since it’s an enclosed building they can be taken care of through a ventilation system, filtration, and other engineering means,” Hunter said. “One of the concerns within the DEQ permit was they have a regulation of being a certain amount of distance from residences. We might be pushing that, maybe 20 to 30 feet, we’re not sure of that, but by enclosing the facility, then that goes away.”

During the earlier Planning and Zoning meeting, officials were told the material being brought in would not be oil-based or hazardous, at least initially.

“There’s residue in the drilling system that they have to remove before they can begin drilling a new well, before they can move their equipment … if there’s hazardous materials, they won’t come to our facility,” Skovgard told the Planning and Zoning Commission. “We’re not allowed to manage oil-based drilling fluids, and won’t manage oil-based drilling fluids there.”

It was later explained, however, there’s the possibility of expanding into oil-based fluids, and the DEQ has been asked to review that prospect as well.

“You might see some calcium chloride, might see some oil-based mud, you might see some water based mud, but there’s not much demand to recycle water-based mud,” Skovgard had said. “So if we don’t see an allowance for oil-based mud, then the mechanical part of the facility probably won’t get built, in that case we won’t be bringing oil-based mud into the facility, it’s not going to happen.”

Currently some of the waste byproducts are left at the drilling site, but Skovgard anticipates Wyoming regulations will be changing, as they have in some other states.

“Semi-liquid wastes are being restricted more and more as time passes, so I’m expecting within a year or two years, that there’s no more semi-liquid waste being left on site, treated on site in the oil patch,” Skovgard said, commenting on the potential market for recycled drilling fluid. “Literally millions of dollars of drilling fluids have been thrown away in the last 13 years.”

Another concern was leakage of harmful materials potentially affecting ground or surface water. Hunter said the design of the facility incorporated containment and monitoring measures.

“It’s going to be semi-liquid waste that’s going to be dried. There’s always the potential of some leakage,” Hunter told the county commissioners last week. “The ponds themselves will be six-inch reinforced, 4,000 PSI concrete; and, if for some reason that cracks, beneath that there will be washed sand with 30-mil HDP liner under that, it shall act as conveyance system to a sump, which then will be monitored for any leakage.”

Hunter further said the underlying geology was composed of impenetrable clays and shallow bedrock, adding that the holding tank on site would also be protected.

“The tank itself has a berm, has a secondary containment, so if there’s any leakage out of that tank it’ll be going into that berm and then be fed back into the ponds,” Hunter said. “And if there’s a — though unlikely scenario — catastrophic break in the tank, all of that will go back to the ponds, which will have a capacity greater than the tank itself.”

Despite the assurances, some area residents continued to have concerns, while acknowledging the company’s efforts to address them.

“The odor consideration is really something that concerns me,” said area landowner and businessman Bruce Burgess, while also noting a longstanding issue with heavy water runoff. “My point is that we have a huge runoff, and if some contaminants get into that it’s going to go a long way.

“I don’t want anybody to fail out there, but at the same time, I don’t want somebody moving in that’s going to be detrimental to my business and to my neighbors out there,” Burgess added.

“A primary question that we have is why is oilfield waste being brought into town? Why is it not dealt with out in the field?” asked Joann Kenyon, who lives, with her husband across the road from the site. “There in that area, people work and they live there, and it just doesn’t seem like the right place for that kind of work.”

Kenyon also wanted to know about remediation if there was a problem.

“If there’s any problem there that causes contamination, it could be the groundwater also, have they posted all the proper bonds for that kind of work and will it take care of the problems?” she asked.

The majority of the commissioners, however, said the DEQ permitting process would be detailed and comprehensive, and found that the facility conformed to the area.

“I know that they [DEQ] are caring, I know that they’re smart, I know that their regulators can do a good job of protecting the health and safety of the community, and they will do so out here, and because they’re involved, they’re the continuing control agents for this facility, which gives me comfort,” said Commissioner Bill McDowell in support of the application, while noting the agency’s requirements will address water runoff, air quality, and hazardous material issues.

“I’d like to please everybody in the audience, but it’s impossible to, no matter what you do here you’re going to offend some people,” said Commissioner Terry Wingerter. “I’m probably going to support it, but I’m very concerned about the odor situation.”

The commission’s approval of the conditional use permit was tied to DEQ approval of the facility. The commission was also told the DEQ will offer at least two opportunities for further public comment during its permit application process.

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