Report from the Public Issues Committee – 2006

Title: Report from the Public Issues Committee

Author: Larry Anna

Publication: The Outcrop, June 2006, p. 15

Purifying Produced Water: A Case Study in Colorado

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink, although Richard Seaworth and Brad Pomeroy want that to change. Seaworth, who farms 600 acres near Wellington, Colorado, and oil man Pomeroy, President of Wellington Operating Co., have joined together to form Wellington Water Works or 3W. The new company operates a $1.4 million water purification plant that removes oil and other contaminants from water produced from Wellington Field. The field produces about 50 BOPD and over 3,000 BWPD out of the Muddy Sandstone at a depth of over 4,000 ft. 3W hopes to treat the produced water and put it to beneficial use in the Wellington area. Seaworth hopes to use the water for a housing development on his land, irrigate more of his farmland, and sell the residual water to small municipalities in the area. Pomeroy, who operates Wellington Field, wants to minimize his produced water reinjecting costs. With the 3W project, Pomeroy will also be able to expand production in the field. Of 35 original production wells at the site, only 16 are still producing, with three dedicated to reinjection.

The water purification process is accomplished through a concentration tank, a series of ceramic and charcoal filters, and an air filtration system located in a treatment plant. After leaving the plant, the water will be piped to two unlined pits on Seaworth’s property. These unlined pits will allow the treated oil field water to gradually seep into the Boxelder Creek alluvial aquifer which will not only help the cleansing process (because the water quality going into the aquifer is reported to be above drinking water standards), but will mix with the original water in the aquifer. The mixed water will then be pumped from wells in the alluvium to its final destination.

To get to this point, 3W has achieved several firsts. The idea of using water from oil fields was scrutinized rigorously by the state, by local health departments, the oil and gas industry and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the process has been both long and costly for 3W. In 2004, the company received a permit from the Colorado Division of Water Resources for using the produced water. This was the first such permit given for produced water.

It took two and a half years to prove the water was nontributary, meaning that 3W had to prove that the Muddy Sandstone does not contribute water to a surface water drainage that may have a surface water right. The process is problematic because to prove nontributary designation the accepted method uses an alluvial aquifer, stream interaction analytical solution, which may or may not be applicable to deep basin confined aquifers. Even so, nontributary water does not have to be replaced and can be used to extinction. However, the state requires that it last for at least 100 years, meaning that only I percent of the total volume can be used each year. How the volume is calculated remains unclear. In 2005, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave approval for the water to leave the oil field, although the Commission remains skeptical of the project.

Quality of the Muddy Sandstone’s produced water is also an issue. But at this time there are conflicting reports as to the quality of the produced water and the quality of the treated water.

The partners have more hurdles remaining, including filings with the state water court where the partners have two filings pending to acquire water rights. They have filed for 161 acre-feet of water from the oil field, which would replace some shallow well water now used for irrigation. Some of the oil field water, in turn, would be treated for domestic use, which will be heavily monitored for quality.

In addition, the Larimer County Planning Commission recently threw a roadblock into the plans by denying Seaworth a special water district designation, which would have allowed 3W to sell and distribute the produced water. Special districts at the county level are always highly scrutinized because once formed the district becomes virtually independent of county regulation. Despite all the technical effort that has gone into this project, Seaworth realizes you have to play the entire game to win – maybe even go into overtime.

Thanks to Cherry Sokoloski, North Forty News report, March 2006 (with permission) and Richard Seaworth, Seaworth Farms.

Update on Colorado split estate bill

Colorado Assembly bill HB06-1185 concerning split estate issues was pulled by its sponsor, Representative Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. Curry implied that strong opposition from home owner and builder associations as the primary reason to kill her own bill.