CASPER, Wyo. — Texas-based Aethon Energy is seeking a permit to dump 8.27 million gallons of oilfield wastewater per day into Badwater Creek which feeds Boysen Reservoir and the Wind and Big Horn rivers.
The Casper City Council decided to approve of Mayor Charlie Powell attending an up-coming meeting in Cheyenne in support of the proposal.
Powell raised the discussion on Tuesday to see where the rest of the council stood on the matter. He noted that he isn’t an expert in the area.
They consented to Powell’s attendance in support of the proposal with a thumbs-vote during their pre-meeting Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Councilman Ken Bates expressed some hesitation.
“I understand people’s concerns with the water,” Bates said.
If a similar proposal was closer to home, he questioned whether Casperites would be in favor.
Councilman Bob Hopkins said he has reviewed a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality report on Aethon’s proposal.
He said the report found that the amount of pollution would be statistically insignificant.
“What I understand about it kind of tracks along with what Bob’s saying,” Councilman Mike Huber said. “Even it was upstream from Casper, if they followed all the safe guards and everything, I would be okay with it.”
Councilman Steve Cathey pointed out that Natrona may benefit from the project indirectly through increased sales tax from restaurants and hotels, but that the majority of the economic benefits would go to Fremont County.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality received about 600 comments from the public during a public comment period.
The public comments are available for anyone to view online.
They come from a variety of people, including private individuals, companies, fishing businesses, conservation groups and governmental entities. (Links are to comments from examples of each of the groups listed.)
Casper Mayor Charlie Powell, for example, wrote a letter in support of the proposal, pointing to its potential economic benefits to municipalities in the area.
Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Director Angi Bruce wrote a letter on behalf of the department.
“Badwater and Poison Creek Bays are important juvenile nursery habitat for Sauger and Walleye,” Bruce wrote, pointing to two fish species that could be impacted by the dumping of oilfield wastewater.
The letter points to a variety of species in Boysen as well.
Bruce urged the Wyoming DEQ to implement a monitoring plan if a permit is issued to determine whether the dumping was negatively impacting the nursery habitat or other species.
Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter Director Connie Wilbert points to existing pollution in her letter.
“Current discharge of produced wastewater from the Moneta Divide field already has caused significant and ongoing impairment to both Alkali and Badwater creeks, and increases risk to Boysen Reservoir and the Wind River below Boysen,” she writes. “Allowing additional discharges will only worsen existing damage and further increase risk of unacceptable wate quality impairment downstream.”
“To meet its fundamental charge, the WDEQ must not authorize more pollution until existing problems are corrected.”
Fremont County resident Todd Smith opposes the proposal.
“[A]s a local resident of Fremont County I oppose the proposed dumping of
waste water into Boysen Reservoir,” Smith writes. “This water way is the main source of recreation, fishing, and irrigation water for us and surrounding areas.”
“I feel there is high potential to damage this resource within our great state.”
Fremont County Commissioners Chair Travis Becker, however, says the commissioners support the permit.
Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited Chairman Cole Sherard and Conservation Committee Chairwoman Kathy Buchner express a variety of concerns in their letter.
They call for an independent third party review of the permit application along with concern that Aethon lacks the water treatment plant capacity to treat existing wastewater without taking into account the additional 8.27 million gallons a day under the proposal.
Northern Arapaho Tribe Natural Resource Office Executive Director Ryan Ortiz says the tribe supports development of the Moneta Divide Field if it is done safely and responsibly.
He calls for Aethon to add additional water treatment capacity and says the tribe is opposed to the “extensive mixing zone” included in the proposal. Ortiz says that the pollutants would be “discharged at concentrations that will result in exceedance of the water standards for Badwater Creek.”
Reverend Sally Palmer wrote a letter on behalf of the Wyoming Interfaith Network.
“Clean up has never been a priority of the energy industries in the state of Wyoming, as Jeffrey City will attest,” Palmer writes in the letter which opposes the permit proposal. “It is the tax-payers who have to fund restoration, if it is possible at all.”
Comments from other public officials include the following:
- Bureau of Reclamation Area Director Carlie Ronca
- Thermopolis Mayor Mike Chimenti
- Lander Mayor Monte Richardson
- Dubois Mayor John Meyer
- Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith
- Riverton Mayor Rich Gard
Examples of comments from other organizations include:
- National Parks Conservation Association
- Wyoming Outdoor Council
- Petroleum Association of Wyoming
- Popo Agie Anglers
- Hot Springs Conservation District
- Aethon Energy
- Tinnelli’s House of Wonder
- Gardner Livestock
While the list of private individuals submitting comment is long, here are a few more:
- Felcia Alvarez
- Walter Steele
- Mary Orr
- Bruce Ostermann
- Chris Scheibe
- Sarah Kellick
- Birgit Burke
- Tony and Rose Basko
NOTE: A previous version of this article said that Casper Mayor Charlie Powell would speak at an up-coming conference in favor of Aethon’s proposal. The council’s thumbs-vote in their Tuesday pre-meeting approved of Powell attending the conference to support the proposal, not that he would necessarily speak in favor of it. Oil City regrets this error.