Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eagle County landfill weighs taking natural gas drilling pit liners banned two years ago in GarCo

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJuly 7, 2011

Eagle County’s landfill manager is considering disposing of natural gas drilling pit liners that neighboring Garfield County stopped accepting two years ago because the massive, high-density polyethylene sheets are potentially toxic and too tough to handle.

Eagle County, which is not a major oil and gas drilling county, has been accepting other E&P (exploration and production) waste since last year, including drill cuttings mixed with drilling mud, sediments from water pits and soil excavated from underneath the liners that may have been contaminated. All the drilling waste has been tested to ensure it meets state standards.

However, Garfield County – one of the most heavily drilled counties in the state – banned pit liners in July of 2009, citing tests showing the liners can be coated with sludge containing toxins such as benzene, a known human carcinogen. Companies have been taking liners to nearby Mesa County and facilities as far away as Utah.

“Some of the soil and stuff that’s come in I’ve actually handled some of that to see what kind of consistency it has,” Eagle County Solid Waste and Recycling Director Ken Whitehead said when asked last month about the liner issue. “It’s a lot like a dried sludge. But the liner stuff, that’s a different story.

“I want to research that, especially if some of that stuff has permeated the liner and it has potential to come out. I don’t know. Just based on what you’ve said, it’s something I need to take a harder look at.”

Pit liners became somewhat of a political hot potato after the state oil and gas regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), passed a rule prohibiting the on-site disposal of the liners near the drilling pad when it revised its drilling regulations in 2009. Some companies have had success recycling the liners but still fought to overturn the rule. Now the industry has backed off its opposition to the new rule.

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