County PC extends Westwater Farms public hearing; asks applicant for more details

Late last month, the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission was told that a produced water recycling and well injection facility, proposed at Harley Dome on I-70 just a few miles from Colorado, would have no negative environmental impacts and many positive economic impacts on the county.

At the same time commissioners were warned that the county has no legitimate role in regulating operations at the facility, rather, it must rely on the state for enforcement of state regulations, and, therefore, information requested by the county is not valid.

Although the applicant was granted a half-hour for presentations, it took almost three times that long before the floor was opened for a public hearing. By then, several residents had left the meeting, and only one person, another representative of the applicant, spoke.

In the end, the commission voted unanimously to continue the public hearing until the applicant provides all the information requested by staff.

During presentations to the commission, the property owner, a consulting geologist, and a water hydrology specialist, all said there is “absolutely no danger” that water injected into the ground at Harley Dome will find its way to Moab’s water source, the Glen Canyon Aquifer. They also said that as much as 80 percent of the water brought to the facility will be processed for beneficial use.

Tom Warnes, representing Westwater Farms LLC, the property owner, agreed to a measure imposed by the county that requires the facility to pay a monitoring fee (currently set at 10 cents per barrel) to Grand County.

After the presentations, Chris McAnany who described himself as the attorney for Westwater Farms, cautioned that the county cannot regulate produced water facilities.

“You don’t have that authority,” McAnany said. “Don’t make the mistake of attempting to regulate in these areas. It’s not the county’s job.” He admonished the commission to not include five conditions in its approval of a conditional use permit sought by Westwater Farms.

“Our position,” McAnany said, “is that the county has land use regulation but no authority over treatment methods and monitoring.”

Instead, McAnany argued, the “legitimate role” of the county is only to attach a condition that the applicant will comply with state standards. State statutes, he said, give the state Division of Oil Gas and Mining “exclusive jurisdiction over injection wells” and related pits and ponds.

The conditions that McAnany argued should be omitted include a monitoring plan for ensuring that received water meets established standards, standards for treatment of, and a monitoring plan for, water to be used for irrigation, resale, and irrigation, a disposal plan for post-treatment byproducts, and an updated cost estimate for facility decommissioning and land reclamation.

The county has a right to partner with state agencies, and they appreciate help from the county, Grand County Planner Kristine Killoy countered.

Last March during an interview regarding the role of the Division of Oil Gas and Mining, spokesman Clint Dworshak explained that while the division imposes construction and technological requirements on such facilities, the division has no further responsibility after that.

In other words, if facility operations are to be monitored, only the county has resources to do that job.

Prior to the brouhaha raised by McAnany, Dr. Wayne Downs, who is employed by Horrocks Engineers to work on groundwater projects, showed slides of ground formations that, he said, prove that water injected in wells below Harley Dome will flow northeast under the Book Cliffs to the Uinta Basin, where the water is already saltier than the water to be injected.

“As you look for a geologic connection, you just don’t see it. If you inject water [at Harley Dome] it won’t find its way to [Moab],” Downs said.

County Engineer Mark Wright said he has a draft of Downs’ report and is willing to discuss it with interested citizens. Wright emphasized that Downs’ works as a Horrocks Engineers contractor and that his work was performed for Grand County, under Wright’s direction, at no cost to the county. Westwater Farms LLC has agreed to pay for the work.

Geologist Dave Allen told the planning commission that there is no good water anywhere near Harley Dome. Many wells have been drilled in the area so there is a lot of good data, he said. And he noted that Cisco is notorious for its bad water.

The exception is in Thompson where water is drawn from a spring fed by snowmelt in the Book Cliffs. That water is “geologically separated” 5,000 feet from the groundwater, Allen said.

Two wells at Harley Dome would inject the final wastewater into formations now containing water that is saltier than the wastewater. If 65 million barrels are injected over 30 years, that water would displace existing water only under a few hundred acres, Allen said.

It is not clear how much water will be injected, based on the presentations.

“We’re going to try to process about 80 percent of the water to where it can be used for irrigation.” Warnes said.

Planet Wide Clean Water Inc. has developed a chemical-free process to remove all solids from the produced water, according to its CEO, Theron John. He called the process electrocoagulation, and said it is combined with reverse osmosis. A megatron skimmer takes oil out to be recycled, he said.

All volatile organic compounds (VOC) are to be recovered, compressed and stored in a liquified petroleum tank to be used as fuel, Warnes said.

“There will be no emission of VOCs,” Warnes said. He also talked about setting up a greenhouse and a wind farm to generate electricity so that the facility will be essentially self-supporting. Trees and an orchard will be planted, he said.

“We will have a little [roadside] stand,” Warnes said, when asked how the agriculture products will be marketed.

Details of the chemical-free process to remove all solids from produced water can be found at www.planetwidecleanwater.com, an incomplete website that still has many categories, such as “resources,” left blank.

There is, however, a detailed explanation of how the system will work at Harley Dome. But that description does not necessarily align with the information provided by Warnes. For example, the information on the website states that half the received water (20,000 barrels) will go to the injection wells while an equal amount will “go to the treatment system.”

ByBy Craig Bigler

contributing writer