Oil and gas companies not walking the walk when it comes to recycling fracking wastewater

According to a recent article in the Greeley Tribune, the oil and gas industry in Weld County, Colorado is producing more wastewater than it can handle. Weld County is a hotbed of the industry, with 21,595 active oil and gas wells, and 1400 new permits issued so far in 2014. You would think that the industry is mature in Weld County and using the latest technology. Sadly, this is not the case. According to the article, oil and companies have resorted to "storing wastewater on their properties, unpermitted" because they don't have enough underground disposal capacity.

The wastewater from oil and gas operations can be extremely toxic and storing the waste in unpermitted sites presents real risk to communities and farmland. Along with this dangerous situation, the article reports that Colorado is considering allowing 20 more underground waste disposal wells in Weld County alone. Yet these wells also present serious risks, as has been well documented in other blog posts, and aren't designed to handle toxic waste.

The industry has often claimed that it recycles wastewater, using it in future frack jobs. Even Halliburton says operators can frack with 100% produced or flowback water.

The companies mentioned in the article also claim to be implementing sustainable practices. Noble, in its 2012 Sustainability Report, states: "We apply proven water treatment, recycling and reuse processes to treat wastewater captured as flowback and water produced during operations."

Anadarko, in its 2011 Water Disclosure report, states: "We were among the first to implement comprehensive water recycling programs in our Rockies and Southern regions....."

And Encana, on its website, states: "We actively seek opportunities to reuse water and fluids in our operations wherever practical and allowed by regulation."

The company statements may sound nice, but clearly not much is being done in Weld County to manage this waste in responsible ways. And it's essential to note that, while wastewater "recycling" could be a sustainable option because it reduces fresh water consumption as well as waste, as currently implemented it comes with significant risks. As my colleague Becky Hammer pointed out in a blog post, it creates concentrated residual waste that can be even more toxic and can be energy intensive. Recycling should only be allowed under strict rules for managing the residual waste in a way that is commensurate with its level of toxicity. Since those rules aren't in place, Becky concludes that "none of the most common ways of dealing with this waste are currently safe for public health or the environment."

Weld County can't safely dispose of potentially toxic oil and gas waste, where it's reportedly being stored without proper permits, yet the state is issuing new drilling permits in Weld County like they are going out of style -- hundreds per day!

New permits need to stop until there is a safer way to dispose of this waste and strict rules in place to reduce the risk to the environment and human health.