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Pioneer Natural Resources seeks discharge permit, Aguilar worries

by Bill Knowles

AGUILAR- There are already over 2,400 gas wells in Las Animas County and Pioneer is working on bringing in more.  Their latest action is the implementation of a surface water monitoring project along the Apishapa watershed.  Pioneer is in the process of renewing a permit with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission that will allow added surface water discharge in its quest for coalbed methane near central Las Animas County.

    Pioneer made a presentation at a town council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 23 at the Town Hall in downtown Aguilar at the request of the mayor, Ellen Larson.

    “I had hoped we would be able to have a discussion that would put to rest some of our concerns”  Larson said.  “We have our wells on the Apishapa, and if this produced water would contaminate our wells, maybe 20 years from now with a cumulative effect, the town doesn’t have the funding to build a treatment plant to treat that water.”

    Pioneer’s Senior Public Relations Advisor Karen Brown  said, “We want to approach this from a scientific perspective and have documentation to prove that the water is in fact within permit limits.” 

    The company has been discharging along the Apishapa River since 2005 at about 600,000 gallons per day.  The permit Pioneer has applied for will allow a discharge rate of 999,999 gallons per day.

    A discharge permitting process begins with the preparation of a draft permit which  considers possible impacts of the proposed discharge levels, measured against the water quality standards required by the Water Quality Control Commission or WQCD.  The water quality assessments required for the permitting process track water conditions that include temperature, pH levels, levels of organics, and  inorganics as well as total dissolved solids and salinity and sodium levels.  However the water quality standards don’t ask for a measurement of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. 

    While the mayor voiced concerns about effects on the town’s wells, other residents stated concerns about produced water seepage from unlined discharge pits into ground water supplies.  And still others were concerned about the effects chemicals used in the “fracking” process have on human and environmental health. 

    The Aguilar meeting was for informational purposes and attracted some candidates who saw this as an opportunity to learn about issues of importance to their prospective constituents.  Las Animas County Commission candidate Mack Louden attended the meeting and said, “What must be done has to be done right.  It has to be something that everyone can live with and benefits all of us.”  District 64 State Representative candidate, Lisa Kellogg noted that, “We have to come up with a process so the water isn’t contaminated.  Then when things do happen, there needs to be recourse.  We can’t expect farmers and ranchers to spend half a million dollars to hire attorneys to sue a limited liability corporation.”