In Colorado, produced water [produced water is fracked water, also known as flowback, and is laced with endocrine disrupting, carcinogenic chemicals] from oil wells near Wellington has been treated as a raw water resource to augment shallow water aquifers. [As of the writing of this article, there is no known technology to make fracked water safe again. Once the chemicals are put in the water, they cannot be removed.] The Wellington Oil Company, operating in Larimer County, Colorado, reported that 98.5% of its fluid production is produced water. The company utilized a deep injection well that re-injected the produced water [spent chemical laced fracking water] into the underground formation from which it was pumped at a cost of approximately $1 per barrel. The company needed to find an efficient and cost-effective way to manage produced water because their ability to dispose of the water has a direct impact on how many pumps can be online and thus how much oil they can recover. Therefore, the company embarked on a groundwater augmentation project to increase oil production.
The steps to beneficial use of the water included:
– Pilot testing of water treatment processes to demonstrate water quality target and treatment process efficiency
– Determination of non-tributary status of the groundwater by State Engineer
– Water Quality Control Division permit assessment
– Issuance of permit by Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
– Construction of the water treatment plant
– Completion of an RO drinking water treatment plant
The produced water at Wellington is treated through dissolved air floatation, pre-filtration, ceramic microfiltration, and activated carbon adsorption. The treated water is piped 4,000 feet to the groundwater recharge site, which is a rapid-infiltration pit that allows the treated produced water to percolate into a tributary aquifer. The shallow aquifer supplies water to a reverse osmosis plant that provides drinking water to the Town of Wellington and northern Colorado water users.
Under Colorado water law, one of the legal hurdles for the Wellington reuse project was to identify which agency should issue the discharge permit. In this case, the Attorney General’s (AG) office decided that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) should issue the permit instead of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (CWQCD). The COGCC was considering whether to promulgate new rules to accommodate projects like Wellington in the future.