Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Lara Love 

Aethon permit process moves along

 

December 5, 2019



Aethon Energy is proposing to expand to more than 4,000 wells at the Moneta Divide field between Shoshoni and Moneta, a move that would necessitate the approval of a permit to dump added water into Alkali and Badwater Creek before coming into Boysen Reservoir.

At their November 19 meeting, Casper City Council informally granted Casper Mayor Charlie Powell permission to speak before government officials in favor of the project.

Riverton mayor Richard Gard has spoke in favor of the discharge permit, citing the need for the jobs that would come from the Moneta Divide project.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released information that the Aethon project could generate up to $71 million per year in federal royalties, approximately $57 million per year in state severance taxes and could create 6,400 direct and indirect jobs over its estimated 65-year lifespan.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has held public meetings to present information and take comments on Aethon’s permit request. One was held in Thermopolis in May where a number of people attended in support and opposition of the proposal.

An online public comment period netted comments from private citizens of Hot Springs, Fremont, Natrona and other counties as well as businesses, conservation groups and governmental entities.

Comments are available for viewing online at: http://wq.wyomingdeq.commentinput.com/comment/extra?start=1&id=f4gaH&frmSubmittedByID=

Some comments are directly in support or opposition of the proposal. Some simply ask for proper monitoring to protect water quality.

Aethon Energy sent in a letter defending their draft permit stating “The draft permit adequately satisfies applicable regulations...” and “The draft permit is more protective and compliance requirements have been significantly increased compared to pervious permit authorization for these discharges…” Aethon also stated they propose toxicity testing for aquatic species be performed at locations in geographic proximity.

Thermopolis Mayor Mike Chimenti sent a letter date June 18, 2019, to Jason Thomas with the DEQ asking several questions. One of those questions was whether the DEQ would do regular water quality checks at the area where the Badwater Creek enters Boysen Reservoir, areas in Badwater bay, at Boysen Dam, as well as downstream in the Wind River and Bighorn River.

The Hot Springs Conservation District summed up a lengthy comment letter with “While we are in support of the development of Aethon’s Moneta Divide field, and the economic value it has for both Wyoming and associated communities, we do not believe the discharge water permit, as proposed, is validated in such a way as to ensure the valuable natural resources of Badwater Bay, Boysen Reservoir, Wind River Class 1 water and downstream users are protected.”

Sonja Becker, chairwoman of the Hot Springs Conservation District, went before the Hot Springs County Commissioners in August and asked them to contact the governor and ask him to intervene in the permitting process. No formal action was taken by the commissioners at that time.

In a letter from Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Director Angi Bruce, she asked for proper monitoring and mitigation protocol updates prior to the permit being issued.

John Robitaille with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming supports the draft permit with the notation of “If Aethon continues to develop the Moneta Draw field resulting in an increase in discharge volumes a revised permit would be necessary to adequately protect water quality.”

The DEQ has stated “Class 1 waters are those surface waters in which no further water quality degradation by point source discharges other than from dams will be allowed…. the water quality and physical and biological integrity which existed on the water at the time of designation will be maintained and protected.”

When Aethon requested its permit renewal they submitted plans for expansion along with increased treatment of the discharge water.

Results of a “Generalized Environmental Modeling System for Surface waters” study conducted by Aethon found that the discharge of wastewater “will not cause an increase in concentrations beyond one standard deviation in the downstream Class 1 water” of the Wind River.

“The model found that complete mixing occurs, even under low natural flow conditions in Badwater Creek, before Badwater Creek fully enters Boysen Reservoir,” the draft permit reads. “Based on the results of the analysis, WDEQ anticipates that adequate mixing will occur before discharges reach the full body of the lake, and that by setting effluent limits for protection of the Class 1 water below the dam, the water quality within the lake itself is also adequately protected.”

According to the Wyoming State Geological Survey, the state ranks eighth nationally in crude oil production. Wyoming produced 75.6 million barrels of crude oil in 2017, up from 72.6 million barrels in 2016. Since the first oil well was drilled in 1884, there no doubt that oil has been a rich resource in Wyoming, providing not only a source of regular income but also with employment opportunities.

 

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