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Moneta Divide gas job seeks approval on water disposal

Sep 22, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Aethon Energy last week asked the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to approve four disposal wells for wastewater as part of recent developments in the long-anticipated Moneta Divide project.

Before Aethon purchased the Moneta Divide assets in 2015, Encana Corp. had been developing the project with plans for 4,250 more wells across 219,000 acres. The gas field, which straddles Fremont and Natrona counties, has been seen as a potential boost to Fremont County's dwindling natural gas industry and related job market.

Earlier denial

Last year, the state commission denied a similar request from Aethon to dispose of Moneta Divide wastewater in a separate geological formation.

The wastewater in question is an inherent by-product of gas production: When wells bring natural gas to the surface, an accompanying splurge of dirty water results.

When gas companies are deciding where to dispose of that "produced" water, they must get the approval of state and federal regulators if the water disposal could affect any aquifers.

State regulators denied last year's disposal request after losing confidence in Aethon's assurances that the disposal of produced water into the Madison Formation wouldn't bleed out into other aquifers that contain suitable drinking water.

Four wells

Affecting aquifers with wastewater is allowed under state rules, assuming that any recovery of those aquifers' potable water would be "economically or technologically impractical." Aethon's engineers have said that's the case with the aquifers that could be affected by the four disposal wells for which they requested approval last week.

Bringing potable water to Shoshoni from any of those aquifers would cost $2 million, the engineers have asserted, and bringing it to Riverton would cost $3.9 million. Either scenario would be equally unlikely because the two municipalities's water systems already use only a small fraction of their capacity.

Waiting

Aethon is now awaiting a decision on its wastewater plan after state commissioners asked for more information during the Sept. 12 meeting.

Tom Kropatsch, deputy supervisor for the WOGCC, said that, although the aquifers don't currently supply drinking water, it's still not clear whether they could qualify under federal standards as "underground source(s) of drinking water," which would entitle them to protection under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"What we are not sure of until water samples are collected is the (total dissolved solid) concentration of the water," Kropatsch said.

If the TDS concentration is higher than 10,000 parts per million, the aquifers could be automatically exempted from normal aquifer protections.

Permits

Moneta Divide's slow development has been accompanied by a lengthy permitting process with the Bureau of Land Management. However, assistant BLM field manager Ben Kniola told the Fremont County Commission in July that it's been gas prices, not regulations, that have slowed the project.

"Gas prices kind of quelled the interest for a while," he said.

Kniola said the sales of Encana's assets also put the project on the "back burner" while Aethon decided whether to continue the project.

"We've got a path forward now, and we'll take it to the finish," he said.

Travis Becker, who chairs the Fremont County Commission, said he hopes the Moneta Divide project goes live before the competing Jonah Energy project in Sublette County.

Work on the Jonah project began much more recently. After Jonah Energy purchased the Sublette County assets in May, the company announced plans to scale production there up to 2,100 producing wells.

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2017-10-17