Wyoming concerned over Colo. oil well pollution

DENVER (AP) — Wyoming water quality officials said Thursday that they were unaware that a troublesome oil facility in northern Colorado has been dumping up to 400,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater from well drilling that flows into the North Platte River.

Wyoming water quality director John Wagner said he did not know that Lone Pine Gas had a Colorado water permit to do so and that some of the water had been contaminated with excess levels of iron and copper.

Colorado water quality control manager Scott Klarich said the company has violated water quality standards a number of times since it was issued an administrative order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2007. Klarich said the company exceeded copper levels by nearly 100 percent last September and iron levels by nearly 150 percent last November.

Wagner said some of that wastewater would reach the river in Wyoming, but the water quality violations came as a surprise.

"That's news to me. I'd like to know more," Wagner said.

Klarich said high levels of copper can kill aquatic plants, and high levels of iron stain the riverbanks. Klarich said the pollution is highly diluted by the time it reaches the North Platte River and unlikely to hurt wildlife when it reaches the river.

So far, there are no reports of visible impacts to wildlife, said Richard Mylott, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman.

Lone Pine Gas co-owner Steve Shute said the company shut down the plant and did a complete cleanup in March. He said well drilling in the area has increased over the past five years with the oil and gas boom, and dozens of wells are currently in the area.

The latest news came as Suncor Energy tries to clean up water contaminated by its oil refinery near Denver to keep cancer-causing benzene from reaching the South Platte River. The wastewater issue came to light after the EPA and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission went to assess damage from a small oil spill that occurred last December.

According to The Denver Post, oil pollution extends extend from Lone Pine Gas facilities for more than a mile along the shorelines of Spring Gulch Creek. The creek flows into Hell Creek and then into the North Fork of the North Platte River.

The creeks themselves aren't used as drinking water sources, the EPA's Mylott said.

Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said inspectors have been on the site since December. He said there was staining along short stretches of the creek.

"This is a very large industry (with more than 47,000 active wells) with a presence across much of the state. Spills and releases do happen. Our rules require that they be addressed aggressively when discovered," he said.

He said fines can be levied for failure to comply.

The EPA is working with the state to assess the oil's impacts.

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