The Fort Collins Coloradoan is following the trail of EPA exemptions for disposal wells, including oil and gas operations waste

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Here’s a report from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through for the great graphic and the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past 13 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has exempted only the oil and gas industry from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to allow the disposal of waste brine and hydrocarbon-containing fluids into drinking water aquifers deep underground.

The injections are occurring east of Fort Collins in northern Weld County, including one directly beneath an animal sanctuary, a Coloradoan investigation shows.

The law requires applicants for the exemptions to prove that aquifers can’t be used for drinking because the water is so deep underground that it’s too expensive or too impractical to ever be tapped.

But Colorado water experts say you can never say never.

State water planners say it’s possible — but extremely expensive — to reach that drinking water today, but they warn that they can’t discount the possibility the water will become scarce and valuable enough here that Colorado may one day need to look for it deep underground.

A ProPublica investigation showed that the EPA has not kept track of how many aquifer exemptions have been issued nationwide, and records the agency provided ProPublica showed that many were issued in conflict with the EPA’s requirement to protect water that could be used for drinking. ProPublica found that about 1,100 aquifer exemptions have been approved by the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program in its Rocky Mountain regional office in Denver.

The Coloradoan requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act copies of all approval notices for aquifer exemptions the EPA has granted since Jan. 1, 2000, for an area including Denver, Weld, Adams, Boulder and Larimer counties.

The EPA released six aquifer exemption notices for that area.

In most cases, the EPA granted companies permission to pollute drinking water aquifers saying that they are not “reasonably expected” to be used for drinking water because they are too deep and too expensive to tap, making such an operation “technically impractical.”[...]

“I think most people consider it highly unlikely that it would ever be possible to lift that water that far economically” because the energy required to pump water 10,000 feet to the surface is too costly, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Today, one of the only resources valuable enough to pump from such depths is oil.

Think of it this way: The energy industry extracts oil from 7,000 feet or so beneath the surface, but each barrel is currently worth about $91. A barrel of water might be worth 80 cents, Waskom said, making the effort economically impractical.

More water pollution coverage here.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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