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Development East of Cheyenne

The Brooks home is one of eight properties in the 65-home Triple Crown Estates subdivision that faces proposed development along a ridge that borders their property lines. 

EOG Resources, a major oil and gas firm drilling in eastern Wyoming, withdrew an application for a controversial injection well east of Cheyenne recently.

The well would have been located within a half mile of the Triple Crown Estates subdivision, alarming locals who had questioned its impact on their community and their wells.

Pole Creek 148-25H, as the well was called, was planned to dispose of the water used to drill for oil and gas by pumping it 5,000 feet below the surface in the Sussex aquifer. Some argued the aquifer is a designated drinking water source for future use.

EOG is one of a handful of companies whose presence in the Denver Basin of southeast Wyoming has grown in recent years. The Houston-based firm is credited with unlocking the formation for oil and gas that had been tricky to reach previously.

A spokesman for EOG said the company would continue to pursue its application for two other injection wells in the area. Pole Creek, he said, was deemed unnecessary for their current drilling plans.

The company noted in earlier interviews that EOG’s workers live in the area too, and shared concerns that development should be done responsibly.

The issue for landowners was not simply the Pole Creek well, however, but all three injection wells planned near their homes, hinting at the expected growth from firms like EOG in the prairies east of the state capital. With one well off the table, those concerned by the increase development say there are still questions about water in the area.

“We see this as a major win, but we have some work to do in regard to these other wells,” said Casey Quinn, a member of the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition.

Red tape

Wyoming regulators still hold applications for two injection wells in Laramie County from EOG. One of those wells includes a request to expand the area within the Sussex aquifer where EOG is allowed to pump produced water.

Tom Kropatsch, deputy supervisor for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said staff was reviewing the applications.

“Once we have the required information we will evaluate the applications, review the public comments and make a final decision,” he said in an email Tuesday.

The right to interfere with a water source that has been marked as a potential drinking water source requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency as well. The EPA offices in Denver received the exemption request from EOG last year and had requested that the company re-evaluate the area and the proximity of local water wells to the proposed injection well.

The EPA is still awaiting that updated information from the company.

A basin leader

Reporting on its 2017 earnings Wednesday, EOG noted that it had driven down costs in the Denver Basin of Wyoming. The company completed three wells in the area during the last few months of the year, as well as nine wells further north in the Powder River Basin.

Though based in Texas, the firm is an interesting player in Wyoming. Other firms watch EOG due to its record of drilling achievements in the state’s enigmatic eastern fields. Where EOG goes, others tend to follow.

The three largest operators in Laramie County increased production by 545 percent from 2012 to 2016, with EOG at the helm.

In an interview last year, spokesman Creighton Welch said EOG tries to keep regular communication with those who live near their operations.

“EOG remains focused on all permitting, monitoring, and reporting requirements to protect groundwater and the safety of our communities,” he said.

Water in the rock

The Sussex aquifer lies about 5,000 below the surface bound by the Pierre Shale. State regulators say the rock above and below will inhibit migration of the salty water touched by chemicals from oil production up to the domestic water wells closer to the surface. Officials also say their regulations on injection well construction are meant to keep leaks from happening. Local water officials argued in previous interviews with the Star-Tribune that the Sussex was too far down to be used as a drinking source in the foreseeable future.

Others disagree. Landowners point out a number of reasons why injection wells are worrisome from the inevitable degradation of wells over time that leads to leakage, to the long term viability of an aquifer in an arid region.

Laramie County is looking at nearly 5,000 permits to drill for oil and gas, said Shannon Anderson, a lawyer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a sister to the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition.

“That’s a huge number, and there is a large waste stream associated with those wells,” Anderson said. “There are traumatic impacts to aquifers for the drilling of those wells.”

The focus of the landowner objection to EOG’s injection wells was in part a look at the larger water issue associated with growing development in the Denver Basin.

Companies like EOG are also laying the groundwork for a massive development in Converse County to the north. Again there is a question of water — where it will come from and what to do with contaminated water afterwards, she said.

“It’s just important to take a pause,” she said regarding the injection well debate. “What is the best way forward both for the regulators and the company?”

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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