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Moneta Divide Field

A drilling rig operates in August 2011 north of U.S. Highway 20-26 and east of Moneta in Fremont County. The Northern Arapaho tribe is opposing Aethon Energy's proposed permit to discharge more than 8.25 million gallons a day of waste from its operations in the Moneta Divide.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe says it opposes an energy company’s proposal to discharge polluted water upstream of the Wind River because it could degrade water quality and affect tribal business opportunities.

Aethon Energy wants the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to allow it to discharge more than 8.25 million gallons a day of waste from its operations in the Moneta Divide oil and gas field into the Alkali and Badwater creeks. Those creeks flow into the Boysen Reservoir and the Wind River, a federally protected Class I waterway.

Aethon has said its permit would meet all regulations and offers more water protections than past permits.

In a public comment letter last month, the Northern Arapaho Business Council said it opposed Aethon’s proposal because it would degrade water quality and could negatively affect tribal economic development on tribal trust lands that border the Boysen Reservoir and Wind River through the Wind River Canyon.

“Tribal members recreate, hunt, fish, and operate fishing and whitewater rafting businesses on these waters and surrounding lands,” the business council wrote in its June 28 letter. “Maintaining the environmental quality of these resources for current and future generations is essential.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also told the state agency it has concerns with Aethon’s plan, saying it would lead to degradation of the Wind River.

Keith Guille, a DEQ spokesman, said the agency is still reviewing the comments and working to respond to them.

The tribe’s comments were among about 450 the agency has to go over, he said, adding that the number is higher than usual.

“It’s going to take some time (to review and respond to the public comments),” Guille said. “This is an important issue, we recognize that.”

Aetheon is seeking the discharge permit from state regulators as it and Burlington Resources look to expand the oil and gas field in Fremont and Natrona counties by 4,250 wells.

The tribe said the permit would exceed standards for Badwater Creek but would meet standards once it meets and is diluted in Boysen Reservoir water.

Still, instead of discharging the polluted water, Ryan Ortiz, executive director of the Northern Arapaho Natural Resource Office, said in a late May comment letter that Aethon could resolve concerns over water quality standards by treating the water and then discharging it into the streams.

“Aethon has already demonstrated the treatability of the wastewater with its reverse osmosis treatment plant,” Ortiz wrote.

Additionally, Ortiz said Aethon would dump enough chloride in the water that it would meet the limits for chloride flowing through the Wind River, meaning any other agencies, governments or businesses looking to discharge chloride into the river would have to pay to clean it before dumping into water that flows through the protected Wind River.

“This could hinder future development of oil and gas resources on the Wind River Reservation, as well as negatively impact municipalities in Fremont County,” he wrote.

While the tribe said it opposes Aethon’s current proposal, it would support it if it addressed the tribe’s concerns.

“The project has the potential to provide needed economic benefit to the people of the Reservation and Fremont County,” the business council wrote. “The Tribe supports the safe and responsible development of the Moneta Divide Field, as long as it does not negatively impact the environment or economic activity on the Reservation.”

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Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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