On Sept. 17, 2019, Delta County Commissioners repealed, but did not replace, Delta County’s outdated and confusing oil and gas (O&G) regulations. The commissioners reasoned that State O&G regulations alone are adequate to ensure that nearby O&G extraction activities do not adversely affect the county. This is false.
O&G extraction activities generate waste. Drill cuttings, produced water, and flowback water must be disposed of.
Gunnison Energy has proposed a plan for O&G development in the North Fork Valley. The plan calls for disposing waste drill cuttings in the Adobe Buttes landfill, owned and operated by Delta County.
Drill cuttings contain a soup of nasty substances, among them normally radioactive material. Usually, drilling fluid is recycled during drilling operations. Each time the drilling fluid is reused, the fluid becomes more radioactive, which, in turn, leads to drill cuttings with moderate to high levels of radioactivity. Of particular concern is radium-226.
Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years, meaning that half of its original radioactivity remains after 1600 years. In human terms, 1600 years is about 64 generations!
Radium-226 concentrates in bones and can lead to leukemia. Drill cuttings containing radium-226 should not be deposited in a municipal landfill. Either the radioactive material will eventually leach into groundwater or it will remain on or near the surface of the soil.
The state does not prohibit disposal of drill cuttings in a municipal landfill. It’s up to the county to develop strict rules prohibiting dumping of radioactive drill cuttings in its own landfill.
Let’s not trash Delta County for the sake of the oil and gas industry. Instead, let’s create a set of carefully crafted local O&G regulations to help protect and maintain the quality of life that we expect in Delta County.