County delays KM bid to inject well

Montezuma County officials have temporarily halted a Kinder Morgan plan to convert a dormant 31-year-old production well into a new injection well.

Kinder Morgan agent Bob Clayton told Montezuma County commissioners on Monday, May 5, that “absolutely no new disturbance” would be encountered to convert the well, which would be used by North America’s third-largest energy company to inject salt water more than 9,000 feet below the Earth’s surface.

“We definitely see the need for an additional salt water disposal well,” Clayton said.

Clayton requested commissioners certify the company’s plan as prescribed by the county’s land use code. The conversion requires the company to drill 900 feet deeper than the existing well, Clayton added.

Clayton said company officials worked two years to receive a federal permit for the injection well, which falls Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Located on public Canyons of the Ancient Monument land near the end of County Road 9.2, the EPA permitted the 1.5-acre site as a Class I nonhazardous industrial waste disposal injection well in June 2012. The permit is valid for 10 years.

“The EPA has very stringent rules,” Clayton said.

Montezuma County planning director Susan Carver warned commissioners that Kinder Morgan officials had yet to provide any written documentation to verify company claims that the injection well would not have any new impact.

“You’re verbally saying this to the board, but there’s no written record,” Carver told Clayton.

With “so many unknowns,” Carver said the certification requirement would help protect both the county and the operator from “unwarranted criticism,” especially if “something were to go wrong.” She suggested the company provide a written narrative that demonstrates the well conversion would not impact county roadways, for example.

“We need complete detailed information,” Carver added.

Clayton signed a Montezuma County high-impact permit application for the injection well on May 2. He told commissioners the EPA permit required the company to complete its work to transform the well by June 30. Clayton indicated it would take three days to drill the additional 900 feet.

“All along we thought it was a June 30 deadline to start drilling,” Clayton said.

Commissioner Steve Chappel said the planning department should serve as a governmental check, but added he was also concerned about the EPA deadline.

“Kinder Morgan is under a real crunch right now,” Chappel said.

Carver responded the “rush” could have been avoided, citing the company notified the Bureau of Land Management of its intentions to convert the old well to an injection well in July 2013.

“Injection wells are very controversial,” Carver said.

Commissioners tabled the certification, instructing Carver to work with Clayton to help fast track the process. The county is expected to revisit the issue at their next meeting on Monday, May 12.

An injection well is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations, such as sandstone or limestone, or into or below the shallow soil layer. These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals.

Due to the depths and porous nature of the formations, Clayton said Kinder Morgan does not have to use high pressure for its injection wells. He added that the company’s injection wells were the only ones in the state that operate under a vacuum.

“We open the valve and it goes down,” he said. “It makes our wells a lot less critical.”

According to the EPA, 19 states have permitted nonhazardous industrial waste disposal wells.

Kinder Morgan plans to request three additional injection wells in Montezuma County, Carver said.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com