Company fined twiced for injecting chemicals deserves our scrutiny

By Richard Garrett and Steve Jones

ON MARCH 8, THE WYOMING OIL AND GAS COMMISSION fined Ciris Energy $1,500 for injecting several chemicals—some of which are known to cause cancer—into coalbed methane wells in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Ciris had already been fined more than $25,000 by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality for the same violation.

The Wyoming DEQ learned of the violations in October only after being tipped off by an anonymous caller who said Ciris was injecting “hazardous material” into the wells without a permit.

In addition to violating permitting laws, it’s fair to say the company has also violated what Wyoming legislators call the Code of the West —which, with the signature of former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, became the official Wyoming state code last year.

Among the several ethics honored by the Code are these simple principles: do what’s necessary, keep promises, and know where to draw the line.

Ciris (and its competitor, Luca Technologies) helped push through a new law during the 2011 Wyoming legislative session that is intended to streamline the regulatory process under which the two companies expect to operate.

In lobbying for the bill, it seems that Ciris officials neglected to tell legislators that their company had already been fined by the DEQ and would likely be fined by the Oil and Gas Commission immediately following the legislative session.

It’s very possible the bill wouldn’t have passed if the company had “cowboyed up” and disclosed its misdeeds to legislators.

Experimental technology: Using chemicals to spur microbes to make gas

Ciris Energy claims it can enhance natural gas production by using a proprietary mixture of chemicals and liquids injected into the coal seam. This chemical mixture is supposed to encourage microbes to consume the coal deep within the formations, and give off methane gas as a byproduct.

On Tuesday, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission heard testimony from representatives of the Powder River Basin Resource Council who said that many of their members get their drinking water from the Fort Union formation—the same formation into which Ciris Energy injected the chemicals.

The chemicals included ammonium chloride, acetate, sodium phosphate, sodium bromide, potassium chloride, cobalt chloride, and nickel chloride, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council is profoundly concerned for the people who get their drinking water from the Fort Union formation and who might be exposed to these dangerous chemicals as a result of Ciris’ experimental technology.

Skepticism warranted

It is our observation that Ciris has thus far behaved as a less-than-transparent corporate citizen in Wyoming. And, of course, it has been found to be in violation of state agency permitting procedures.

It failed to collect baseline groundwater samples prior to injecting known carcinogens into aquifers, which is required prior to the issuance of a permit. It also failed to disclose to the state that it would inject fluids and chemicals.

By injecting known carcinogenic chemicals into groundwater, Ciris may have put human or animal health at risk. In short, Ciris has revealed itself to be worthy of very careful scrutiny.

All of these failures and—to our eyes—the manipulation of the legislative process gives us pause.

This behavior indicates that as the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission and the DEQ undertake rule-making on the experimental technology that Ciris proposes to use, it is in our best interest as a state to be wary of the company’s intent until we can be certain Ciris will not pollute the state’s groundwater or try to circumvent its regulatory processes.

For additional information and stories about the hearing, follow these links:

State says microbe gas company broke the rules

Ciris agrees to fines, water testing for chemical injections in Wyoming

The official hearing notice

Contact: Richard Garrett, Wyoming Outdoor Council legislative advocate, richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org; 307-438-9516.

Contact: Steve Jones, Wyoming Outdoor Council watershed protection program attorney, steve@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org; 307-332-7031 x12.

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