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Conservation Groups Challenge Aethon Wastewater Waiver

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The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the injection of oil and gas wastewater into potential drinking water supplies. (Rawpixel/Pxhere)
The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the injection of oil and gas wastewater into potential drinking water supplies. (Rawpixel/Pxhere)
 By Eric Galatas - Producer, Contact
April 22, 2021

SHOSHONI, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to reject Aethon Energy's plans to inject up to 30,000 barrels of fracking wastewater per day into the Madison Aquifer as it expands drilling on public lands.

In November, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved the company's request for a waiver from federal drinking water protections.

John Rader with the Wyoming Outdoor Council said injecting wastewater into the Madison formation would put an important source of fresh water at risk of contamination from toxic chemical compounds.

"We're looking at ways to hold these companies accountable," Rader explained. "When they develop public resources, to not contaminate and destroy other public resources. There's a responsibility to do the job right."

Rader's group and others argue the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the injection of oil and gas wastewater into potential drinking water supplies such as the 15,000-foot deep Madison Aquifer.

Aethon sees the site as a cost-efficient way to dispose of wastewater from an additional 4250 new wells in the Moneta Divide oil and gas field. The company has argued the aquifer already is contaminated and would be too costly to develop into drinking water.

Rader pointed to independent analysis showing that the Madison aquifer could be developed at reasonable costs for municipal and agricultural use across a wide geographical area. Radar said it's critical to protect water resources now and in the future, especially in the arid Mountain West.

"Frankly it makes no sense to risk a precious and irreplaceable source of fresh water to subsidize oil field expansion," Rader argued. "The risks are enormous, especially in the context of climate change and increasing drought."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, expanded drilling in the Moneta Divide could produce more than $70 million in federal royalties, and more than $120 million in state and county revenues per year.

If Gov. Mark Gordon signs the approved waiver, the Environmental Protection Agency would have the final say on Aethon's plans.

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