CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Legislature will consider a bill next year that could help increase the efficiency of oil and gas drilling, and have an impact on the amount of water used in those operations.
The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee voted unanimously Thursday to sponsor a bill that would move oversight for all Class II disposal wells to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, the commission only has oversight of noncommercial wells, while the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality handles commercial wells.
The big issue the bill is looking to solve is moving all wells that would store saltwater, non-potable water and oil field wastes related to oil and gas production into Class II wells, said Tom Kropatsch, the commission’s deputy supervisor.
Currently, if a third party or multiple companies are teaming up to store Class II material, it has to be classified as a Class I operation and falls under the oversight of DEQ.
The main difference between Class I and Class II wells is how far down the wells need to be located. Class I wells need to be located below the deepest usable aquifer, while Class II wells only need to be located in a geological formation that is porous in order to absorb the produced water and surrounded by impermeable rock that will act as a confining zone.
Kropatsch said the main reasons for moving all disposal wells to Class II certification are to make it consistent with federal regulations, and to allow for greater efficiency in the oil and gas industry’s use of water.
“Regulations in the Safe Drinking Water Act doesn’t distinguish between Class II commercial or noncommercial. It’s distinguished between the type of fluids those classes of wells would take,” Kropatsch said during the meeting. “And maybe more importantly is the efficiency of managing produced water for the industry.”
Backers of the bill see that efficient use of water as a benefit to both oil and gas producers and to the state’s agricultural community. If there are more opportunities for companies to work together to store wastewater, there’s a better chance for some of that water to be treated and reused in expiration and extraction.
During the Minerals Committee meeting in May, when this topic was first presented, lawmakers heard about how the change in classifications could help find ways to take pressure off the state’s scarce water supplies. The less water used by the energy industry in extraction, the more water was available for the state’s agricultural uses.
The idea of switching the classifications was first brought up by oil and gas companies back in 2014, said Kevin Frederick, DEQ’s water quality administrator. But with the oil bust that started in 2015, the drive to find a way to switch classifications was dropped due to the lack of production activity across the state.
With the new increase in oil and gas operations across Wyoming, it made sense for the state to look at ways to increase efficiencies both in operations and in the use of water, Frederick said.