DEQ Moneta Divide plans protested

RIVERTON — People attending a public meeting last week in Riverton spoke against a revised permit that inflicts tighter restrictions on the proposed Moneta Divide natural gas field east of town. 

"It almost looks like the DEQ intends to shut down our mineral industry … by regulatory squeezes,” IDEA Inc. president Alan Moore said during the public meeting Feb. 13 at the Sundowner in Riverton. 

IDEA Inc. is the city of Riverton’s economic development arm. 

Moore was referencing a January decision by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to add testing and purity requirements to Aethon Energy's water output from the Moneta Divide. 

The requirements call for routine samplings of Boysen Reservoir and the Wind River and new routine frack and well additive screenings, as well as limits on temperature, sulfides, radium, barium and chloride. 

The DEQ revision acknowledges that the new conditions are more stringent than in the past – in fact "more stringent than those for similar EPA-permitted facilities covered on the Wind River Indian Reservation.”

In a letter responding to the revision, Aethon Energy representatives said the new purity requirements — especially the mandate that no more than 20 parts per billion in total sulfide contamination appear downstream from Badwater Creek — were "unprecedented and impractical," because laboratories "cannot detect" the contaminants to a fraction that precise.

Moore said the DEQ was “requiring companies to do things that technically aren't possible." He suggested that the strict parameters "would mean Aethon would leave – and we wouldn't get any of their taxes." 

The company originally applied for a permit revision to accommodate an expansion of the Moneta Divide Field. If the expansion were allowed, the increased drilling could have brough $71 million a year in federal royalties, $57.6 million a year in Wyoming severance taxes, and $70 million a year in county ad valorem taxes, according to previous reports.

Without the expansion, IDEA Inc. executive director Kevin Kershisnik said, "there will be no growth" in the county, economically. 

The DEQ wrote that comments by community members in favor of Aethon's expansion "were based on economic rather than technical merits of the application.”

“However, the goal of a discharge permit is to set the requirements necessary for the protection of downstream waters,” the agency stated.

As proposed, the expansion could bring an estimated $50 million to $100 million to the Fremont County assessed valuation and tax base. Expansion would be a significant employer as well, both during drilling and production of wells and in monitoring and testing afterward.