What do you do if an oil company plans to release huge amounts of toxic waste near your town? You push back hard, just like what the residents of a Wyoming town are doing, and it seems like they’ve won the first round.
Residents of Thermopolis, a town known for its natural hot springs, have recently succeeded in getting an extension to air their concerns about plans to release oilfield pollutants into nearby Boysen Reservoir. The artificial lake, formed by Boysen Dam is located upstream to the town’s drinking water source, the main reason why people of Thermopolis are battling this proposal.
Petitions from various individuals, including that of Thermopolis Mayor, Mike Chimenti, have reached the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, persuading it to move the deadline from April 17, 2019 to July 5, 2019.
“Because of the complexity of the proposed permit, the [Water Quality Division] has received numerous requests from individuals, conservation organizations and local government officials for an extension of the comment period,” the DEQ said in a press release regarding the comment extension.
DEQ added: “Also requested is a desire for informational public meetings to better understand the proposed revisions and potential consequences to human health and the environment from the expanded discharges,” which is why the agency gave the nod to hosting two public meetings to be able to disseminate information and answer questions regarding the actual dumping as well as the revision and releasing of permits for the planned discharge.
When asked to comment about the extension, Mayor Chimenti said that he was happy with the new deadline being moved to July. He also said that there were other points he wanted to discuss with the agency, which includes his concern about other pollutants currently being released near his town. He claims that when he read the proposed DEQ authorization for Aethon Energy to dump millions of gallons of oilfield pollutants into Boysen Reservoir, he was surprised to find out that there were pollutants already flowing.
Chimenti said: “I am all for oil exploring and drilling oil wells because that is what our state relies on,” He added, that as Mayor of Thermopolis, “my first concern is the protection of Thermopolis residents.” He also wants to find out what the “immediate and long-range effect of contaminants on our water supply,”
But why are residents concerned?
Thermopolis’ water supply comes from the Bighorn River which is located just a few miles downstream of the Boysen Reservoir. If Aethon Energy gets the green-light to dump “produced water” from its oilfields into the reservoir, it runs the risk of those flows mixing with purer water in the lake.
The diluted stream containing harmful waste water will then make its way into the Wind River, which becomes Bighorn River once it flows past the Wind River Canyon. The water from The Bighorn makes its way to Thermopolis’ taps and also feeds water into irrigation systems, hydrating over 70,000 acres of farm land in the area.
“We have to protect our agriculture,” Mayor Chimenti said. “Without the farmers, we don’t eat.”
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