The short answer is yes, I believe there is.
On Monday evening I attended the final scheduled meeting between Front Range Landfill Representatives and Erie residents at the Vista Ridge Community Center. I approached the meeting with skepticism, armed with my notepad of written questions. I had read the articles in the Boulder Daily Camera that summarized the previous meetings, and knew that many residents were dissatisfied with the information that Front Range Landfill representatives presented. For many of us, there is such intense frustration in being powerless to prevent the development of new oil/gas drilling sites in our neighborhood, that we have a short fuse when it comes to any suggestion that we take on more risk of exposure to fracking chemicals through the disposal process.
There were two main questions to which I wanted answers: 1) What are the plans to accept fracking fluid at the landfill and 2) If the Liquid Waste Solidification site were approved, what is the projected increase in number of diesel trucks coming and going through our neighborhoods?
The meeting itself was relatively informal and we were encouraged to ask questions throughout the presentation. Dan Gudgel led the meeting, and began by outlining the plans for the Liquid Waste Solidification site at the northern edge of Front Range Landfill. He and his colleagues (Curtis Jeffries and Phillip Porter) described the details of adding liquid waste to an absorbent solid. In most cases, the absorbent solid is “auto fluff”, the 25% of cars/trucks that remain after the metal has been salvaged for recycling. It consists of plastics, foam, textiles, rubber, and glass, and is already destined for the landfill. No additional noise, odor or fumes is expected to be associated with this solidification process. Currently, Front Range Landfill already accepts nonhazardous liquid waste that has gone through the solidification process at another facility.
Some residents raised questions about hazardous materials, and who defines what is hazardous. The representatives reiterated that they do not accept hazardous waste and do not want to expose their employees to anything harmful. As this progressed to questions about fracking fluid, Mr. Gudgel stated they Front Range Landfill currently has no plans to accept fracking fluid waste, as it would be cost prohibitive. HOWEVER, he qualified that statement by saying that he could not guarantee that it would not be something they would look to accept in the future. I deliberated on that comment for a while.
Meanwhile, more information came to light through the meeting. I learned that 50% of what Front Range Landfill currently takes in is already from the oil and gas industry. The waste that oil and gas brings to landfills consists of drill mud and drill cuttings. Essentially drill mud/cuttings are the product of drilling fluid (used in lubricating/cooling the drill bits that bore into the earth) that becomes mixed with the deeper layers of the lithosphere. At oil and gas well sites, it is a liquid waste product. Drill mud/cuttings can either go through a solidification process and be placed in a landfill or (perhaps more troubling) can be applied to designated farm land. (COGCC Drill Cuttings Policy (PDF))
So the oil and gas industry already contributes 50% of what the landfill is taking in. It is my understanding that the primary reason that Front Range Landfill would like to have an on-site liquid waste solidification center is so that these drill cuttings can be delivered to them in their liquid form, and Front Range Landfill can then convert them to a solid which may be placed in the landfill.
Mr. Gudgel estimated that between 300 to 500 trucks enter the landfill every day. He also estimates that having the liquid waste solidification site would potentially add another 30 trucks per day. I asked whether or not he has a sense of how many trucks enter by driving north on Sheridan and around the edge of the Vista Pointe neighborhood to access County Road 5, and how many approach the landfill from Erie Parkway. He said that he has that data, but does not have it memorized. His sense was that more trucks came from Erie Parkway and avoided the neighborhood.
In a follow-up question a while later, the issue of the increase in number of trucks driving to the landfill came up again. This time, however, the representatives stated that because the trucks would be bringing waste in liquid form (rather than already bulked up as a solid), we may actually see a decrease in total number of trucks entering the landfill. I’ll be curious to see how this projection of traffic patterns is ultimately presented to the Town Council as I felt the information we received at this meeting was contradictory.
Overall though, I have to admit that the more I listened (and participated) in ongoing discussion, the more I felt that the landfill representatives honestly want to do a good job with the landfill, and genuinely want to be good neighbors. Again, this is simply an impression, based upon how they spoke with us and answered questions, and based upon the information they shared. They were not defensive, and I believe they were truly trying to be transparent, open, and honest in their communication.
And that brings us back to the issue of fracking fluid. We came full circle in the discussion, and Mr. Gudgel reiterated that there are currently no plans to accept fracking fluid to be converted to solid waste because it does not make economic sense. Yet things may change in the future, and he does not want to lie to us now and make a promise that he cannot keep. At this point I asked, “So if the town trustees were to approve the liquid waste solidification site but with the condition that you are never to accept fracking fluid, then would that be an acceptable compromise?” All three representatives readily replied “yes”.
It appears we all have some work to do. We need to reach out to our Town Trustees and explain to them our concerns about fracking fluid waste, and that we do not want it in our local landfills. That must be a condition of the liquid waste solidification permit approval if they choose to grant it. Here’s the link to the Erieco.gov page so that you can email the Board of Trustees.