Milliken company helps renew the earth with oil well waste
The Greeley Tribune
Like a sponge, the HydroLoc soil amendment sits in the dirt on Weld County’s sandy grasslands and soaks up the moisture in an arid, often unforgiving climate.
Made out of bacteria, fungi and waste from oil wells drilled about 8,000 feet underground, the combination, amid a proprietary blend of other soil goodies, creates an environment for growth, promoting a happy subsurface home for native grasses and plants to thrive.
For HydroLoc creators Bruce Sandau and Mike Sever, of Green Earth Environmental of Milliken, it’s pure elation after a year of trials that could revolutionize the oil and gas industry’s growing focus on sustainability.
“It’s like organic matter on steroids,” Sever said, noting that their blend results in increased microbial activity, nutrient cycling, water holding capacity, soil organic matter, nutrients and decreased soil density — perhaps a foreign language to everyday folk, but music to area farmers and ranchers hoping to get the best out of their land and reclaim sites scarred by oil and gas drilling.
“The neat thing you don’t see very often is it gives back and no one can say that’s bad,” Sever said.
HydroLoc is a patent-pending soil amendment that’s for real, putting oil and gas waste to work to nurture the future, bringing the drilling process full circle.
They perfect it, manage and market it out of the Green Earth Environmental offices in Milliken, with Sandau’s business partner, Jim Daulton.
Like most inventions, HydroLoc started out of necessity.
“Years ago, on my farm, I had an (oil and gas) flow line leak,” Sandau explained. “So they came in and did a massive excavation, removed it and brought me more soil. I just wanted my dirt. I wanted to keep my dirt.”
Could it be cleaned, so they don’t have to remove it?
“There’s so much money and effort spent when something like that happens, it just seemed like there should be a better way,” Sandau said.
Sandau, who had been working on drill site reclamation projects for Noble Energy with his company Green Earth Environmental, got on the phone to people he knew in the oil and gas industry, and A-1 Organics in Eaton, calls which eventually led him to Sever, who was in Wyoming testing soil remediation techniques.
More talks led to the creation of HydroLoc, with heavy involvement still from Bob Yost at A-1 Organics.
Together, they all came up with a proprietary blend in a highly competitive environment, so the only thing they’ll say about the magic mixture is that it is made up of drill cuttings, a finished Class 1 compost, water and air. Mother Nature does the rest in a 20- to 45-day process, in which the drill cuttings are mixed in with the HydroLoc blend and set on site to blend back into the soil once the drilling rigs are gone.
“We’ve taken it to drill rigs and big burly oil well workers are scared to death of it because they think it’s poop,” Sandau said, noting that there is a smell to the blend, but not exactly what first comes to mind. “We get that reaction all the time. But there’s nothing in it that’s poop. It’s very rich organic, enriched soil. That’s what you smell, the life of the soil.”
The process is by no means simple, but it’s built on basic tenets of soil management. The drill cuttings, though mined from as much as 8,000 feet below the surface and laced with hydrocarbons, are still organic materials.
“You’ve got the makings of something that just wants to be dirt,” Sandau said. “All these cuttings are from 6,000 to 8,000 feet below surface, and they just want to be dirt and grow something. We’re helping them get there. We’re giving life to them, and organisms, and it becomes a very high quality dirt.”
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
So earth is milled from beneath the surface and brought back after millions of years. Though organic, it’s considered exploration and production waste by state regulators’ standards, and removal is highly regulated.
The cuttings — earth that has been bored out of a drilling well to drill for oil — must be disposed of properly. For years, that place has been the local landfill, or applied on specified, registered plots of land.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation commission requires tracking of all drill cuttings because of its hydrocarbon make-up. That’s why their whereabouts have been limited to specific land applications or specific landfills. Every move of the stuff must be documented.
But HydroLoc is gaining some favor with state regulators, who have recognized its benefits and will allow its use to reclaim drilling sites and areas where its application can be tracked and documented.
Sandau and Sever have only tested the blend to reclaim disturbed areas for Noble Energy, but the story of its success is spreading.
“So we take this and with science behind it and not going to a landfill, its treated, tested, and we put it out on farmers’ and ranchers’ soil as a soil amendment. There’s no accumulation, it’s done once. We don’t need to do it again. We’re tying to enhance the soil,” Sandau said. “So the liability (of hydrocarbons in the soil) goes away. It creates a win-win situation for the producer, the state, the community, landowners and for the environmental groups.” ❖
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