SUBLETTE COUNTY – Delving into exactly what happened with the Chevron Pit, a 10.1-acre parcel being nominated for an Upper Hoback Road’s resort subterranean parking garage and remembered as a 1980s “sludge pit,” was not off to a promising start.
The innocuous grass-covered parcel is now owned by Joe Ricketts and is the setting of his (and Rio Verde Engineering’s Mike Jackson’s) current conditional-use permit application as part of his resort and guest ranch development in the rural Hoback Basin.
The so-called sludge pit of the early 1980s was next to the Upper Hoback Road on private ranch land owned then by Bob and Lois McNeel. Chevron had posted a drilling rig on Kilgore Creek, which was roadless at the time.
This is not a news-breaking story of pollution – that was covered by longtime Pinedale Roundup owner and editor Ric Samulski – “DEQ raps Chevron for Bondurant Dump Site.”
A single mention in the late Judy Meyers’ painstaking newspaper index – one reference to the “Chevron Pit, Bondurant” that led to Samulski’s Nov. 3, 1983, article, complete with Allen Messick’s photo of a Case cat slogging through the pits.
That issue found last week in bound volumes at the Pinedale Library revealed Samulski’s reporting that Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality investigated Chevron’s unpermitted drilling-waste pits and on Oct. 20, 1983, issued Chevron a notice of violation.
With Samulski’s 1983 article as a guide, Wyoming DEQ staff pursued a Jan. 26 records request and found more than a hundred records made available by press time. They are typed, handwritten and, scrawled on – detailing the process to correct contamination from Chevron’s unlined 3-cell pit, or pond.
On July 14, 1983, DEQ staff took pics of the illegal pond, about 800 feet by 200 feet and 7 feet deep with water and dumped chemicals and solids.
On Oct., 19, 1983, DEQ’s Jack Bedessem of Lander wrote Bob Everson of Chevron, headed, “Unauthorized Waste Drilling Fluid Ponds – Notice of Violation.”
He ordered Everson to submit plans for mechanical evaporation units, disposal of the “muds in the bottom of the pond,” profile the site and install at least three monitoring wells, also called “test holes,” at least 5 feet into the groundwater zone.
Chevron officials said they built the drilling-waste ponds on private land because the Forest Service refused to allow any more expansion at the well site. They didn’t know about any DEQ’s rules requiring a water-quality permit.
Around 1981, Chevron leased the McNeels’ 10-1 acre site, now part of Jackson Fork Ranch, just a quarter mile from the Hoback River.
“The wastewater facility showed no evidence of impervious soil or a synthetic material used as a liner,” the DEQ reported after its visit.
“Enclosed is a Notice of Violation which is self explanatory. The referenced ponds have been in existence for some time and have probably caused groundwater contamination,” DEQ’s Jake Strohman wrote on Oct. 20, 1983, to Everson. “The (Water Quality) Division needs to know the extent of contamination in terms of quality and the area affected. You have proposed to (DEQ’s Lander lead Jack Bedessem a time frame of next year to install the necessary (pollution) monitoring wells. This time frame is unacceptable. The extent of groundwater pollution will continue and may require a considerable amount of restoration. Procrastination could seriously increase the area required to be restored.”
If Chevron did not correct the situation, officials were told, it would be taken to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office for possible enforcement. No available records show if the AGO deliberated on the matter at that time.
Chevron hired consultants to “work on the problem” and indicated on Oct. 25, 1983, it was willing to install monitoring wells and collect samples at the site by early November.
“An application to aerate the water, truck the remaining mud to an approved dump site and cover the pits has been prepared and will be forwarded upon receipt to your office,” wrote Chevron’s W.B. Jackson.
CE Spurlock & Associates proposed installing a generator, three centrifugal pumps, pipe and sprinkler heads, a fuel tank and a trailer house to accommodate a 24-hour watch. The company predicted it would take 30 days to evaporate 90 percent of the freestanding water.
“The remaining 10 percent will be slurried with mud on the bottom of the pits to allow most of the mud to be hauled in liquid form to an approved disposal pit,” the company wrote. “During this phase, the pits will be squeezed to allow most of the mud in one area. We would then prefer to bury the residue thick mud under a minimum 5 feet of cover.”
If DEQ requested, they would instead load dump trucks with the liquid mud and haul it away.
Chevron applied to DEQ for an industrial evaporative facility permit.
However, the engineers noted, they were “very concerned about the winter weather and the time frame,” according to conversation notes.
On Oct. 31, 1983, DEQ’s Bedessem approved Chevron’s request to have Woodward-Clyde Consultants conduct a groundwater investigation “as soon as possible.”
That company provided a proposal for four monitoring wells – three of them “down-gradient” from the to-be-reclaimed McNeel pit. Bedessem asked that the work begin as soon as possible.
From 1983 to 1985, the same test holes were left in place for DEQ and Chevron sampling although Chevron warned phenol from the casings’ glue might contaminate samples.
With the mud removed or aerated, Chevron believed there would be no further pollution concerns.
Through those years and again in 1987, samples taken showed that total dissolved solids and chloride remained in the surrounding groundwater with a possible “plume” of contaminants working its way downhill toward the Hoback River.
In January, the Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission failed to approve Ricketts’ CUP request for an underground garage on this site. The application request was announced for Sublette County commissioners’ Friday, Feb. 2, meeting.
However, county planner Dennis Fornstrom cited a scheduling conflict for applicant Joe Ricketts and plans it for the commissioners’ March 19 meeting