CHEYENNE – After several years of planning, Encore Green Environmental received a one-time permit from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality earlier this month to apply treated wastewater from oil drilling to farming operations, marking a huge step in the company’s attempts to get the new technology up and running.
The WDEQ permit allows the local agricultural company to apply roughly 7,000 barrels of produced water to private farmland near Pine Bluffs. Encore Green co-founder Marvin Nash said the permit marks the project’s turn from a plan into a reality.
“Stock growers have said they see how this could work, and that it’s going to be an opportunity for agriculture to improve,” Nash said. “But without the young guns here understanding data, we could only put it on a piece of paper. But now this is scientifically proven.”
The permit issued by the WDEQ is only for the Pine Bluffs operation, with a deadline to complete the water application by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the company is waiting on a second permit to apply the treated water on the farmland of Owen Goertz, a longtime cattle rancher living northeast of Cheyenne.
Before the produced water can be reapplied, Encore Green will send the water to a third-party engineering company to test it and determine the necessary parameters to treat it. That’s where blockchain would come in, acting as a secure digital storage spot for the data collected on each project’s water and soil quality.
“The laboratory will send (the data) directly to blockchain, so they can’t say Encore Green or the oil and gas company altered the constituencies,” Nash said.
The company has also unveiled the website through which it will provide all of the water and soil data collected through its projects. Seth Frentheway, president of Encore Green’s technology branch, said the level of treatment for each project will be based on the topography of specific farmland, rather than on predetermined levels.
“We’re allowing the soil on site to be the driver of what that needs to be, not just an arbitrary happy medium,” Frentheway said. “On top of that, we have exactly mapped out the GPS locations of the area that each batch is applied, so ... we know what the constituency looked like before it went onto the ground, and we know exactly where it went.”
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said while farmers have been keeping measurements of their farmland for decades, the focus on soil health is a relatively new one.
“Twenty years ago, I’d never be sitting here talking about soil,” Magagna said. “We talked about grass, but we never talked about soil. We’ve come to realize, partly through science, partly through a number of mechanisms, that the key to all of that is soil.”
The permit also includes maximum amounts for a wide range of chemicals that could be found in the byproduct water, covering everything from ammonia to zinc. It also requires Encore Green to ensure the treated water does not pool or run off the land covered by each application.
Nash also discussed the responsibility of older farmers in Wyoming to pave the way for the younger generations of farmers and ranchers – and how Encore Green’s technology could fit into that landscape.
“It’s not like we have to grow 10,000 more acres of hay,” Nash said. “If we can just double a rancher’s hay production, that’s the difference between keeping a kid at home and not keeping a kid at home.”
Magagna added that creating opportunities for younger ranchers fits into the vision of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2022.
“We can celebrate that we’ve survived for 150 years, but far more important is what are we putting in place today to move this industry in a positive way for the next 150 years,” Magagna said.
In an effort to address some of the environmental concerns raised by some in the area, Encore Green also plans to put together a citizens and scientific advisory committee for those who want to be involved in the process.
“The agriculture world has nothing to hide,” Nash said.
While its Pine Bluffs project will still need to meet discharge standards set by the WDEQ, the company will now look to begin the application allowed through its first permit in the coming months.