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Denbury won’t use state site for sour gas plant

Posted: Monday, Nov 12th, 2012

BIG PINEY – Cars filled the parking lots and lined the streets of Big Piney as hundreds of concerned citizens filed into the Big Piney Fine Arts Center auditorium last Monday night, Nov. 5, for a community meeting with Denbury Resources.

Foremost on everyone’s mind was Denbury’s proposed sour-gas sweetening plant, originally proposed for construction on State Section 16, near Big Piney Cemetery, just over a mile from town off Calpet Road.

John Filiatraut, Denbury’s vice president of carbon dioxide (CO2) supply and pipeline operations, opened the meeting by making a brief statement to the silent audience.

“Denbury will not build the sweetening plant on Section 16,” he said.

The quiet auditorium erupted in cheers and applause at the announcement.

“We have heard you loud and clear,

and we appreciate your honestly,”

Filiatrault said.

Ever since an early September meeting when Denbury announced the proposal, they have dealt with angry protests from townspeople about the plant’s proximity to town and the possible health risks.

The proposed plant would have separated CO2 from the natural gas extracted at Denbury’s Riley Ridge facility and then shipped it via pipeline to mature oil fields around the country for use in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), while reinjecting the remaining material – mostly highly toxic hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) – into the formation from which it came.

The toxicity of the H2S and the plant’s proximity to town prompted Denbury to withdraw its proposal amid townspeople’s alarmed protests.

“We want to be a good corporate citizen, and we want to be here for a long time,” Filiatrault said.

Despite withdrawing from Sector 16, Filiatrault said Denbury still plans to build the “sweetening” plant – they just don’t know where yet.

“We’re looking for all alternatives,” Filiatrault said, adding that it could end up elsewhere in Sublette County or perhaps not in this county at all.

And wherever Denbury wants to build the plant, Filiatrault said there would be increased community involvement.

“We will get the local communities involved earlier in the game,” he said.

But before that new plant can be built, Denbury must first finish its Riley Ridge facility, located in the La Barge field west of Big Piney.

“We’re still in the process of completing our gas plant, and our goal is to be online in 2013,” Filiatrault said. “We’re excited about the project and we’re looking forward to getting back online.”

Denbury acquired Riley Ridge from Cimarex Energy in July 2011 for about $191 million. Cimarex planned to extract helium gas from the La Barge field and reinject the H2S and CO2 into the ground.

In a question-and-answer time during the meeting, one question asked was why Denbury couldn’t simply construct the sweetening plant on Riley Ridge as well.

“I think there’s some permitting issues associated with the original EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and what we can build there,” Filiatrault said.

Denbury’s decision to not build the plant on Sector 16 brought mixed responses from the audience.

Marbleton Mayor Jim Robinson was grateful for the decision and for the opportunity to learn more about Denbury at the public meeting.

“I’d like to say ‘thanks’ for giving us this opportunity. I think a lot of my personal questions were answered,” he said. “I’m glad we’re in the talk phase of moving the sweetening facility – that was a big concern.”

Sublette County School District #9 Board Chairman David Burnett also expressed his appreciation for Denbury’s presence and cooperation.

“I think we’re off to the right track on how to proceed with this,” he said. “We are appreciative of what it does for our community, but we do want to look out for our safety and the well-being of our community.”

Not everyone responded as favorably – Big Piney Mayor Phillip Smith expressed skepticism toward Denbury’s decision-making processes.

“How was Section 16, by our cemetery, even considered by Denbury, knowing the dangers?” he asked, a question echoed by several others.

Filiatrault said that Denbury looked for locations with ideal geology and other factors, but responded to Smith, looking for trust and cooperation moving forward.

“Let us prove to you that we are going to be an effective company going forward,” he said. “Let’s look forward and give us an opportunity.”

Smith responded with an appeal for openness in future proceedings.

“If everyone is straightforward and honest, I think this could work,” he said.

Many other community members expressed their concerns, from middle school and high school students to longtime residents and retirees. Some of the most astute and uncomfortable questions came from Big Piney students.

One came from Big Piney High School junior Dakota Shell, who asked if there are other such plants in Wyoming, to which Filiatrault responded “no” – not only in Wyoming, but nowhere else.

“This plant is unique in nature,” Filiatrault said. “This is the first H2S plant of this nature we’ll operate.”

Shell responded by asking if there was potential for something to go wrong with the plant because it is the first of its kind.

“Yes, there is,” Filiatrault said. “Is anything 100-percent foolproof? I don’t know of any. I’m not going to sit here and tell you guys there’s no chance of anything going wrong.”

However, Filiatrault said, they are working on plans to mitigate any problems that might occur, such as a gas leak. The Denbury representatives tried to alleviate any concerns by saying that 95 percent of their workers have worked in sour-gas plants before, and all have many years of experience doing so.

Still, questions about a sweetening plant will remain for several more years, as Filiatrault said an EIS for a new plant would take at least three years to complete.

“We hope to start construction in the middle of the decade,” he said.

He ended the meeting with a plea to the people of Marbleton and Big Piney to give Denbury a chance.

“We’re asking for an opportunity … and we look forward to being here for a long period of time as a corporate citizen,” he said.

For the complete article see the 11-13-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-13-2012 paper.

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