The Montezuma County commissioners have done the right thing in temporarily halting use of “fossil water” as a dust retardant on county-maintained gravel roads.
The arguments for the liquid, a byproduct of energy extraction that is then processed to remove heavy metals, included a lower price tag, as little as a third the cost of magnesium chloride. When the county began using fossil water, county road supervisor Rob Englehart also told the Journal that it binds better on sandier roads. The produced water is approved by the state for that use.
Recently, though, the commissioners learned that the Naturita company that had been supplying the county with fossil water had fallen out of compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
On one hand, the three deficiencies cited by the state may be considered, by some, to be mere technicalities.
The company failed to submit an annual report summarizing analytical testing, did not submit a revised beneficial-use plan for the water’s use as a dust suppressant, and did not adequately label the fossil water to purchasers.
On the other hand, the label that didn’t appear would have contained some information that should interest Montezuma County residents, especially those who live along county roads. It reads:
“This material is concentrated produced water from oil and gas wells. It contains sodium and radium at levels much greater than found in commercial road stabilizers and dust suppressants. In addition, this material does not contain any corrosion inhibitors.”
The concentration of sodium is an issue because that salt ends up somewhere, soaking into the road or the soil nearby. That’s a potential problem, as anyone who has used salt to de-ice a sidewalk and inadvertently killed the grass nearby. Radium is a radioactive element.
When the dust-suppressive properties of the fossil water diminish, the dust that’s kicked up by travel now contains those elements. It settles on plants nearby, including those grown for animal and human consumption, and it can be inhaled by animals and humans as well.
The Naturita producer, Reams Construction Company, has since corrected the deficiencies in its documentation. Paperwork, however, does not mitigate the potential health risks. We urge the commission to revisit their decision to save money by using this product. Even small amounts of radium and additional sodium don’t seem beneficial to the environment.