Oil, gas commission approves injection well near Platteville despite protest — The Greeley Tribune

July 29, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

Platteville rancher Roy Wardell was asking questions long before an earthquake shook the ground around Greeley. The oil and gas wastewater injection well proposed near his ranch would be the sixth in the immediate proximity to his small operation. It only made sense that adding another high pressure well in a line of other high pressure wells would tempt fate. Then came May 31. An earthquake rattled Greeley for a second or two, and his fears were confirmed.

“This is a concentration of wells that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Weld County,” Wardell told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Greeley on Monday. “My concern is you cannot confidently say there’s not a seismic risk. It flies in the face of logic.”

He was asking that an injection well near his ranch proposed by High Plains Disposal be denied, given its proximity to other injection wells. Injection wells have been linked to earthquakes across the country. The majority of them operate for years without incident, while a few others don’t.

Oil and gas well wastewater is injected into deep underground wells into porous formations. Seismic activity occurs when water slips through geologic structures, allowing movement. The process of injection is considered more environmentally friendly than the process a decade ago of dumping used well water into pools at the well site.

All injection wells in Colorado undergo testing for a variety of concerns, including seismic activity. At present, there are 28 injection wells in the county, with another 20 in the permitting process.

The operator of the Greeley well, out by the Greeley-Weld County airport, is under investigation for potential violations after researchers, in a 20-day period in which NGL was required to stop injecting water, isolated the well as the cause of the earthquake and about a dozen smaller ones since. That well is 18 miles north of the proposed well near Wardell’s ranch.

In a hearing before the COGCC, state officials and representatives of High Plains Disposal discussed their plans to ensure safety, including placing seismic monitoring equipment at the well to act as an early-warning system of any induced activity. They said the Greeley well had different circumstances than the one High Plains had proposed, including drilling into a different formation.

Commission members stated while the concern is there, they felt comfortable with approving the well.

“If I were a landowner, I’d have the same concerns that there is a possibility for seismic activity,” said Commissioner Bill Hawkins. “All the technical testimony given today indicates it is not likely, and there really isn’t any reason we can see other than the fact that a well 20 miles away had seismic activity. Certainly seismic activity is of concern to the public and a large part of the county, and it’s a concern to the commission. If there is any activity we would definitely stop, (it is) injections.”

Commissioner Mike King agreed, stating that if there is any seismic activity associated with the well, they would respond just as they did with the Greeley well, and shut off injections immediately.

“Things change,” said King, also the director of the state Department of Natural Resources. “We found out in other wells there were some factors that weren’t as clear … (and it) caused us to take a 20-day timeout, to see what we missed, what things needed to change. … I’m comfortable, although in the last month, I’ve become less comfortable in general. I’m OK with being a little more on edge until we get more information.”

Wardell knew he was fighting a losing battle.

“I feel heard,” he said after the meeting.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Tour highlights Smart Ditch, hydro-power and organic farming — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

July 27, 2014

smartditchtrapezoidalditchliner

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Amy Hadden Marsh):

[Mike Kishimoto], a civil engineer for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which cosponsored the tour, told over two dozen participants that Smart Ditch is basically a corrugated plastic liner that stops leaks and allows water to flow through a ditch unimpeded by plants, rocks, sediment and other debris. He said this particular segment, part of a county road project south of Silt, captures tail water from sprinkler irrigation and brings it back to the fields.

“You can’t get tail water to go into a pipe,” he explained. “So this is a perfect use for Smart Ditch.”

The Smart Ditch demo was part of a five-hour tour, which began with a stop at the 3,200-acre Porter Ranch, along Alkali Creek south of New Castle, and ended at Eagle Springs Organic Farm south of Rifle.

Kishimoto and other district staff and board members joined the tour to point out various projects and answer questions about the district’s mission, services and history…

Colorado State Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), was a tour participant, along with Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. Rankin took particular interest in a small-scale, hydro-power generator at the Porter Ranch, which produces six kilowatts of electricity. Water comes from Alkali Creek through a 7,000-foot pipe.

A small, metal wheel acts as a turbine. As the water turns the wheel, electricity is generated, which powers Terry and Mary Porter’s home and a nearby cabin. Excess electricity is sold to Holy Cross Energy. The water is reused for irrigation.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service designed the irrigation system with the hydro-power generator in mind, aid Scot Knutson, an engineer with the agency. Funding for the project came from the conservation service and the federal Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays incentives for conservation practices.

“There are approximately 100 small-scale hydro-power projects statewide and a dozen in [House District 57],” said Rankin.

He also praised U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Hydro-power and Rural Jobs Act, which went into effect last summer.

“Tipton simplified Congressional approval for small-scale hydro-power,” he said. “In my view, it’s a great, untapped source for renewable energy.”

Eagle Springs Organic farm, the final stop of the tour, generates its own power from a solar array that offsets all electricity used on the 1,600-acre farm.

Owner Ken Sack led guests through a two-acre complex of production rooms, coolers and greenhouses, including a tropical grow room, replete with banana, fig and citrus trees, and a fish farm. Sack, whose wife and children are vegan, raises Highland Angus beef, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs on the property, along with vegetables, herbs, flowers and hay. All food products are sold at the farm’s store or served at the café and steak house in Rifle.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

July 21, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


COGCC requires changes at injection well after review finds potential linkage to seismic activity

July 20, 2014

Deep injection well

Deep injection well


From the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has required operators of a wastewater injection site in Weld County to make changes to their well and adjust their disposal activities after determining actions at the location are potentially related to low-level seismic activity nearby.

On June 23, the COGCC directed NGL Water Solutions DJ LLC* to stop disposing wastewater into the well for a 20-day period while the agency worked with the operator and a team of University of Colorado researchers to determine whether deep injection at the site may be tied to recent seismic activity detected within the general vicinity. Following a 3.2 magnitude event on May 31, seismometers placed by CU recorded other small earthquakes, including one of magnitude 2.6 on June 23.

Since the shutdown, the COGCC has further analyzed data associated with the injection well, as well as seismic data recorded by a local network of instruments placed and maintained by CU geophysicists. While seismic activity in the area around the well continued during the shutdown period, it occurred at a lower energy level, according to the CU researchers.

Flow rate tests conducted by NGL indicated a high permeability zone near the bottom of the well that created a preferred pathway for injected wastewater. As a result of the findings, NGL, with approval and oversight from the COGCC, has plugged the basement of the well from a depth of 10,770 feet to 10,360 feet in order to seal off the preferential pathway and to increase the distance between the zone of injection and “basement” rock. These measures are expected to mitigate the potential for future seismic events.

Beginning Friday, July 18 the COGCC will allow NGL to resume limited injections, at lower pressures and lower volumes, under continued seismic monitoring, to ensure the facility is operating safely. Specifically, the operator will be permitted to inject at an initial maximum rate of 5,000 barrels per day with a maximum pressure of 1,512 psi. After 20 days, the maximum injection rate may be increased to 7,500 barrels a day at the same pressure.

Continued use of the injection well will be reviewed and may be halted if seismic events within a 2.5-mile radius of the well occur at or above a magnitude of 2.5 – the U.S. Geological Survey’s default threshold for displaying seismic events. CU geophysicists will continue to monitor the location, and the COGCC has required NGL to install a permanent seismometer near the well to allow for real-time monitoring. The company is also required to provide access to the monitor and all its data to the COGCC and any third parties authorized by the agency.

“We are proceeding with great care, and will be tracking activities at this site closely,” said Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC. “We’re moving slowly and deliberately as we determine the right course for this location.”

The COGCC is also reviewing a potential violation of the operator’s permitted injection volumes. The matter remains under investigation and any further information on possible enforcement would be contained in a Notice of Alleged Violation from the agency. Such a determination could result in financial penalties against the company.

The well, SWD C4A, is located east of the Greeley-Weld County Airport. It was permitted by COGCC in March 2013 and injection began in April of 2013.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Garfield County Commissioners approve deep injection well

July 15, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved an oil and gas wastewater injection well near Battlement Mesa after the company responded to concerns that it could trigger earthquakes.

Duke Cooley, senior geologist at Ursa Resources, told commissioners there’s been no correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin.

The Battlement Concerned Citizens group and the Battlement Mesa Service Association, a homeowners group for the unincorporated community, had raised the seismic issue amid mounting concern about an apparent correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in several states. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission suspended operation of an injection well in Weld County after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the Greeley area May 31, followed by smaller quake in June.

“It was a wake-up call. It was the first seismic event there in 30 years,” Doug Saxton of Battlement Concerned Citizens told Garfield commissioners.

He cited what he said is a lack of adequate earthquake monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Nothing under 4.0 (magnitude) really gets their attention,” Saxton said.

Monitoring sites

He said the agency’s closest monitoring site is 75 miles from Greeley, and the nearest to Battlement Mesa is in the Paradox Valley. He called for the installation of monitoring equipment in the Battlement area and for Ursa to cease injection activity if a quake occurs.

But Cooley said a local monitoring station isn’t necessary because Geological Survey equipment can detect quakes of less than 1 magnitude hundreds of miles away.

Garfield County already has 60 approved injection wells, and injection has occurred in 26 of them since 2013, according to the county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn. Saxton said Ursa’s would be the seventh within 10 miles of Battlement Mesa.

Cooley said seismic activity occurs where there has been geological folding, which in the case of the Piceance Basin is around its margins.

He also said quakes can occur when water is added that reduces friction along a fault plane where geological compression is occurring, in places like Greeley and Oklahoma. The Piceance Basin, by contrast, is now undergoing geological relaxation after previously having been “folded up,” he said.

State oversight

Garfield County has surface authority over injection wells but the state oil and gas commission regulates technical “downhole” aspects of the wells such as injection pressure. Lindy Gwinn of Grand Junction, who consults for the industry, told Garfield commissioners Monday, “I can assure you they turn them down when they are not technically correct and there is any risk.”

She noted that the commission recently did just that in Mesa County. In 2012 it turned down a proposal for an injection well southeast of Grand Junction out of concern it could contaminate ground and surface water due to its shallow depth, and possibly induce earthquakes at the U.S. Department of Energy’s uranium mill tailings disposal site a few miles away.

That well would have been less than 2,000 feet deep. Ursa’s would be more than a mile deep.

In agreeing to approve the well, Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said, “The COGCC, they kind of go over these injection wells with a fine-tooth comb. … I have faith in the COGCC and their very strict regulations that they have.”

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky agreed, and said if seismic activity did occur in the area, the county would ask companies to cease all injections until the cause could be determined.

He also encouraged Ursa to install pipelines to the injection well as soon as possible to reduce truck traffic. Ursa officials indicated they hope to do that soon, and that reduced traffic resulting from being able to inject wastewater rather than otherwise dispose of it would be one of the benefits of the well.

Said Monique Speakman, who supports the proposal and lives on the property where the well will be operated, “It’s going to eliminate truck traffic, noise, dust levels.”

Battlement Mesa resident Mary Haygood said she had been concerned about both the truck traffic and seismic aspects of the well, but told Ursa officials Monday, “You have allayed my fears somewhat by your explanation and I thank you for that.”

Ursa already has spent $2 million to drill the well. It needed to do that to do testing required by the oil and gas commission before it can approve the well. The agency is continuing to review the proposal.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Climate change: “The fossil-fuel industry…has been able to delay effective action” — Bill McKibben

July 15, 2014

Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan

Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan


Here’s an essay about the risk of doing nothing about climate change from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Bill McKibben, a writer and activist, has made the most cogent arguments. Two years ago, after crunching the numbers, he concluded that private companies own five times more carbon in the ground than the world can possibly absorb. “On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens,” he wrote in an essay titled “A Call to Arms” that was published in the June 8 issue of Rolling Stone.

He identifies a clear problem. “The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late,” he wrote. [ed. emphasis mine]

McKibben’s 350.org has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would export Alberta’s bitumen to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It’s largely a symbolic fight, as Michael Levi points out in his book The Power Surge. The tar/oil sands would, if fully developed, elevate atmospheric concentrations of C02 by 60 ppm. At current rates of tar/oil sands mining, that would take 3,000 years, he says. Isolating the climate debate to Alberta’s bitumen, he says, is a mistake.

But Keystone XL represents business as usual. We need accelerated change. The United States should follow the lead of British Columbia in levying a carbon tax. My impression of B.C.’s tax is that it not precisely the best model. We need a revenue-neutral tax, accelerating over time, giving the private sector clear market signals to instigate changes.

Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary in the Bush years, made this case in an 1,800-word essay in the New York Times on June 22. A few days later, a group that includes Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stanford’s George Schultz, who is another former treasury secretary, and a number of other high-profile individuals — including billionaire Tom Steyer — released a report titled “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.”

More climate change coverage here and here.


Energy Fuels sells the Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

July 14, 2014
Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

Energy Fuels, which previously had plans to build the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years, sold its Piñon Ridge license and several other assets in Western Colorado.

The Toronto, Canada-based company (TSE: EFR) that has an office in Lakewood bought a large quantity of land in the western part of the state almost five years ago.
Colorado in May gave the mill the required “radioactive materials handling” license, but company spokesperson Curtis Moore told the DBJ that Energy Fuels wouldn’t begin construction until “market conditions warrant.”

The company would also need an “air permit” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to begin the $150 million project.

The mill has been an area of hot debate for environmental activists, who in March sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the government from allowing the mill to be built near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Energy Fuels instead diverted plans to build it in Montrose County.

But the company said it has entered into agreements to sell the license and the Piñon Ridge mill to a private investor group managed by Baobab Asset Management LLC and George Glasier.

Glasier served as president from 2006 until March of 2010.

The company said the sale also includes mining assets — such as the Sunday Complex, the Willhunt project, the Sage Mine, the Van 4 mine, the Farmer Girl project, the Dunn project and the San Rafael project — all located along the Colorado-Utah border.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

July 9, 2014

Rifle Gap

Rifle Gap


From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

“What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

“A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

“It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

“We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill and Assets Set to Be Sold for $2 Million

July 8, 2014

More nuclear coverage here.


SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

June 29, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

“What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

“The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

Perhaps not…

“SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

Use it or lose it.

Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

“This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


COGCC halts activity at injection well; seeks additional review

June 26, 2014

Deep injection well

Deep injection well


Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman/Matt Lepore):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week directed High Sierra Water Services to stop disposing wastewater into one of its Weld County injection wells.

The company agreed to a 20-day halt to wastewater injection as a cautionary step the COGCC believes necessary to gather and further analyze more information to determine whether injection at the site is tied to recent seismic activity recorded within the general vicinity of the well.

Ongoing monitoring by a team of University of Colorado seismologists has picked up additional evidence of low-level seismic activity near the injection site, including a 2.6-magnitude event Monday afternoon. The additional data comes after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake shook the Greeley area May 31.

“In light of the findings of CU’s team, we think it’s important we review additional data, bring in additional expertise and closely review the history of injection at this site in order to more fully understand any potential link to seismicity and use of this disposal well,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore.

The COGCC will undertake several actions over the shutdown period to include: evaluation of baseline, historical seismic activity; continued coordination with the CU team; coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado Geological Survey; evaluation of other disposal wells in the area; and a detailed review of data associated with the well in question, including further examination of injection rates, pressures and volumes.

The company immediately agreed to COGCC’s request, and shut the well down on Monday.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Noble Energy continued on Monday to clean up the oil spill it located Friday along the Poudre River near Windsor, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Noble began to dismantle a damaged tank battery Monday in preparation for soil removal, according to the release, after about 173 barrels — or about 7,500 gallons — of crude oil were found to have spilled from the tank while the Poudre River was flooding.

On Saturday, Noble established site security, repaired the access road and had a crew of approximately 30 people using absorbent pads to clean up visible residual oil, according to the release. Soil samples were collected along the path of the release and submitted for laboratory analysis, according to the release, and the results of that analysis are still pending.

Visual observations by Noble along the flow path indicated the oil did not seep deep into the soil, so removal of the soil was ruled out as the main way to clean up the spill, according to the release.

Instead, a product known as Petro Green was applied to help enhance the degradation of any remaining hydrocarbons, according to the release.

Noble also had a consultant perform a biological study on the area, according to the release, and it was determined no wildlife were impacted by the spill.


Water Lines: Hydropower kicks off at nearby Ridgway Dam #ColoradoRiver

June 25, 2014
Ridgway Dam

Ridgway Dam

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

When Ridgway Dam was constructed on the Uncompahgre River back in the 1970s and 1980s, hydropower was anticipated to be one of its uses — along with providing irrigation water, drinking water and flood control.

Mike Berry, general manager of Tri-County Water (company operating the dam), continues to look for opportunities to start generating hydropower since 2002.

It wasn’t until this month, however, this vision was finally realized.

In June, Tri-County Water officially commissioned a new eight-megawatt generating station powered by water flowing through the dam.

Finding a customer to buy the power at the right price was the key allowing the project to go forward.

The $18 million project is financed through the City of Aspen. The agreement includes payment of a premium for the power generated by Ridgeway Dam for a few years of the 20-year contract in exchange for better rates later.

Tri-County will also sell power to Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Town of Telluride.

The power generated by Ridgway Dam will vary seasonally, with peak generation coinciding with large summer releases of water to downstream irrigators. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported last week the plant will produce a total of about 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average year — enough to supply 2,500 average homes and eliminate 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Ridgway Dam generating station was commissioned just one year after the completion of a 7.5-megawatt power generation project on the South Canal — carrying water from the Gunnison Tunnel near Montrose to the irrigators of the Uncompahgre Valley.

Both the Ridgway Dam and South Canal projects avoid the opposition previous hydropower projects faced because it’s installed on existing infrastructure and harvesting power from the regular operations of the facilities. As a result, irrigation deliveries are uninterrupted and no additional disruptions to river flows.

Interest in retrofitting existing water infrastructure to add power generation capability has surged in recent years. Both the State of Colorado and the federal government have made moves to support the trend with new laws to streamline the permitting process.

Finding customers for the power generated at affordable prices for construction is one of the key challenges faced by those interested in developing such facilities. Low prices for natural gas and the irregular supplies generated by such projects are complicating factors in working out power purchase agreements.

On the other side of the equation, renewable energy standards passed by Colorado and other states have created new opportunities.

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

A decades-long quest to convert the power represented by the 84,600 acre feet of water pent up behind the dam into clean, green hydropower came to fruition at a commissioning ceremony hosted by Tri-County Water Conservancy District [June 6].

Tri-County’s new 8 megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce approximately 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a typical water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 homes, on average. The emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (the same effect as taking about 4,400 cars off the road each year).

Federal officials including Larry Walkoviak, the Upper Colorado Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton were on hand at the commissioning ceremony on Friday to praise the project’s merits.

But the folks who are really celebrating this historic moment are those who have steered the hydro project through choppy waters toward its completion including officials from Tri-County and the City of Aspen, which helped fund the project and is purchasing a significant portion of the energy it produces.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Green and grassy, Ridgway Dam looms high 15 miles southeast of Montrose, holding back Ridgway Reservoir. It’s flanked by a rocky ridge and U.S. Highway 550, with the Uncompahgre River bubbling up from the base of the dam to a prized stretch of trout water running through Ridgway State Park.

There is more to Ridgway Dam, though, than appearance.

“It’s not just a beautiful pile of dirt,” said Ion Spor, who has managed the dam for decades for the Tri-County Water Conservancy District.

Ridgway Dam is now generating electricity, eight megawatts worth during the height of the water year.

Tri-County — referring to Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties — commissioned the generating station earlier this month, marking the culmination of a project that was anticipated well before construction of Ridgway Dam, begun in 1978 and completed in 1987. Ridgway Reservoir filled in 1990.

The dam was built with hydropower in mind. Pipes were run through the dam in anticipation of someday being hooked up to generators, said Mike Berry, Tri-County general manager.

After years of debate, Tri-County opted to move ahead with the $18 million project. It reached agreements with Aspen, Telluride and Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get enough money for the project.

The station also generates power for the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the San Miguel Power Association.

As part of its agreement to purchase power, Aspen is buying renewable-energy credits created by the project during winter months. Telluride is purchasing the credits that are created by the project during summer months.

Renewable-energy credits represent the added value and environmental benefits of the electricity produced by the generating station.

Tri-County will use the revenues generated from the sale of the electricity and renewable-energy credits to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years and then to offset its operating expenses, Berry said.

Tri-County’s generating station contains two turbines and generators.

The smaller is a 0.8-megawatt system, which will operate solo during the winter when flows are low, in the range of 30 to 60 cubic feet per second. The larger, 7.2-megawatt system will operate on flows of 500 cfs during the summer.

Both generators are in a powerhouse at the base of the dam.

The plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes and eliminate the equivalent of 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, Tri-County needs one thing to make the system work, Berry said.

“We’re counting on Mother Nature,” Berry said, “To bless us with enough water to repay the notes.”

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Hydropower used to replace flood irrigation and to lessen ag runoff and salinity

June 25, 2014

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine


From ColoradoBiz Magazine (Allen Best):

And now come new efforts across Colorado to further yoke the power of falling water. One such example is near Yampa, a town between Vail and Steamboat Springs. The site is just a few miles from where the Bear River takes a sharp turn and becomes the Yampa River. On his ranch, Gary Clyncke decided three years ago to use the 126-foot drop in elevation of his irrigation water to power a new center-pivot irrigation system.

Clyncke’s hydro-mechanical center-pivot doesn’t produce electricity. It does, however, preclude the need for stringing up power lines to operate the center-pivot sprinklers. The sprinkling system, in turn, saves water — which is worth money. The 90 acres were previously irrigated with flood irrigation from ditches spread across the field of timothy, brome and clover several inches thick. Center-pivot irrigation requires just one-sixth the water.

That savings motivated Clyncke to invest in center-pivot. This hydro-mechanical system cost $13,000, of which $6,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. That left Clyncke a cost of $7,000. Payback on that investment is achieved in three years.

Federal aid is motivation, at least in part, because of concerns about salinity. When large volumes of water are applied to fields in flood irrigation, the water picks up salts that are then returned to creeks and then rivers. It’s a major problem on the Western Slope, where water can be used two times for flood irrigation before it enters Utah. Downstream in California’s Imperial Valley, an important source of food for the nation, some fields have become so salty they have been abandoned.

One of the most saline areas is in the Uncompahgre Valley, where Delta, Montrose and Paonia are located. An ancient sea left salts and the element of selenium in unusually large quantities in the Mancos shale. Both are harmful to endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River. “Anything that you can do that helps with salinity also helps with selenium, and vice versa,” says “Dev” Carey, manager of the Delta Conservation District.

Saving money is a strong argument by itself. Farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, more than half of that to power irrigation pumps, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Using hydropower to operate these pumps doesn’t work everywhere. Farms near Sterling, for example, tend toward flatness. Still, the state agency estimates Colorado has untapped capacity in pressurized irrigation systems to deliver 30 megawatts in direct production of electricity or avoided electricity. To put that into context, it’s enough electricity for 12,125 homes, says Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

More potential exists in irrigation ditches. Not just any irrigation ditch will do. It must have flows of more than 100 cubic feet per second, a relatively large volume. And there must be drops of at least 150 feet. When falls of that steepness occur, various devices are used to contain the force.

One such canal is located east of Montrose, where water from the Gunnison River is diverted through a tunnel that emerges near U.S. Highway 50. From there, the water flows through South Canal toward the head of the Uncompahgre Valley. In 2012, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association completed a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years. The two powerhouses generate electricity equal to what is needed for 3,000 homes.

In nearby Delta County, the state has identified nine sites on irrigation ditches where it would be economical to install small hydro systems, collectively producing 0.8 megawatts. That’s given current prices of electricity. Should electricity prices go up, as they have steadily, more potential would exist near Delta and many other locations.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Poudre oil spill cleanup update

June 24, 2014
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

From the Associated Press via 9News.com:

Environmental officials and work crews are dismantling a flood-damaged storage tank so they can remove oil-stained soil from an area where about 7,200 gallons of crude leaked into a northern Colorado river.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, says Noble Energy, which operates the tank, has been cleaning up the site on the Poudre River near Windsor since the leak was discovered Friday. The bank next to the storage tank was undercut by the high spring river flows, causing it to drop and break a valve.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

“We consider this a significant spill,” wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman in an email Monday. “The vast majority of spills are far smaller. We’ve had larger spills, but those are true anomalies.”

Colorado hasn’t seen a spill this big since September 2013, when a deluge of floodwaters in multiple rivers spilled 48,250 gallons of oil.

The September flooding, along with spills like the one discovered Friday near Windsor, have prompted state regulators and environmental groups to consider increasing the distance between wells and Colorado’s waterways. Today, state law governing the distance between oil wells and water along Colorado’s Front Range does not take into account seasonal flooding, Hartman said.

COGCC has one law that adjusts setbacks for high water marks that applies only to gold medal fisheries or cutthroat trout habitats. The fisheries predominately operate on the Western Slope.

Following the floods, environmental advocates are pushing more than a dozen new oil and gas regulations toward ballots in the November election. One proposal suggests moving setbacks to 2,000 feet from bodies of water. Some experts say that would cripple oil and gas development in places like Weld County, where more than 21,000 wells operate today.

There are about 5,900 oil and gas wells within 500 feet of a Colorado “waterway that is significant enough to be named” and more than 20,000 wells within 500 feet of water of some kind.

The practice of drilling near water originates from “longstanding practical pressures” by mineral rights owners to confine wells to their least productive sections of land, according to a special report on oil and gas development commissioned after the September 2013 floods. It’s also easier to drill for oil in more accessible areas, particularly along waterways.

In the post-flood report, the COGCC recommended that tank batteries “be located as far from waterways as possible,” and that all wells near an ordinary high water mark should have remote shut-in equipment, allowing them to be shut down automatically when waters are high. The report also suggested that regulations should “apply within a designated distance from the ordinary high water mark of all waterways in Colorado.”

Since Friday, Noble Energy crews have been cleaning up after the Windsor-area spill. As of Monday, they have yet to identify any wildlife impacted by the spill, and drinking water has not been polluted, said Hartman. On Friday, Noble Energy, owners of the well, began a biological study of the spill’s impacts. Soil samples were also taken, but the results of those are pending.

The river flooded two tanks off Weld County Road 23, an area surrounded by a cattle ranch and farm land. As crews continued work Monday, bikers sped by along the Poudre River Trail, which winds just on the opposite side of the river from the spill.

The well feeding the tanks was shut May 24 due to spring runoff flooding. Although Noble discovered the spill June 20, the company can’t be sure exactly when the damage was done to the tank.

Each tank can hold 300 barrels of crude oil, with about 42 gallons per barrel. Flood waters had undercut the bank below one battery, releasing the contents of 178 barrels.

Noble has since drained the second tank, which was undamaged, said Hartman. Most of the spill was washed away in the floodwaters, which left a few stagnant polluted pools behind. Clean-up crews used absorbent pads to remove oil from vegetation and water pools. On Monday, crews began to excavate a shallow layer of soil.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

June 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

“The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

“They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

“It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Oil spill near Windsor ~7,500 gallons

June 21, 2014

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia


From The Greeley Tribune:

About 178 barrels of crude oil, or roughly 7,500 gallons, has spilled east-southeast of Windsor and is affecting the Poudre River, state officials said Friday.

The operator, Noble Energy, discovered the spill Friday and reported it to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Todd Hartman, the department’s communications director.

Noble reported a storage tank affected by spring flood waters released its contents. The release appears to be due to floodwaters undercutting a bank, causing the tank to drop downward and damaging a valve, allowing oil to escape from a broken valve. The well associated with the tank is shut in, and a second tank nearby appears unaffected.

Standing water with some hydrocarbons remains in one low-lying area near the tank, Hartman said.

Vegetation is stained for about one-quarter mile downstream of the site.

Noble had environmental response personnel on site Friday afternoon.

A vacuum truck was removing standing water and response personnel were sampling soils.

The oil storage tank sits next to a field east of Weld County Road 23, on the north side of the Poudre River. The tank sits about 200 feet from the river, up a hill. A lot of flood damage was visible in the area, with washed out and eroded river banks and debris still in the water.

Hartman said water quality staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also were at the spill site Friday but have not discovered any impact on drinking water.

More water pollution coverage here.


“The more people that use the technology, the more valuable the market” — Zorina Khan

June 14, 2014

Tesla Model S battery

Tesla Model S battery


From Bloomberg News via the The Denver Post (Susan Decker, Alan Ohnsman and Mark Clothier):

Elon Musk wants to apply the contrarian style that made him millions of dollars from PayPal and billions from rocket ships and electric cars, and revolutionize the litigious world of patents.

Tesla Motors Inc. became a rarity among automakers when Musk on Thursday pledged that inventions on his electric cars and batteries will be free for anyone to use “in good faith.”

The move may speed the adoption of technology that Musk needs to make his fledging line of cars more than a luxury niche.

Patents are a trade-off that give companies the right to block others from using a specific technology in exchange for making the idea public so others can analyze and build on it.

The alternatives are to keep the technology a trade secret or, as in the case of the Linux computing system, make the information available to everyone. Tesla is adopting a third way — continue to patent, but let the public use it at will.

“The more people that use the technology, the more valuable the market,” said Zorina Khan, an economics professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and author of “The Democratization of Invention.”

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court struck a blow against the foul patent trolls:


By watershed, the greatest density of uranium mines is in SW Colorado — Bob Berwyn

June 10, 2014

More nuclear coverage here.


Weld County earthquake: “Just drill new wells and increase recycling” — Ken Carlson

June 8, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The answer to Greeley’s first earthquake in at least 40 years may be sitting 10,000 feet below the surface in a deep-water trash can that might be overfilling.

The oil and gas boom has put added stress on the industry’s resources, more specifically in deep wastewater injection wells that cut two miles below the surface. But some say the answer may be as simple as water management.

Wastewater injection wells — which take in produced water from fracking jobs — may now go under increasing scrutiny in Colorado, as scientists have found strong connections between them and a spate of small earthquakes across the country in recent years.

Still, most injection wells are not linked to any earthquakes; it’s only a tiny fraction of injection wells that have specifically been cited as the cause of a minor quake. It’s a puzzle that continues to grow for seismologists looking for answers.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder put out seismographic equipment throughout Weld County last week, hoping to cull the earth’s secrets into a database of answers. If injection wells are found to be the common denominator in further quake activity, they’ll capture it.

But in the absence of answers, some would say solutions are not that difficult.

“There are ways to fix this,” said Ken Carlson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University. “This is sort of a byproduct of too much water being disposed of, but it’s not like we should shut it down. That’s what the activists will say. It just means we need to improve our water management. So if you say this is probably related to disposal wells, it isn’t that hard to change our practices and really fix this. Just drill new wells and increase recycling.”

WHAT ARE INJECTION WELLS

Injection wells have long been handy tools for oil and gas companies to dispose of wastewater in an environmentally friendly way. The water is pumped two miles beneath the surface into porous rock, through which the water disperses — allowing more water to be pumped in. The process is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state oil and gas regulators. Operators must adhere to disposing of water at tested rates and volumes, so as not to overwhelm the well, and they are subjected to annual inspection and well integrity testing every five years, state officials say.

“In a natural system like that, you can do projections. But until you push it to the limit, you can’t really prove it,” Carlson said, noting that he was clearly guessing. “Maybe it’s never been pushed that high.”

For Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which is working to manage its water resources by using municipal effluents, recycling and piping water into sites rather than trucking, officials say they may be coming close to a “limit” on its injections wells, and have been working toward better management to dispose of less.

“The wells are definitely a cause of concern with induced seismicity,” said Korby Bracken, environmental health and safety manager for Anadarko. “We think they’ll continue to be used but it’s something we’re studying quite a bit. There have been multiple studies in Ohio and Oklahoma and other areas where the injection of produced water from oil and gas had the potential to cause induced seismicity. It’s definitely something we’re taking a look at.”

The puzzling part to seismologists is that some areas rife with injection wells for years have no earthquake activity; still others start quaking the minute the well is drilled. There were two injection wells in proximity to the perceived epicenter of the Greeley quake — one was two years old, and the other was 20.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist out of Menlo Park, Calif., who is chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, which studies man-made earthquakes. “Maybe this earthquake relieved everything that was available to be relieved or maybe it didn’t and there will be more. Maybe the operator said I might be causing earthquakes, I need to stop injection or slow injections. Generally, when you slow or stop injections, earthquakes slow down.”

The idea of drilling more injection wells to relieve the pressure on existing wells is favored in the exploration community.

Carlson said the water could get dispersed a bit more evenly, reducing pressure with the oil and gas boom going on in Weld.

“It’s not a bucket,” Carlson explained of the rock in which the water is pumped. “It’s more like a sponge. You put the water in and it gets absorbed, then it diffuses through the formation. But you can’t just put in an unlimited rate and keep raising the pressure. Then something would give, and that something might be a fault. With the growth in fracking and unconventional oil and gas in the DJ, there’s certainly greater demand on some of these water disposal sites.”

Rubinstein said he wasn’t so sure drilling more injection wells is the answer.

“In a different perspective, now you’re covering more areas with injections wells, so maybe you’re increasing the probability of finding an area that has a fault,” Rubinstein said. “There are so many variables out there.”

Rubinstein suggested creating mid-volume wells, alleviating pressure that way. “But I don’t know if it gets you out of the problem,” he said.

Anadarko has a permit pending for an injection well. The company has three in Colorado now, all that are running at capacity.

“That being said, we’re looking at other and alternative ways to recycle the fluids that come from the well bore,” Bracken said. “So we don’t have to rely as much on those saltwater injection wells.”

Water, water everywhere

A typical frack job will use 3 million to 4 million gallons of water, but not all of it comes back once the rock is stimulated 7,000 feet below ground. Typically, about 20 percent of the water comes back to the surface during a frack job.

Companies will take that flowback, treat the water on site to take out harmful bacteria from beneath the ground, and truck or pipe it out for recycling or injection. The rest of the water comes out with the oil and gas over time.

Recent years have shown the technology is available to clean up used fracking water, enough to be reused, much like a municipal wastewater treatment system.

“Some operations are pushing ahead with more recycling,” Carlson said. “The more you recycle, the less you’re disposing of and that’s a good thing.”

Anadarko and Noble are big customers of High Sierra Water Services, which operates two recycling facilities in Weld County. Two of their facilities together can recycle about 20,000 barrels a day (840,000 gallons). Both companies have worked on both ends to recycle water.

Anadarko, for example, takes effluent from the city of Aurora’s wastewater treatment plant for most of its fracking operations, then reuses the water over and over.

“If you put down 10 units of something and only get two back, you have to make up eight units for the next well,” Bracken explained. “We’ll recycle what comes back, add make-up water, put it downhole, recycle what comes back and, eventually, you’re recycling the same molecule of water over and over again.”

Both companies are piping recycled water to and from recycling facilities.

But not all water can be recycled. Sometimes it’s too salty. That’s where injection is most necessary.

“Some of the water is very saline,” Rubinstein said. “Some of the water they’re producing in Oklahoma is … 15 percent salt. Salt is highly corrosive. They really can’t reuse it.”

Though reusing the water is the ideal, there’s simply not enough storage out there to hold the water.

“I guess I’d say there is the ability to now recycle probably 15 to 20 percent of the 100,000 barrels a day coming out of the DJ,” said Josh Patterson, operations director for High Sierra. A third recycling center is in the planning stages.

“Logistically speaking, there wouldn’t be a reservoir large enough to store every barrel (of wastewater) for it to be re-used,” Patterson said.

Costs of recycling are high, but so are trucking costs. If companies can eliminate trucking in new water, and recycle existing water, that takes trucks off the road and reduces those expenses.

Patterson said the demand for water recycling continues to grow, however, with both of High Sierra’s facilities contracted out for the next five years.

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Greeley Tribune reported Friday that [geophysicist] Anne Sheehan and a team of graduate students have been deploying seismographs to study the magnitude 3.4 quake. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the epicenter of the quake was believed to be 5 miles beneath the surface about 4 miles northeast of Greeley.

The suspected epicenter is near two injection wells. The May 31 earthquake caused no damage.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said.

Weld County has 28 injection wells for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells.

State drilling regulators said earlier this week they were skeptical that the wells caused the earthquake.

The epicenter is difficult to determine, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, California, who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the past three years.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Video: Ridgway Dam hydro project commissioned — Telluride Daily Planet

June 8, 2014

Ridgway Dam

Ridgway Dam


From the Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

On Friday, the Tri-County Water Conservancy District officially commissioned a new hydropower project at the Ridgway Dam.

The celebratory event included refreshments, tours of the powerhouse and a history of the project. The 8-megawatt, two-turbine, two-generator plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough to power 2,500 homes a year with all their electricity needs. Construction on the Uncompahgre River project began in November 2012.

The City of Aspen and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are purchasing the power and Aspen is also buying the Renewable Energy Credits created by the project during the winter months. The Town of Telluride won a bid to purchase the RECs for June through September for $48,000. RECs are market-based instruments that convey the environmental value of renewable energy between buyers and sellers. Each REC provides proof that 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy has been generated.

Buying the RECs was a step toward achieving the Telluride Renewed Challenge, an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and for 100 percent of the community’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser says though those aims might now prove too lofty, the town still likes to lead by example…

According to a press release from the Colorado Small Hydro Association, the emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or about 4,400 cars from the road each year. Colorado Small Hydro Association President Kurt Johnson, of Ophir, said the Ridgway Dam hydro project is a great example of new hydro power on an existing dam.

“Only about 3 percent of the nation’s dams currently include hydropower,” Johnson said in a press release. “There is an enormous untapped opportunity to generate new clean energy using existing infrastructure.”

General Manager of the Tri-County Water Conservancy District Mike Berry said he is excited the project is complete and that it provided many local jobs during its construction.

“I’m glad we are coming to the end of it and the generator will be spinning for the rest of my life I hope,” Berry said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.


CU research team studying earthquake activity near Greeley — The Greeley Tribune

June 6, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

A small team of Boulder graduate students and their professor hope to soon put an end to the mystery of what created a small magnitude earthquake on Saturday northeast of Greeley.

While the quake measured 3.4 in magnitude — barely enough to be felt and not enough to cause damage to structures — the coincidence of its proximity to wastewater injection wells has researchers pondering the potential of an oil and gas role.

Yes, it could be natural, scientists say. It’s not altogether impossible the Greeley area could have a natural earthquake — though there hasn’t been any such activity in a good 30 years.

A temblor of that size could happen anywhere in the country, seismologists say.

But recent years have proven throughout drilling fields in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas that the connection between quakes and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells is rather strong.

That’s where University of Colorado at Boulder geophysics professor Anne Sheehan and her small team of graduate students come in. They spent the last several days deploying seismographs in and around what the U.S. Geological Survey determined was the epicenter of the quake believed to have originated five miles beneath the surface about four miles northeast of Greeley.

They “believe” only because the closest station to record tectonic activity is in Idaho Springs, 70 miles away.

The epicenter of the quake was a bit of an educated guess, as well as the depth. But based on what are called “felt reports,” in which area residents reported what they felt at the time of the earthquake, Sheehan has been able to zero in a little better on the area to get the best readings.

Having seismographs closer in the suspected area — which is near two injection wells — will help scientists get a better fix on the cause.

“I guess we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think there would be some small follow-up earthquakes,” Sheehan said. “It’s possible we won’t record anything of interest. One would hope there would not be any more earthquakes. But if there are, we will study them.”

In fact, just two hours after Saturday’s quake, there were three smaller tremors that followed, Sheehan said. One was 2.0 and the other two were 1.4 in magnitude. Those aren’t recorded at the USGS in Golden, which only tracks quakes of 2.5 magnitude and above.

Wastewater disposal wells take in produced water from fracking and drilling operations, a practice that has been going on for several years and which is practiced by a variety of industries.

There are about 150,000 injection wells across the country — 40,000 of which are for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells. Weld County has 28 of them.

There were two injection wells in proximity to the epicenter of Saturday’s quake, one dug more than 8,700 feet deep and the other 10,700 feet. One is 20 years old, the other just two years old.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission officials earlier this week said they were skeptical that the wells caused the quake because they believe the three historic well-related quake instances recorded in Colorado all shared one common characteristic: the point of injection was the epicenter of the quake.

They said that wasn’t the case in Greeley.

But even that is difficult to measure, given the inexact measuring from 70 miles way, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, Calif., who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the last three years.

“As long as there is a pathway for the fluids to transfer, it doesn’t matter where you’re injecting,” Rubinstein said of the misconception on locations. “Faults are an incredible transmitter of fluids and fluid pressures. Just because earthquakes are occurring deeper than where injections are, there’s no reason to say they can’t be related.”

But, he said, there’s little proof of any cause at present, and he wouldn’t rule out a natural quake.

An injection well is dug 10,000 feet below the surface into very porous rock. The rate and volume of the water that is pumped in is governed by state and federal regulations.

Once pumped into the porous rock, the water disperses through that formation, allowing more water to be pumped in.

Sometimes the pressure of the water is such that it causes earthquakes in the existing faults.

The injection wells in question were those of High Sierra Water Services, which manages injections wells throughout Weld County and also recycles produced water for companies.

High Sierra also recycles produced water in an ever-growing amount, shipping it back out to the field for further use in drilling.

“We looked at our charts and we’re operating within the parameters of the well and it’s been operational for quite some time,” said Josh Patterson, operations manager for the company.

Sheehan said by studying whether any subsequent quakes are a result of injection wells potentially being drilled into faults, or the wrong rocks, or were simply overvalued in terms of volume and rate capacities, will help bring about better practices in the field.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said. “So maybe if they inject at lower volumes or spread it out more, it could be that there are things that we’ll learn that can help inform some sort of best practices.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


Montrose: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB14-1030 (Hydroelectric Generation Incentive)

June 6, 2014

microhydroelectricplant

From The Watch (William Woody):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1030 into law Saturday, near the rushing waters of the South Canal, east of Montrose, where new hydroelectric generation facilities are creating megawatts of power.

The law directs the Colorado Energy Office to work in conjunction with federal agencies to streamline its review of new hydroelectric projects, decrease waiting periods and allow applications to clear federal and state review in as little as 60 days (without violating state environmental regulations).

Republican State House District 58 Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), who introduced the legislation along with Rep. Diana Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs), said he first brainstormed about the idea over coffee with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) at the Coffee Trader in Montrose last fall. The law mirrors the federal Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act approved by Congress last year (in conjunction with the Rural Jobs Act introduced by Tipton) and signed by President Barack Obama in August.

Hickenlooper said that although Democrats and Republicans “do not see eye to eye on everything,” this law is a great example of both sides working together to create jobs and boost the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

“This is an obvious opportunity to do something significant right now that has much more potential over the next five to ten years with these small hydro projects,” Hickenlooper said Saturday.

The law allows farmers and ranchers to offset energy consumption by adding hydroelectric generation to their existing irrigation infrastructure, which can take up more than 70 percent of their seasonal operating budget, said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Coram said he and fellow lawmakers were acting as “advocates for agriculture” during the law’s development, and that the partnership between the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association is a model for other projects, moving forward.

UVWUA Board President George Etchart said water from the 105-year-old, 5.8-mile long Gunnison Tunnel now has dual roles – both producing electricity and feeding the crops of the Uncompahgre Valley. “The water in this valley is the lifeblood of the this valley,” he said…

A pair of generation stations created onto the South Canal last year by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association are currently generating about five-and-a-half megawatts of electricity, capable of powering about 3,000 homes in the Uncompahgre Valley. At Saturday’s bill-signing, water from the 105-year-old Gunnison Tunnel was moving at about 950 cubic feet per second. Peak flows both plants are expected to produce between seven and seven-and-a-half megawatts. Last year DMEA produced about 16,000 megawatt hours of electricity from the South Canal project…

The Gunnison brings water every year from the Gunnison river through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to an expansive canal system that feeds 76,000 acres of farmland throughout the Uncompahgre Valley.

The South Canal projects are estimated to remove 270,000 tons of carbon from the environment and produce about 27 million kilowatt hours of electricity. Along with the 3,000 homes powered, the DMEA reports the cost savings from the hydro power drops about $2 million back into the local economy through annual savings.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Did fracking fluid cause Greeley quake? — 9 News

June 3, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From 9News.com (Laurie Cipriano and Brandon Rittiman):

Scientists are investigating whether a rare 3.4 magnitude earthquake near Greeley, Colorado this weekend may have been caused by the disposal of fracking fluid.

The quake was centered in an area of Weld County located near four underground injection sites, in which used fracking fluid is forced deep underground as a method of disposal…

“I think we have a good reason to suspect there may be a link,” said Shemin Ge, a hydrologist with the University of Colorado. “We’re still looking into it.”

Ge says there are several injection wells very close to the epicenter of the earthquake.

“One of them is relatively high volume,” Ge said.

Ge is part of a team of scientists that are responding to the Greeley quake by placing a series of seismometers in the area to get more detailed data.

A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder was sent out to scout locations for the measurement devices on Monday.


Colorado Takes Steps to Expand Geothermal Development — Energy.gov

June 3, 2014

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey


Here’s the release from Energy.gov:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a geothermal bond bill May 30, providing $1.98 million in state funding and matching the Energy Department’s investment in geothermal energy exploration at Pagosa Springs. The project, which demonstrates Colorado’s strong support for geothermal energy development, leverages a $3.8 million award from the Department for evaluating and exploring the geothermal resource potential at Pagosa Springs.

Pagosa Springs has long been recognized as a potential target for geothermal energy development, based on surface evidence and assessments such as geophysical exploration conducted by the Colorado School of Mines. The Pagosa Verde project proposes a cost-effective, phased approach for locating and evaluating the viability of geothermal resources in the southern end of the Pagosa Springs area. The project will assess the potential for power production as well as direct use applications for residential, industrial and other purposes.

The collaborative framework at Pagosa Verde provides a replicable model of public-private partnership and grassroots support. The company has engaged the local community to garner support and promote future geothermal development that could create jobs and generate clean, renewable energy for the region. Landowners, city and county officials, utilities, and private investors worked with the Colorado School of Mines and the Colorado Energy Office to demonstrate the value of this project and its vital role in bringing geothermal energy development to the state.

Learn more about how geothermal energy systems work through this new Energy 101 video.

More geothermal coverage here and here.


Epicenter of Saturday earthquake in Greeley was near oil, gas wastewater injection wells — The Greeley Tribune

June 2, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Trenton Sperry):

As the annual number of earthquakes in the United States has increased, some have pointed to the oil and gas industry as a cause. But while scientists say there is evidence to suggest wastewater injection wells used by the industry could be linked to the increase, there is little or no evidence to suggest a similar link for fracking operations.

“Hydraulic fracturing almost never causes true earthquakes,” University of Texas seismologist Cliff Frohlich told the Associated Press in September during a gathering at West Virginia University for a National Research Council workshop. “It is the disposal of fluids that is a concern.”

Frohlich was referring to the disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of oil and natural gas production from tight shale formations and coal beds, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s website. Wastewater produced from many oil and gas production wells within a field may be injected through a single or just a few disposal wells, according to the website.

The question of whether oil and gas operations cause earthquakes was on the minds of Weld County residents Sunday after a 3.4-magnitude earthquake struck 4.8 miles northeast of Greeley about 9:35 p.m. Saturday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was near Weld County roads 66 and 43, which is about 3 miles northeast of Greeley.

The epicenter of the quake was about 1.5 miles from two oil and gas wastewater injection wells, both operated by High Sierra Water Services LLC of Denver, according to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. They are the only injection wells in at least a 5-mile radius of the quake’s epicenter.

Injection wells provide one of the most economical ways to dispose of wastewater, according to the USGS website, forcing the wastewater deep below aquifers that provide drinking water.

The USGS website also notes, however, wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may, in effect, lubricate nearby faults, thereby weakening them. If the pore pressure increases enough, the weakened fault will slip, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are appropriate, according to the USGS website.

USGS scientists have found the increase in seismicity in some locations coincides with a significant increase in the injection of wastewater into disposal wells, mostly in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, according to the Department of the Interior’s website.

Saturday night’s quake near Greeley provided minor shaking that was felt as far south as Longmont and as far north as Fort Collins, according to the USGS website.

The 10,800-foot injection wells near the epicenter were last inspected by the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment in October 2013, according to COGCC records. State inspectors last checked the wells in August 2012, about four months before one of the wells was completed as a wastewater injection well, according to COGCC records.

Representatives of High Sierra Water Services and the COGCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

The vast majority of wastewater injection wells do not cause earthquakes. According to the Department of the Interior’s website, of approximately 150,000 Class II injection wells in the United States — including roughly 40,000 wastewater disposal wells for oil and gas operations — only a tiny fraction have induced earthquakes large enough to be of concern to the public.

However, injection wells in Colorado causing earthquakes would not be without precedent. In 1961, a 12,000-foot well was drilled at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of Denver, for disposing of waste fluids from Arsenal operations, according to the USGS. Injection began in March 1962, and an unusual series of earthquakes erupted in the area shortly after. The U.S. Army ceased use of the injection well in 1966, and in 1990 a solid link was established between the injection of fluids and the subsequent rash of earthquakes.

But Paul Earle, a seismologist with the USGS, said there’s still plenty to consider to determine if the Greeley earthquake was natural or man-made.

“Just because there are injection wells near there doesn’t necessarily mean they caused the earthquake,” Earle said. “There are a number of things you have to address to make that determination. But it’s certainly something we need to look at and will look at.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: Hydropower bill passes both houses #COleg

May 18, 2014

microhydroelectricplant
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, set out during the legislative session that recently ended to pass legislation facilitating development of small hydro-power projects in Colorado by streamlining the approval process. Their bill drew bipartisan support, passing the House by a vote of 62-3 and the Senate by a vote of 26-7, and is due to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper later this month. The Colorado Energy Office is required to coordinate the required reviews of new hydro projects by multiple state agencies and establish deadlines to respond to the projects’ proponents. “This bill streamlines and coordinates the complex permitting process for small hydroelectric facilities that produce 10 megawatts of energy or less,” Mitsch Bush said. “It cuts red tape and will stimulate small, rural hydroelectric businesses and help create rural jobs.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Lake Powell power pool affected by drawdown and drought #ColoradoRiver

May 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Dolores Star:

The problem is a looming concern for reservoirs in the Colorado River basin upstream from Lake Powell. Those reservoir managers face the possibility of having to deliver water downstream to boost levels and avert a shutdown of the plant. Local reservoirs, including McPhee, Lake Nighthorse, Navajo, and Blue Mesa, could potentially be tapped for additional water under the “call” system if conditions don’t improve in the next one to two years, water officials report. Now is the time to have the discussion of how to deal with the situation unfolding at Lake Powell, said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir at Dolores.

“If Powell becomes too low to operate, it would trigger a crisis, so we need to decide early on how we would deal with that,” Preston said during a meeting about reservoir operations in Dolores last week.

According to a February memorandum from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Lake Powell (of the Upper Colorado Basin) and Lake Mead (of the Lower Colorado Basin) could soon become too low to operate their hydropower plants if conditions don’t improve…

According to the simulation, as early as 2015, Lake Powell could drop to, or below, the minimum power-pool level required to operate the hydroelectric generators. If the pattern materializes, the level would stay below the power pool for years and by 2020 still not have recovered to power-producing levels.

Allowing Lake Powell to fall below the minimum power pool has numerous dire consequences, according to the CWCB memo:

It would result in dramatically higher electric costs for cities, towns and farms throughout much of Colorado, increasing rates two to four times. The Dolores Project relies on power generated from Glen Canyon sold at a discounted rate.

Funding for irrigation projects derived from power-plant revenues would dry up.

Reduced capacity to make releases from Glen Canyon Dam threatens compliance with Colorado River Compact obligations. The result could be litigation and curtailment of water use within the Upper Basin states, which includes Colorado.

“In light of these real and immediate threats, the governor’s Colorado River representative directed a group of Colorado water advisers to engage six Colorado River Basin states in confidential brainstorming and system modeling for the purpose of developing an emergency response plan,” the memo states.

Solutions to prevent a shutdown of power plants at Lake Mead and Lake Powell may involve delivering more water downstream, the memo states. That could impact storage yields from upstream reservoirs on the Green, Gunnison, San Juan, Animas and Dolores Rivers, among others. Implementing demand-management programs to bolster Lake Powell could also involve voluntary lease-fallowing or deficit irrigation.

“The water-management world cannot be in denial about drought, and we have to be mindful and adaptable,” Preston said. “There is already talk about making contributions to bring Powell up. It could be sooner rather than later where we are forced to confront demands larger than our basin.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


The Southern Delivery System has been a long time coming

May 12, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Here’s part one of an in-depth look at the Southern Delivery System from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Contending that the denial [of Homestake II] had been arbitrary and capricious, the two cities [Aurora and Colorado Springs] appealed the decision to the courts. In a comprehensive description of the city’s water system and possible future sources of supply given to City Council in 1991, CSU managers said that “extensive litigation is expected to continue.”

Denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, the cities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

City officials were stunned. They couldn’t believe that a coalition of Western Slope “enviros” and ski towns had prevented them from developing water to which the city had an undisputed right. They had believed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 decision to scuttle Denver’s proposed Two Forks Dam near Deckers on the South Platte River was an outlier, not a sign of things to come…

Slow to recognize that mountain communities now had the power to kill their water development plans, Utilities officials looked at another alternative. Instead of taking water directly from the wilderness area, the city proposed to build a dam on the mainstem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles upstream of Buena Vista.

A grassroots rebellion against the project was soon evident, as hand-lettered signs appeared along U.S. Highway 24, which parallels the Arkansas. The signs carried a simple message: “Don’t Let Colorado Springs Dam this River!”

It soon became clear that Chaffee County commissioners would not issue a construction permit for any such project, dooming it before the first planning documents were created…

If trans-mountain diversions or dams on the Arkansas were no longer feasible, that left a single alternative for developing the city’s water rights. CSU would have to let its water flow down to Pueblo Reservoir, construct a diversion structure on the dam, and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs.

It would be, water managers believed, the easiest project to build and permit.

“It was just a pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom, who has worked 35 years for Utilities. “What could go wrong?”[...]

“We didn’t really understand the importance of partnering with and involving the public in decision-making,” said [Gary Bostrom], “until the Southern Water Project.”[...]

The plan for the Southern Delivery System was presented to City Council in 1992. Among the material submitted to councilmembers was a comprehensive description of the city’s existing water system. Water managers made sure Council was aware of the importance of the task before them.

“The massive scope of this project,” CSU staff noted, “requires a very long lead time to allow for complexities of numerous permitting processes, land acquisition, litigation, design, financing and construction.”

Of all the variables, CSU managers and elected officials gave the least weight to those that may have been the most significant…

“We weren’t worried about hydrology,” said Bostrom. “The years between 1980 and 2000 were some of the wettest years on record. The water was there for the taking. Shortages on the Colorado weren’t part of the discussion.

“We knew about the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922 (which allocated Colorado River water between Mexico and the upper and lower basin states), but it wasn’t something we worried about.”

Then as now, 70 percent of the city’s water supply came from the Colorado River. SDS would tap the city’s rights on the Arkansas, diversifying the portfolio.

“We have to plan for growth,” said Bostrom. “That’s what history tells us. We know that it will be expensive, but the cost of not building a system well in advance of need would be much greater. People complained about the cost of the Blue River (trans-mountain diversion) project in the 1950s, but we wouldn’t have a city without it — we wouldn’t have the Air Force Academy.”

But even as the project moved slowly forward, the comfortable assumptions of a wet, prosperous future began to unravel.

“Exactly 15 years ago today (April 29, 1999),” said Bostrom, “we were in the middle of a flood — remember? We didn’t know it, but that was the day the drought began.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Estimated 6,500 gal of Niobrara oil spilled from train into S Platte — Josh Zaffos

May 11, 2014

Water Lines: Learn about Colorado and Gunnison rivers May 15 at Grand Junction City Hall #ColoradoWater

May 11, 2014

On Thursday, May 15, the Colorado River District and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers — Mesa County” meeting in the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium at 250 N. Fifth St. There’s no charge to attend the meeting, and it will run from 6-8 p.m.

This year’s meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about and discuss the present, past and future state of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in Mesa County. Light refreshments will be provided.

WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK FOR WATER USERS THIS YEAR?

The meeting will open with a presentation by Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on what this year’s snowpack will mean for reservoir operations and flows in the rivers. This winter, the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers enjoyed above-average snowfall for the first time since 2011.

Following Erik Knight’s presentation, Grand Valley Water Users Association Manager Mark Harris will present a slide show of historical photographs depicting the building of the Grand Valley Project, including the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon and the Government Highline Canal. This project, which began supplying irrigation water in 1915, greatly increased the amount of land under cultivation in the Grand Valley.

The meeting will conclude with an update on water planning efforts in the Colorado and Gunnison River Basins, which meet in Grand Junction. Mark Hermundstad — a water attorney with Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC and a member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable — and Frank Kugel — manager of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District and a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable — will provide the updates and take comments from the public.

These basin plans will feed into a statewide plan that Governor Hickenlooper has ordered to be drafted by the end of this year. The plan is intended to show the way towards filling a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies as the state’s population grows.

For more information, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


CU-Boulder researchers confirm leaks from Front Range oil and gas operations

May 8, 2014
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Gabrielle Petron/Katy Human):

During two days of intensive airborne measurements, oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane, a greenhouse gas, as predicted based on inventory estimates, and seven times as much benzene, a regulated air toxic. Emissions of other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution were about twice as high as estimates, according to the new paper, accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

The new paper provides independent confirmation of findings from research performed from 2008-2010, also by Petron and her colleagues, on the magnitude of air pollutant emissions from oil and gas activities in northeastern Colorado. In the earlier study, the team used a mobile laboratory—sophisticated chemical detection instruments packed into a car—and an instrumented NOAA tall tower near Erie, Colorado, to measure atmospheric concentrations of several chemicals downwind of various sources, including oil and gas equipment, landfills and animal feedlots.

Back then, the scientists determined that methane emissions from oil and gas activities in the region were likely about twice as high as estimates from state and federal agencies, and benzene emissions were several times higher. In 2008, northeastern Colorado’s Weld County had about 14,000 operating oil and gas wells, all located in a geological formation called the Denver-Julesburg Basin.

In May 2012, when measurements for the new analysis were collected, there were about 24,000 active oil and gas wells in Weld County. The new work relied on a different technique, too, called mass-balance. In 2012, Petron and her colleagues contracted with a small aircraft to measure the concentrations of methane and other chemicals in the air downwind and upwind of the Denver-Julesburg Basin. On the ground, NOAA wind profilers near Platteville and Greeley tracked around-the-clock wind speed and wind direction.

On two days in May 2012, conditions were ideal for mass-balance work. Petron and her team calculated that 26 metric tons of methane were emitted hourly in a region centered on Weld County. To estimate the fraction from oil and gas activities, the authors subtracted inventory estimates of methane emissions from other sources, including animal feedlots, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Petron and her team found that during those two days, oil and gas operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin emitted about 19 metric tons of methane per hour, 75 percent of the total methane emissions. That’s about three times as large as an hourly average estimate for oil and gas operations based on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (itself based on industry-reported emissions).

Petron and her colleagues combined information from the mass-balance technique and detailed chemical analysis of air samples in the laboratory to come up with emissions estimates for volatile organic compounds, a class of chemicals that contributes to ozone pollution; and benzene, an air toxic.

Benzene emissions from oil and gas activities reported in the paper are significantly higher than state estimates: about 380 pounds (173 kilograms) per hour, compared with a state estimate of about 50 pounds (25 kilograms) per hour. Car and truck tailpipes are a known source of the toxic chemical; the new results suggest that oil and gas operations may also be a significant source.

Oil-and-gas-related emissions for a subset of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can contribute to ground-level ozone pollution, were about 25 metric tons per hour, compared to the state inventory, which amounts to 13.1 tons. Ozone at high levels can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants; the northern Front Range of Colorado has been out of compliance with federal health-based 8-hour ozone standards since 2007, according to the EPA. Another CIRES- and NOAA-led paper published last year showed that oil and natural gas activities were responsible for about half of the contributions of VOCs to ozone formation in northeastern Colorado.

This summer, dozens of atmospheric scientists from NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NOAA, CIRES and other will gather in the Front Range, to participate in an intensive study of the region’s atmosphere, said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister. With research aircraft, balloon-borne measurements, mobile laboratories and other ground-based equipment, the scientists plan to further characterize the emissions of many possible sources, including motor vehicles, power plants, industrial activities, agriculture, wildfires and transported pollution.

“This summer’s field experiment will provide us the information we need to understand all the key processes that contribute to air pollution in the Front Range,” Pfister said.

More oil and gas coverage here.


2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk

May 8, 2014
Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

“The passage of the Uranium Groundwater Protection bill today will help restore our use and rights to our wells,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident, said.

John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said SB 192 ceases “a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process” with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said the negotiations were a measure to clean up what would eventually “go away” naturally.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said the area’s community members and activists “deserve a hearty congratulations for turning their passion into a legislative victory.”

“No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” he said.

Hamrick said he wanted to remind people that “to the best of Cotter’s knowledge, nobody is drinking ground water (contaminated) above any health limits or ground water protection standards.”[...]

Another issue with SB 192, said Hamrick, is the requirement to use the most expedited and best available technology for the clean-up. He said there will be only one technology that could reach both those requirements, and as of yet, nobody knows what it is nor an idea of its cost.

“Water quality is improving in Lincoln Park naturally,” Hamrick said. “(SB 192) adds a lot of unknown costs without a lot of public benefits.”

More nuclear coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: Cañon City residents are cautiously optimistic for results from SB14-192

May 2, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Residents here are thankful for bipartisan legislation passed [by the Senate] Wednesday that will help clean up groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.’s uranium mill. The legislation will ensure that uranium mills clean up ongoing contamination of residents’ groundwater as expeditiously as possible, with the best available technology. The legislation will help give direction to the state health department as it oversees the cleanup, according to Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado.

Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of the Cotter Uranium Mill site have been hooked up to city water so they can avoid using wells that have been contaminated by uranium and molybdenum which seeped from the mill site.

The neighborhood and Cotter mill have been part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1984.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors, forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active cleanup of our wells, not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, a Lincoln Park resident who is co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

“After 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corp. to finally clean up its mess,” said Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado. “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Canon City has.”

Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are overseeing decommissioning and full cleanup now that the mill is closed.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More nuclear coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-192 passes the Senate #COleg

May 1, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

The Colorado Senate passed Senate Bill 192 on Tuesday, which concerns uranium licensing and groundwater protection, but causes conflict between Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill and Lincoln Park residents.

In a press release issued by Conservation Colorado representative Chris Arend, residents of Lincoln Park “expressed support for (the) bipartisan legislation … that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.”

“The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident said in the release.

John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said they have been in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said that is “now in jeopardy” because of SB 192, and a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process will have to be discarded, and they will now have “to go back to zero.”

“(Additionally), the State of Colorado is federally preempted from passing a law that requires the EPA to select a specific clean-up remedy,” Hamrick said.

In the release, Lincoln Park resident Pete Maysmith said SB 192 “will help clean-up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

“No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” Maysmith said.

Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:

Impacted residents and members of the Colorado conservation community expressed support for bipartisan legislation passed today that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corporation in Canon City, Colorado. Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Canon City had been told that the best way to deal with Cotter’s pollution was for the community to abandon use of their wells.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active clean up of our wells not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident. “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community.”

“Today after 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corporation to finally clean up its mess in Cañon City,” said Pete Maysmith. “No community should have to endure the long term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corporation. The legislation passed today will help clean up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

Although pleased that contaminated water would be cleaned-up, supporters expressed concern that the Colorado Senate stripped out licensing requirements that would protect against future contamination.

“We are disappointed in Colorado Senate amendments to remove important protections for experimental uranium milling proposed for our community,” said Cathe Meyrick, resident of the Tallahassee Area in Fremont County. “The legislation would have clarified that licensing is required before the industry deploys experimental uranium recovery techniques with potentially grave impacts on our groundwater. Regardless of this setback, we will rely on a committed community and look for other mechanisms to protect our groundwater.”

The proposed new technologies involve extraction through the creation of an underground uranium slurry (i.e., underground borehole mining) and concentration through physical, rather than chemical means (i.e., ablation). These new uranium recovery methods are being proposed for uranium deposits in Fremont County (Tallahassee Area/Arkansas River) and in Weld County (Centennial Project and Keota).

Both Conservation Colorado and impacted landowners in Fremont and Weld County will work to reinstate the provisions as the bill moves forward.

More nuclear coverage here.


Colorado and the West poised for federal hydropower push?

April 30, 2014

microhydroelectricplant

Here’s the pitch from the National Hydropower Asset Assessment Program:

The New Stream-reach Development Resource Assessment (NSD) project uses an innovative geographic approach to analyze the potential for new hydropower development in US stream segments that do not currently have hydroelectric facilities. NSD is one among other types of untapped hydropower potential such as non-powered dams, existing hydropower facilities, pumped storage, and small conduits. The NSD project considers “new stream-reach development” (assessments conducted for the conterminous US) and “new site development” (assessments conducted for Alaska and Hawaii) distinct from other hydropower resource classes identified by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Program.

Developed and implemented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the DOE Water Power Program, the assessments leverage recent advancements in various geographic datasets on topography, hydrology, and environmental characteristics to develop the highest resolution and most rigorous national evaluation of US hydropower potential to date. NSD assessments are not intended to determine economic feasibility or to justify financial investments in individual site development. The NSD project does, however, identify high-energy intensity stream-reaches and classify new potential areas for hydropower development using a range of technical, socio-economic, and environmental characteristics. The primary goal of this initiative is to produce and disseminate information and data that are applicable to multiple types of assessments, scenarios, and assumptions, ultimately leading to improved decision making and strategic planning by various organizations and individuals.

From the Denver Business Journal (Neil Westergaard):

Colorado and other western states are being positioned as ground zero in what appears to be a potential massive new push by the federal government to develop new hydroelectric power capacity in the U.S. That’s the underlying assumption in a new study unveiled by the U.S. Department of Energy Tuesday in Washington before a conference of hydroelectric-power interests.</p

Entitled “New Stream-reach Development Resource Assessment,” the report ( access here), by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, estimates that 65 gigawatts of additional hydropower could be developed nationwide — 3.8 gigawatts in Colorado…

But release of the report had environmental groups in Colorado and nationally saying, “Not so fast.”

It would take a massive infrastructure investment to achieve that kind of capacity. One Colorado River advocate said the kind of development suggested by the DOE’s numbers would mean “the end of rivers” in the state.

In Colorado, 3.8 gigawatts of hydro nearly approaches all of the existing hydroelectric power being generated in the entire Colorado River basin, including Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam, Flaming Gorge and the Aspinall Unit dams on the Gunnison River.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the study at the National Hydropower Association’s annual conference, meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. Moniz implored industry leaders to get behind the idea.

“Hydropower can double its contributions by the year 2030. We have to pick up the covers off of this hidden renewable that’s right in front of our eyes and continues to have significant potential.”[...]

In a press release, the DOE seemed to suggest that retrofitting existing non-powered dams would be one way expand hydroelectric capacity.

But Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program of American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the suggestion by DOE that 65 gigawatts of additional power could be generated this way ignores myriad legal, environmental and financial barriers.

“I think it’s a shame. It’s an irresponsible release with those numbers. It’s a shame because there’s a lot of great hydropower going on in Colorado,” Rice said. “To get to this number, you would need new dams, you would need new diversions, and that’s not to mention the legal barriers that would stop this kind of development.”

American Rivers isn’t opposed to hydroelectric power development. It sponsors programs to develop small retrofitted hydro units on existing un-powered dams and assists farmers and ranchers with development of small-scale hydro projects.

The DOE touted the study as a “New Vision for United States Hydropower” and established a website with a video on the benefits of hydropower. You can access it here.


The Southern Delivery System is on time and under budget, according to @CSUtilities

April 29, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of the Colorado Springs Utilities water services division, said the Southern Delivery System will be completed on schedule and $150 million under the original budgeted amount.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Moab tailings cleanup reaches 5-year mark — Deseret News #ColoradoRiver

April 28, 2014

moabtailingscleanupsite

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

This week marked the five year anniversary of when the U.S. Department of Energy began the $1 billion cleanup of the 16 million tons of tailings left over a legacy of uranium mining at the now defunct Atlas Mill.

The 130-acre site was leaching uranium and hazardous chemicals into the Colorado River, spurring contamination concerns for 30 million downstream users.

In 2009, an infusion of $108 million in federal stimulus money fast-tracked the project, accelerating the removal of the tailings to a disposal site 30 miles away at Crescent Junction.

“It is slowly getting there,” said project manager Don Metzler. “It is on track and we feel good about that.”

Metzler, whose supervision of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action garnered national recognition in 2011, said the massive cleanup effort is now 42 percent complete.

“We have moved 6.7 million tons of the 16 million tons,” he said. “We still have a lot to go.”

The tailings are scooped and loaded into the beds of huge dump trucks and then poured into rail cars. A train leaves the site once a day, four days a week, traveling north to a specially-engineered disposal site at Crescent Junction.

Metzler said the annual funding of $35 million received a boost to $38 million, and the additional money will be used to further cover a section of the disposal cell.

“We do this in sequential steps. We are not going to wait until the entire project is over before we cover,” he said.

Clay and rock material has been put on 40 acres and another 10 acres or so will also receive a protective fill.

Metzler is also in the process of implementing a flood control plan.

With spring runoff in full swing, the Colorado River has risen 2 feet in the past few weeks, Metzler said, and it expected to crest its banks in another 30 to 40 days.

Protective berms have been engineered to keep the river water away from the radioactive dirt, he added, and the project will be doing community outreach to keep residents informed of flood threats.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 would further regulate mining for radioactive materials #COleg

April 26, 2014

uranium

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Democrats in the Colorado Senate are considering a bill to place more controls over uranium mining that opponents say are duplicative and unnecessary. The measure, SB192, would require uranium and thorium mines to get a radioactive materials license from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and meet certain criteria for keeping contaminated materials out of the state’s groundwater supplies.

But opponents say federal and state regulations over such things are already stringent, and the proposed changes are being pushed by anti-nuclear energy advocates who want to stop all uranium mining.

Harold Roberts, chief operating officer of Lakewood-based Energy Fuels, the company that has been working to open the Pinon Ridge Mill in western Montrose County for the past three years, told the Senate Health & Human Services Committee that the measure is fraught with problems. He told the panel, which approved the bill Thursday on a 4-3 party-line vote, the measure only increases red tape, would spark more litigation and would have no impact on protecting public health or the environment.

“My point is, we’re highly regulated and I don’t see that SB192 would do anything to improve those regulations,” he told the seven-member panel.

Much of the testimony for the measure stemmed from residents who live near the Cotter Uranium Mill near Canon City, a uranium processing mill that was declared a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund clean-up site in 1984.

Opponents to the measure said that much has changed since then, and state and federal regulations today are far more stringent to prevent such a thing from happening elsewhere. Roberts said his proposed mill has spent more than a $1 million over the past three years in extra groundwater investigations and facility upgrades at the request of state regulators.

Last year, the company received a radioactive-materials handling permit from the state, but it is waiting to build the $150 million mill located near Naturita until the price of yellowcake, a uranium concentrate powder, increases. Currently, those prices are at a fraction of what they were before the recession began in 2008.

The bill heads to the full Senate for more debate.

More 2014 Colorado legislation here.


“Oil shale has been the next big thing in Colorado for over a hundred years” — Ed Quillen #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014
Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM

Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Microwaving rock in northwest Colorado could turn the oil shale business inside out, said a Grand Junction inventor who is working to restart oil shale at a time when many are pulling away from it. Using equipment small enough to be loaded onto two trucks traversing the surface could result in minimal surface disturbance, said Peter Kearl, a Grand Valley native who heads Qmast LLC, http://www.qmast.com, the company pursuing the project.

Not only would his technology disturb little of the surface, it also would likely produce — rather than use — water, Kearl said.

It could be run using natural gas from the Piceance Basin itself as a fuel source and leave behind subterranean caverns that could be used for carbon sequestration, Kearl said.

Most approaches to developing oil shale, from retorting it above the ground to mining and in-situ heating in large expanses, have run afoul of environmental and cost concerns.

Rather than employing a “big-risk, big-reward” approach such as that of Royal Dutch Shell before it pulled out of oil shale entirely last year, Kearl said he’s hoping to use a more measured approach and achieve more reliable and regular results.

Several other oil shale ventures are pushing ahead in Utah, and Kearl acknowledged that it might be easier to test his technology across the state line.

“But I’m a Colorado boy,” he said, voicing his preference for developing oil shale in the Centennial State.

He has a geology degree from what was known then as Mesa College and a degree in hydrogeology from the University of Nevada.

It also helps that the richest, though deepest, deposits of the Green River Formation’s oil shale are in the northwest corner of Colorado. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the world’s largest deposits of oil shale that contain as many as 4.2 trillion barrels of oil, according to recent estimates.

Applying microwaves to heat-
targeted areas of rock makes more sense than heating large areas using other methods of heating, Kearl said.

“The fundamental physics are definitely on our side,” he said.

The process would send the microwave equipment down a well to heat the hydrocarbon-bearing rock to the point that it would release crude oil that then could be collected by conventional drilling, he said.

The technology could tap shale on steep slopes from the side, allowing the oil to simply flow out, he said.

He presented his idea in 2012 at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on the Stanford University campus.

The more targeted approach he advocates could prove to be a financial success, Kearl said.

A well 300 meters deep could produce revenue of $80 million, based on $100-per-barrel crude prices, he said.

Kearl and his partners are working to arrange financing of $5.5 million for a test. That step is difficult because the federal government appears to be uninterested in making available any more land for research, demonstration and development leases.

The effective ban on experimentation “thwarts inventiveness,” Kearl said.

So he’s also looking for a small parcel of land, a quarter of an acre would do, on which to test his technology, including his estimate that he could produce about half a barrel of water for each barrel of oil he produces.

The patented microwave technology he’s considering wouldn’t require a large electricity supply, he said, because the process also would produce natural gas, which could be used to fire the generators for the microwave equipment.

Read the post with Ed’s quote here.

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling $7 million cost to develop #ColoradoRiver diversion near De Beque

April 21, 2014

Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Ranchers and De Beque residents will gain irrigation water and the energy industry will have access to water for drilling under a project that will pump water out of the bottom of the Colorado River. Energy companies will pay most of the cost of the project that will use an existing intake at the bottom of the river to draw water out and pipe it into existing ditches and a small impoundment that energy companies can draw on for their drilling activities.

“It’s definitely an asset to the community,” said De Beque-
area rancher Tom Latham. “The town will benefit, irrigation and agricultural people will benefit and the oil and gas business will benefit.”

Latham and rancher Dale Albertson represent the Bluestone Water Conservancy District along with members of the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in pushing the project, for which work could begin this year.

Called the Kobe Project, the water it draws from the Colorado will be devoted mostly — 75 percent — to agricultural use and 25 percent for industrial use.

Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling almost all the estimated $7 million development cost, some of which it will recoup through lower water costs and from other energy companies that use water from the project, officials said.

The Kobe project will draw 25 cubic feet per second from the Colorado, with 5 cfs set aside for industry and the rest for De Beque and agriculture, said Ray Tenney, an engineer with the River District.

The water won’t necessarily expand agriculture in the area, but it will be a welcome layer of security against continued drought, Latham said.

“The last two years, if it had been in place, it would have been a benefit,” Latham said.

Water availability also will make it easier to develop natural gas in areas that otherwise might have been impossible because of the difficulty of trucking it in, said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who until recently served as the county’s representative on the project.

“This really is a great local project converting local conditional rights to absolute rights for diverse purposes,” Acquafresca said.

The project also illustrates the need for water to remain in the Colorado as opposed to being diverted east to the Front Range.

“If we want to be more than a donor basin, we need to have a robust economy,” Acquafresca said.

“Kobe is a good example of what we need to be doing here with our water resources.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


Pure Cycle Corporation Announces Second Fiscal Quarter 2014 Financial Results

April 14, 2014

waterfromtap

Here’s the release from Pure Cycle Water:

Pure Cycle Corporation (NASDAQ Capital Market: PCYO) today reported financial results for the six months ended February 28, 2014. Basic and diluted loss per share decreased 38% from a loss of $.08 per share in last year to $.05 per share this year.

“During the second quarter we continued to see our business grow and develop driving long- term shareholder value” commented Mark Harding, President of Pure Cycle Corporation. “We are very excited to have record water sales and deliveries and are continuing to add value to our Company through monetizing our valuable water assets.”[...]

Revenues increased approximately 51% during the our six months ended February 28, 2014 compared to our six months ended February 28, 2013 primarily as a result of increased water sales used for fracking.

More infrastructure coverage here.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Managing Lake Powell’s power pool, will it benefit from the current snowpack? #ColoradoRiver

April 5, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Federal officials fretted for a year that they might have to take action as the water level in Lake Powell fell perilously close to the point that Glen Canyon Dam couldn’t generate electricity. Those fears were staved off, but not eliminated, after a meeting on Friday that involved top officials from the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado officials who attended the meeting.

“They’ve been concerned since last year” when federal officials began modeling flows into Lake Powell and concluded that two dry years similar to 2012 and 2013 could threaten the intakes into the electricity-generating turbines, said Upper Colorado River Basin Commissioner John McClow on Wednesday.

“They’re nervous now,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, “Six months ago, they were more nervous.”

Snowpack of 110 percent of average or more so far this year in the Colorado mountains has alleviated much of the immediate concern, McClow said.

“We’ve gotten a reprieve this year, but we’re still working” on plans that would forestall any need for federal involvement in river management beyond the bureau’s existing role, McClow said.

What expanded federal involvement might mean is unclear, but Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said it’s extensive.

The issue isn’t whether the upper Colorado River is delivering enough water to meet the requirements of a 1922 compact among the seven basin states, but whether the water level in Powell is high enough to allow electricity generation.

“They’re talking about taking over management of the river if the power intakes (in Lake Powell) start sucking air,” Acquafresca said. “They’re not going to let that happen. You can’t start to develop a vortex in the reservoir.”

That vastly overstates the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Larry Walkoviak, director for the bureau’s upper Colorado region.

“Each state has its own set of laws and we have to comport with those states’ water laws,” Walkoviak said. As the federal manager of the bureau’s dams and other facilities upstream from Glen Canyon, “I don’t have the authority to do something like that.”

The secretary of the Interior is the water master for the river below Glen Canyon, he noted, but not above.

Even at 39 percent full, the level of Lake Powell remains about 85 feet above the penstocks that feed the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, so it seems that for the coming summer and probably more, the issue of electricity generation is likely moot, Walkoviak said.

Walkoviak was present at the meeting on Friday in Washington, D.C., that included Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior; Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science; McClow; Kuhn; and James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Eklund, Kuhn and McClow all stressed the significance of Colorado officials having contingency plans for low water levels in Powell at the ready when they met with the federal officials.

A three-party, state-developed contingency plan allayed much of the federal fear, McClow said.

“The bureau has given us every indication that it intends to work with us,” Eklund said

That plan calls for releasing more water than would otherwise be the case from the Aspinall Unit of dams on the Gunnison River, as well as Navajo Lake and Flaming Gorge; voluntary, compensated release of water rights by some users; and continued work to augment existing supplies.

The plan includes provisions for endangered species and for recreation and other uses, McClow said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

April 5, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

“It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

April 5, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

“BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


CU-Boulder offers well users guide for testing water in areas of oil and gas development

April 3, 2014

chemistryglassware

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

“Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

“Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

“Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.


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