Shale industry scales back potential in region — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver

August 3, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

An oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is likely to be about one-third the size it had been envisioned, an industry association said. Instead of a 1.5-million barrel-per-day industry, the more likely scenario is a 500,000-barrel-per-day industry, according to estimates by the National Oil Shale Association. The estimates were dramatically reduced “in light of a more pragmatic view of what an industry might look like in 50 years or so,” the association said, in an estimate that also noted that oil shale production would demand less water than had been previously believed.

The United States in 2013 consumed 6.89 billion barrels of petroleum products or 18.89 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The oil shale association’s estimate is based on production of 225,000 barrels per day from in-situ means, or heating shale deep below the surface; 200,000 barrels per day from retorting shale on the surface; and 75,000 barrels per day from modified techniques, such as heating it in an earthen capsule, which is left in place.

Additional information about water demands of each technique sharply lowered the association’s estimate of water use from its 2013 estimate of 1.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Depending on approach, production from oil shale could require between 0.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil to 1.2 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Production of 500,000 barrels per day could demand between 16,400 acre feet to 28,900 acre feet of water per year…

The reduction in the anticipated size of an oil shale industry is the result of new information that came to light this year, the association said.

“Projects have matured, and some developers have taken a new look into technologies that dramatically reduce water needs,” the association said. “However, estimates are still preliminary and may change as projects reach commercialization.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Testimony about Clean Power Plan always earnest and often eloquent — The Mountain Town News

August 1, 2014

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Old and young, fat and skinny, plus white (mostly), black and brown, the speakers made their way this week to the microphones at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver. For many, the EPA office in LoDo was just down the street, but others came from Nevada to Minnesota, Arizona to Utah.

Most spoke in favor of the EPA’s regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

The Clean Power Plan identifies four key building blocks of improving efficiency at existing power plants, shifting production from coal to gas; increasing renewables and, in some states, nuclear; and, finally, reducing demand by increasing energy efficiency.

The EPA had predicted 1,600 speakers at its forums on July 29-30 in four cities, and each speaker was assigned a five-minute slot. I listened to maybe 40 speakers at the Denver sessions. All spoke earnestly, a few of them eloquently.

Most supported the regulations, emphasizing the long-term costs of unrestrained emissions of fossil fuels. Opponents emphasized the short-term costs. The divisions were mostly the same that we’ve heard for the last decade as the United States argues about the transition away from fossil-based fuels, or at least a transition away from unrestrained pollution of the atmosphere.

Supporters tended to describe the new regulations as a good if small step forward. Max Tyler, a Democrat in the Colorado House of Representative and strong supporter of renewable energy, described the regulations as too modest.

“Ultimately the bar is set too low at 30 percent,” he said. “The cost of continuing carbon pollution is appalling, it’s astronomical,” he added.

“The private sector is pretty darned creative. They can pull it off,” Tyler concluded. He himself had founded several small tech-oriented businesses before becoming a legislator in 2009.

Alex Blackmer, from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, described it as a “very modest proposal” and downplayed the cost. The average age of existing coal-fired power plants is 42 years old, toward the end of their useful lives, he noted.

Catherine A. Carruthers of a group called Environmental Tax Reform was among those advocating a more sweeping approach to carbon regulation, adoption of a carbon tax or fee.

Lili Francklyn, who identified herself as a former science reporter for National Public Radio, remembered covering a meeting in 1982 at which the climate scientist James Hansen warned of the effects of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Almost all of the climate change predictions issued that day have come true,” she said. “I am sick of hearing, after 30 years, that coal is cheap,” she said. She called for regulations that “reflect the true cost of coal.”

But some weren’t willing to let natural gas stand in for coal. Rick Blotter, a retired teacher and coach, said 40 percent reduction should be the goal and “natural gas is not the solution to our climate problem.”

Patrick Demmer of the Denver Ministerial Alliance said he grew up north of downtown Denver, near the Asarco smelting site and near the Cherokee coal-fired power plant. He reported that his breathing problems are most likely explained by the pollution. “We have only one world. We may have people in outer space, but we have just one Earth.”

Mixing science and religion was James W.C. White, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Climate change is at its core a moral issue,” he said.

He cited intergenerational inequity. “We all say we love our kids, but how do we show it?” he asked. He also pointed to the disproportionate impacts of carbon pollution as opposed to those who benefit from burning it. And he also spoke to the immortality of species extinction from human activities. “We must be held accountable for any species we lose,” he said.

Hal Bidlack has among the most unusual of resumes. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and taught political science for 15 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In the Clinton Administration, he served as director of global environmental affairs for the National Security Council. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Colorado Springs in 2008 and now works for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

He noted that in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney articulated a 1 percent rule: if there was a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction, the United States must act as if it were a certainty.

Bidlack countered that 95 percent of climate scientists concur about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in destabilizing the climate, and he further emphasized the threat of changing climate to U.S. security.

Addressing climate change is nothing more than ‘basic risk management,” he said.

Stacy Tellinghuisen, of Western Resource Advocates, emphasized that Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada will be able to hit the 2030 targets with relative ease given plans of utilities already adopted.

The Aspen Skiing Co. stressed that carbon-reduction goals can be achieved without economic distress. Matt Hamilton said the company has reduced its carbon footprint 3.5 percent while adding a hotel, lifts and restaurants. See statement.

But cleaning up the electrical supply is crucial to achieving company carbon-reduction goals, he added. The company gets its electricity primarily from Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is poised to soon achieve its goal of a 20 percent carbon-free portfolio.

Chris Menges, project planner for the City of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, similarly made the case that carbon-free electricity need not produce high prices. The city’s electrical portfolio is now more than 80 percent carbon free and customers still enjoy among the lowest electrical rates among municipalities in Colorado. See statement.

He noted the EPA estimate that the energy shift will yield electricity that is 8 percent lower by 2030 while generating enormous savings in health-care costs, with $7 in benefits for every $1 invested.

Those testifying against the EPA regulations emphasized immediate costs. Carl Smith, representing 4,000 railroad workers, pointed to the profits of hauling coal, 28 percent of all railroad revenues, and the middle-class incomes of brakemen and conductors such as himself.

Bill Midcap, president of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, described the proposed regulations as “just not economically sound.” Make sure these don’t overburden America’s most important sector, and that is agriculture,” he said.

The most interesting testimony came from the utilities. Of all those I heard testify, they had most clearly read the fine print of these new regulations (as I have not). Speakers from Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere expressed a variety of concerns:

• The new regulations do not give credit for hydroelectric power. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, for example, was formed as a way to provide distribution of hydropower of the new dams to the electrical cooperatives in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. It provides 20 percent of power for coops.

• This is too ambitious of a proposal. To achieve dramatic carbon reduction will require extensive transmission, and getting high-voltage, long-distance transmission built is difficult and takes many years.

• Credit for non-carbon power generation should be given to the states where it is produced, not to the states where it is consumed, in effect favoring the more rural states of the Great Plains and West.

• Because the United States only produces a portion of the world carbon dioxide emissions, this is such a small gain that it will accomplish almost nothing.

• These EPA regulations put the onus on states to figure out how to comply, but state governments do not have the staff expertise to respond effectively. See additional perspectives in CREA blog.

Elsewhere in Denver, there were demonstrations and rallies, most of it pure theater designed for the TV cameras. My take is that these regulations will go forward, but the real interesting story will emerge as the co-ops, utilities and other power producers submit their written comments during the next several months [ed. emphasis mine].


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.


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