A satellite finds a potent hot spot of global-warming methane over Colorado’s Four Corners

October 10, 2014


Roan Plateau: Settlement on the horizon?

October 8, 2014


Water For Energy: Challenges to Produced Water Reuse

October 4, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

HW 32 coversmallThe water required for oil and gas production is a hot topic in Colorado, and nationwide. We took a close look at it last fall in The Energy Issue of Headwaters magazine, exploring Colorado’s energy mix, oil and gas drilling, and the water market for power and energy. And although, compared to state-wide water usage, water for oil and gas only accounts for a small amount (as of 2011, the Division of Water Resources estimated that .47 percent of the state’s water withdrawals went to thermoelectric power generation; .03 percent to coal, natural gas, uranium and solar development; and .04 percent to hydraulic fracturing), in our water-limited state, where the energy industry could continue growing, players are competing for the same water. Reusing water and produced water is improving every year, and could make the water demands of the oil and gas industry less of a concern.  From Caitlin…

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Testing the water: New CSU system monitors water quality at oil and gas sites in real time

September 24, 2014

Here’s the release:

A steady stream of data collected at oil and natural gas sites in the Denver-Julesburg Basin flows into a server at CSU, where researchers use it to analyze groundwater quality.

Complex algorithms sift through the raw data, scanning for any anomalies or sudden shifts in water composition that could indicate contamination in a groundwater well. The data is analyzed and displayed as charts and graphs on a CSU website for the public to view, updated with new field data posted every hour.

The network of monitoring stations and website are part of the Colorado Water Watch, a project spearheaded by CSU researchers to provide the public with real-time information about water quality at oil and gas sites throughout the basin that underlies northeastern Colorado and the Nebraska Panhandle.

The CSU team is led by Ken Carlson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, who believes it is the first monitoring system of its kind in the country.

“We don’t know of anyone else in the country who is collecting real-time data from groundwater wells next to oil and gas operations, evaluating potential changes with advanced anomaly detection algorithms and sharing it with the public,” Carlson said.

Water and energy

Carlson specializes in water quality research and over the years has narrowed his focus to the impacts of energy development on water. He leads the Center for Energy Water Sustainability, part of the Energy Institute at CSU.

In recent years, most of his work has centered on water and hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is the practice of drilling deep wells – 6,000 to Colorado Water Watch infographic8,000 feet in the Denver-Julesburg Basin – into a layer of rock that contains oil and methane gas. A mixture of chemicals and water is injected to break up the rock and release the oil and gas that is then extracted.

Critics believe fracking is unsafe and, among other things, pollutes critical groundwater supplies.

Proponents defend the practice, saying there is no evidence hydraulic fracturing is releasing pollutants into groundwater supplies.

The topic has become increasingly controversial in Colorado and the nation.

“It’s gotten to the point people cannot have a civil conversation about it,” said Carlson. “Everyone produces studies that back up their beliefs. This could lead to confusion and some people may feel they do not have enough information to make informed decisions.”

Enter Colorado Water Watch, a real-time monitoring system to provide the public with easy-to-understand water quality information.

Gathering support

Carlson approached former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who directs CSU’s Center for the New Energy Economy, about creating Colorado Water Watch during the 2012 Natural Gas Symposium.

Ritter liked the idea and from there, the two met with representatives from Noble Energy and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees oil and gas issues in the state.

Both Noble and the state agency agreed to support the project and serve on the steering committee along with representatives from Western Resources Advocates, a conservation group; the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group.

“One thing that makes this project unique is that we involved a variety of stakeholders in the project,” Ritter said. “We have approached this with a spirit of collaboration, and that has been highly beneficial to the project.”

Science Senator. It's called science.

Science Senator. It’s called science.

Based on science

Carlson and his research team have spent the bulk of the past 18 months developing the monitoring system using off-the-shelf sensors, identifying Noble-owned or -leased sites to install their equipment, and designing algorithms to crunch data coming in from the field.

The team has published several papers related to their work in peer-reviewed journals including Environmental Science and Technology and Journal of Applied Water Science.

“We wanted this to be based on sound, proven science,” Carlson said. “We’ve spent a lot of time working on that and validating the system and our results.”

Sensors and stations

So far, the CSU team, which includes Asma Hanif, research associate, and Jihee Son, a post-doctoral student, has installed four monitoring stations as part of the proof-of-concept phase of the project.

Three are located next to active oil and gas wells throughout the Denver-Julesburg Basin. The fourth is a control site at CSU’s Agricultural Research Development and Education Center – or ARDEC – near Wellington.

Each site has a sensor running down a well that collects water data and is connected via cable to a nearby data logger.

The sensors are placed at varying depths to collect information on various water sources. Some snake 40 feet down and monitor primarily groundwater that is vulnerable to spills or other surface activity. Others, such as the Galeton station, are placed 400 feet below ground to collect data on the Laramie-Fox Hills Aquifer, a confined aquifer that could be susceptible to leaks in oil and gas well casing.

Water flows around the sensors, which send information to the data logger every five seconds. That information is then relayed to CSU’s server via a wireless connection.

The system is designed to not only monitor water quality but also act as an early detection system. If it detects an anomaly or major change, Carlson and his team are immediately alerted.

They visit the site, take a water sample and send it to an Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab to be analyzed. With that information, they can identify the source of the contamination – even if it isn’t from oil and gas development.

“The system can detect changes in quality that could be due to any activity in the watershed including oil and gas operations, agriculture, other industrial activity and even urban runoff, Carlson said.

Providing more information

Until now, most of the publicly available water quality data has come from samples taken periodically by operators or regulators.

In Colorado, for example, water samples are collected at a proposed site before a well is drilled, a month after it is in operation, and then five years later. That information is available to the public upon request but is highly technical and can be hard for people to understand.

Information provided by the Colorado Water Watch project will help fill that gap, said Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.

“There’s a tremendous amount of suspicion about government and about oil and gas development, and we thought that bringing CSU on and participating would provide that level of objectivity that many in the public felt was lacking,” King said.

Jon Golden-Dubois, executive director of Western Resources Advocates, supports Colorado Water Watch for similar reasons.

“Our interest is ensuring that more information is available and that a larger set of data is developed so that we can better understand the impacts of oil and gas development and fracking on water quality in Colorado,” he said.

The $1.2 million project has been extended beyond the proof-of-concept phase and additional monitoring wells will be installed this fall.

Carlson also would like to add an air quality component.

“If stakeholders – primarily the public and industry – find Colorado Water Watch valuable, the system could be extended for much of the oil and gas areas in the state and maybe beyond,” he said.

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Homeowners and landowners have long expressed concerns about how the fracking process impacts water quality. Colorado regulations require water testing with a half mile of where a well is drilled. The samples are taken before and after the activity.

But what happens if water quality changes over time?

That question is what researchers at Colorado State University have been pondering. Their demonstration project, a partnership between CSU and Noble Energy, installed monitors at four sites in the Denver-Julesberg Basin near Greeley. In 2013, they began wirelessly transmitting data from the wells to researchers who are watching for changes.

Now CSU Engineering Associate Professor Ken Carlson said the data will be available for the public to review and monitor at Colorado Water Watch. It’s a step toward greater transparency, and believed to be the first of it kind when it comes to monitoring water quality near oil and gas sites.

“This isn’t an industry effort, this isn’t an environmental-group effort, we wanted it to be balanced, and we want the public to feel like they’re getting information that wasn’t filtered by either side,” Carlson said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Colorado task force takes 1st step in dealing with drilling conflicts — The Denver Post

September 24, 2014
Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

The task force handpicked by Gov. John Hickenlooper to defuse the clash between residential communities and oil and gas drillers is set to hold its first meeting Thursday in Denver. The charge for the 21-member panel, which includes two chairpeople, is to develop recommendations on balancing state and local control of oil and gas drilling that can be turned into legislation.

Contending that wells are getting too close to homes, some Front Range municipalities have adopted local ordinances or bans and moratoriums on drilling. The state has sued the communities, saying only it can regulate drilling and has won district court judgments against Fort Collins, Longmont and Lafayette.

“The people who are at the table are really looking for compromise,” said task force member Will Toor, a former Boulder mayor and Boulder County commissioner.

The panel will have six months to work, and any recommendation will need to pass by a two-thirds vote.

At Thursday’s meeting, the group is expected to review existing state and local controls on drilling and have an initial discussion about the key issues. There will be a period for public comment from 4 to 6 p.m. at Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices at 6060 Broadway.

The panel was convened as part of a compromise brokered by the governor that removed four oil-and-gas-related initiatives from the November ballot. Two were backed by industry, and two that focused on bolstering local control and kept drilling rigs away from homes were supported by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

On Sept. 9, Hickenlooper issued an executive order outlining the issues the panel needs to address such as air quality and the siting of wells near homes and in floodplains.

“The question is: What will the task force focus on?” said Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, a trade group. Dempsey is not a task force member.

The task force is being chaired by La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and Randy Cleveland, president of XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. The task force includes six members representing economic interests. Of those, four are oil and gas industry executives and one each are from the homebuilding and agriculture sectors. There are six task force members representing conservation and homeowner groups, as well as local officials. Hickenlooper also chose seven civic leaders who do not have a direct interest in the issue, including retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Kourlis.

“I hope we can inform legislation,” said Sara Barwinski, a member of the task force and the grassroots group Weld Air and Water.

“If all the parties respectfully listen and put their cards on the table and realize this has to be addressed,” she said. “I am full of hope we can come up with a concrete recommendation.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


The mistaken conflation of fracking with oil and gas operations — Jonathan P. Thompson

September 22, 2014

Study: We found the evidence suggested that fracking was not to blame…was actually a well integrity issue

September 19, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Seth Borenstein):

The drilling procedure called fracking didn’t cause much-publicized cases of tainted groundwater in areas of the states of Pennsylvania and Texas, a new study finds. Instead, it blames the contamination on problems in pipes and seals in natural gas wells.

After looking at dozens of cases of suspected contamination, the scientists focused on eight hydraulically fractured wells in those states, where they chemically linked the tainted water to the gas wells. They then used chemical analysis to figure out when in the process of gas extraction methane leaked into groundwater.

“We found the evidence suggested that fracking was not to blame, that it was actually a well integrity issue,” said Ohio State University geochemist Thomas Darrah, lead author of the study. He said those results are good news because that type of contamination problem is easier to fix and is more preventable.

The work was released Monday by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…

In at least two cases around one well in Texas, scientists saw people’s homes have their water supplies go from clean to contaminated during the year of study, with methane levels jumping ten-fold, said Stanford University environmental sciences professor Rob Jackson, co-author of the study. Methane, while not particularly toxic, is explosive and a potent greenhouse gas.

“I don’t think homeowners care what step in the process the water contamination comes,” Jackson said. “They just care that their lives have changed because drilling has moved next door.”

The scientists reached their conclusions by chemically analyzing methane and other chemicals in the groundwater. That let them link the contamination to particular wells, and then to discover what part of the drilling process was responsible. For example, they studied the precise proportions of methane, helium, neon and argon. Those proportions pointed to leaky pipes and seals, because the results would have been different if the contamination had come from fracking…

Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, who wasn’t part of the study, praised it, adding that he’s worried because “it’s impossible to drill and cement a well that will never leak.”

“There’s still serious and significant harm from what’s coming before fracking and what’s coming after fracking,” Ingraffea said.

More oil and gas coverage here.


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