Click here to read the announcement.
Eagle River Watershed Council: Hydraulic Fracturing & Water an informational panel, Wednesday December 11thDecember 7, 2013
From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):
Like the crime scene investigators on television, researchers in northern Colorado will be taking an intense look at water wells throughout the oil patch in a demonstration study in the coming months to determine changes in the water over time. Conducted through Colorado State University in partnership with Noble Energy, the Colorado Water Watch demonstration project will soon begin water table monitoring in test wells at roughly 10 Noble production sites in a real-time look at how the water changes.
“It was conceived not so much as a research project but as a tool to provide information to the public,” said project lead researcher Ken Carlson, an associate professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU. “The oil and gas industry is taking the initiative here to provide some visibility.” Read the rest of this entry »
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Call it a wet-headed stepchild. Colorado has puzzled for years about how to account for its underground water resources, with about the same impact as water sloshing in the bottom of a precariously carried bucket. A state water plan will attempt to incorporate groundwater management, including possible aquifer storage, even though the relationship between surface water and well water is not fully understood.
“Groundwater will be a part of the state water plan,” John Stulp, the governor’s water adviser, told about 80 attendees of a groundwater conference this week. “There are a number of studies and plans that will go forward as the state water plan is developed.”
The conference, organized by the American Groundwater Trust, was designed to address policy as a follow-up to more technical reports generated from a 2012 conference.
While Colorado water rights stretch back to the mid-1800s, groundwater in the state was of little concern until more high-capacity wells were drilled in the 1950s and 1960s. It wasn’t until 1969 that well use was incorporated into the elaborate web of prior appropriation water right, explained Steve Sims, a water lawyer who once defended the state’s water rights in the attorney general’s office. But since then, a tug-of-war between the General Assembly and water courts has muddied how groundwater is treated. Non-tributary wells are regulated by a separate commission.
“What we got was a hodgepodge of rules,” Sims said. “It’s been driven by real estate developers.”
Key court cases eroded the jurisdiction of water courts themselves as well as the power of the state engineer to regulate wells, he said. The Empire Lodge case triggered a legislative fix to substitute water supply plans in 2002. The 2009 Vance case changed the way the state accounts for water produced by oil and gas drilling.
Geography also plays a part. Alluvial well regulations differ in all of the state’s major river basins, as well as in non-tributary basins. There is little scientific understanding of the relationship of groundwater levels to surface flows, other than the common wisdom that surface irrigation or flooding increase the levels, while pumping and drought decrease them. But the timing of return flows, availability of underground storage sites and long-term effects of pumping are still unknown.
“It’s not a precise science,” said Reagan Waskom of the Colorado Water Institute, which is completing a study of the South Platte basin mandated by the state Legislature in 2012. “If you had a valve and could put water back into the river when you need it, it would be great.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
Proposed oil and gas methane rules: Gov. Hickenlooper makes some headway with the environmental communityNovember 29, 2013
From The Colorado Statesman (Peter Marcus):
…the governor — who has experienced an increasingly tense relationship with environmentalists, a core base of his Democratic Party — still has a lot of work ahead of him if he’s to win the trust of the environmental world.
Much of the controversy rests with Hickenlooper’s support of hydraulic fracturing. The governor, a former geologist, has unequivocally stated his support for so-called “fracking,” despite five local communities having banned or imposed moratoriums on the drilling process. First, Longmont voters banned fracking last year. Then this year, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Boulder joined with five-year moratoriums. Lafayette passed a ban on new oil and gas activities. The bans passed despite big spending by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Proponents of the bans, a largely grassroots uprising, spent about $27,500 in the four municipal elections, as of the last filings before the election. COGA, however, spent about $883,000 to fight the proposed bans…
Hickenlooper says he is listening. At a news conference on Monday, he said the issue is about striking a balance between the energy needs of the state and the concerns expressed by citizens and communities.
“What we’ve done is work with the environmental community and oil and gas community to try and find compromises and use common sense to say, ‘How can we make sure we get to the cleanest possible outcomes in terms of air quality?’ Yet at the same time recognize that we have businesses here that employ our citizens and are helping solve the energy challenges that we face as a country,” Hickenlooper said, as he proposed new pollution rules for the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt.
The commission met on Thursday when it set a public hearing for February 2014. The tentative date is for a three-day hearing from Feb. 19-21. The commission heard about two hours of public comments from a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including industry leaders and environmentalists, as well as concerned citizens, such as mothers worried about the health of their children.
The thrust of the public comments was on whether the commission should set the proposal for a public hearing. Most of the witnesses agreed that even if the draft isn’t perfect, it should move forward so that the process can evolve.
When the commission conducts its public hearings in February, the comments will focus more on the rules themselves after stakeholders have had a chance to thoroughly review the recently released proposal.
Several elected officials testified in support of setting a hearing for the rules, including Democratic Reps. Su Ryden of Aurora, Mike Foote of Lafayette, and Max Tyler of Lakewood, among others…
Former Sen. Dan Grossman, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, represented the environmental side of the debate.
“What you see today here is a remarkable coalition of earnest individuals who came together and decided to try and make something work and address air pollution from the oil and gas sector in a meaningful and reasonable way,” explained Grossman.
Conservation Colorado is also “encouraged” by the proposed rules specifically that it includes methane.
“The proposed rule is a strong step forward to capture emissions from oil and gas facilities of harmful air pollutants that hurt all Coloradans,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
“Oil and gas development is booming in Colorado and the state must move aggressively to protect our climate, public health and communities,” he added. “Given the devastating impact on Coloradans from climate change and increased ozone pollution, there is no margin for error.”[...]
But not everyone in the environmental and oil and gas worlds is currently on board with the proposals. Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, pointed out that his organization was not included in the stakeholder meetings and did not see the rules until Monday.
“We’ve expressed our disappointment that it wasn’t a larger, broader stakeholder process,” said Dempsey, who added that his organization is currently speaking with members to decide how to proceed…
‘[Governor Hickenlooper] should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them’ — Dan RandolphNovember 28, 2013
From Colorado Public News (David O. Williams/Dale Rodebaugh) via The Durango Herald:
“The fracking ban votes reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” Hickenlooper said recently in a prepared statement. The statement came after a tally of final votes showed residents in Broomfield successfully passed a fourth so-called “fracking ban” in Colorado.
Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette voters passed similar bans by much wider margins earlier this month, but Broomfield’s vote was so close (10,350 to 10,333) that it has triggered an automatic recount.
Christi Zeller, director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said the votes in Boulder and Lafayette are symbolic. Boulder County has some production, but the city of Boulder’s last gas well was plugged in 1999, she said.
“The bans are an emotional response,” Zeller said. “A lot of professional agitators are manipulating people’s response.”[...]
Hickenlooper said mineral rights need to be protected and that the four communities can work with the state’s chief regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to mitigate environmental and health concerns.
“Local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights,” the governor said. “A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe.”
But Dan Randolph, director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said that Hickenlooper, as a former gas and oil industry employee, doesn’t get it.
Randolph said there are legitimate concerns tied to gas and oil production. He cited health, water quality and noise.
“There is no question that there is an increase of volatile organic compounds in the air during gas and gas development,” Randolph said. “There are and have been serious concerns elsewhere. This is not unique to Colorado.
“He should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them,” Randolph said. “His credibility on oil and gas issues is very low with the general public.”
Governor Hickenlooper and US Rep. Jared Polis differ regarding Colorado regulation of hydraulic fracturingNovember 20, 2013
From The Denver Post (Allison Sherry):
On the U.S. House of Representatives floor Tuesday, Rep. Jared Polis ripped Colorado’s state regulations involving hydraulic fracturing, saying the growth of fracking in the state “without common-sense federal guidelines, without common-sense state guidelines” has caused friction for his constituents.
Polis, a Boulder Democrat, represents three municipalities — Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins — whose voters earlier this month approved moratoriums on the deep horizontal drilling technique. A fourth town, Broomfield, also had a moratorium proposal on the ballot, but officials are recounting that measure because the vote was so close.
Polis never took a position on the fracking bans, but Tuesday he said fracking “is occurring very close to where people live and work and where they raise families.”
“Yet our state doesn’t have any meaningful regulation to protect homeowners,” Polis said in a floor debate on a series of energy measures. “Unfortunately, the fracking rules are overseen by an oil and gas commission that is heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry. They don’t have at their disposal the independence or the ability to enact real penalties for violations of our laws and their charge is not first and foremost to protect homeowners and families and health.”
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office disagreed, saying ” the Colorado Constitution protects the rights of people to access their property above and below ground.”
Hydraulic fracturing has become a contentious issue-- no one is arguing with that. As of election day, a mere two weeks ago, three Colorado cities approved bans or moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing-- Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette-- while Longmont had already established a ban and is being sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. And don't forget about Broomfield, where the debate hasn't yet ended.
Colorado set to become first state to regulate detection, reduction of methane emissions associated with oil and gas drillingNovember 19, 2013
Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
Proposed rules for air pollution released today would make Colorado the first state to directly regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling and further Colorado’s efforts as a national leader in environmental-friendly energy production.
The rules, which cover the lifecycle of oil and gas development (from drilling to production to maintenance), reflect a collaborative effort by the Environmental Defense Fund and Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko oil and gas companies as part of the Air Quality Control Division’s stakeholder process.
The plan, with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s support and active engagement, constitutes the division’s official proposed rules and will now go before the state Air Quality Control Commission, which will meet Thursday, Nov. 21, and will be asked to set a February 2014 public hearing on the rules.
“These proposed rules provide common sense measures to help ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country,” Hickenlooper said. “The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment. They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated. We welcome the proposed rules and are grateful all of the interested parties worked together.”
The comprehensive set of rules were crafted after an extensive process in which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) sought input from diverse stakeholders across Colorado. The rules will now be subject to further input as the Air Quality Control Commission considers them under CDPHE’s formal rulemaking process.
“Tackling smog and climate pollution from the oil and gas sector is a critical part of making sure communities are protected and that the lower carbon advantage of natural gas doesn’t simply leak away,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “If this package is adopted, Coloradans will breathe easier, knowing they have the best rules in the country for controlling air pollution from oil and gas activities.”
Anadarko, Encana and Noble jointly stated: “As citizens of Colorado, we all want clean air, and we support this joint proposal initiated by Gov. Hickenlooper. This collaboration is a good model for developing effective regulations and activities to monitor, control and reduce methane leaks and VOCs. The process and increased accountability established by the proposal will provide transparency and build public trust. We remain committed to continuously improving industry practices and protecting our communities through responsible energy development.”
The rules will benefit Colorado’s public health, environment and economy by increasing the capture and use of clean burning natural gas. Highlights of the rules include:
A first-in-the-nation requirement for leak detection from tanks, pipelines, and other drilling and production processes, using instruments such as infrared cameras that can detect leaks that otherwise may not be discovered using other more conventional means. Instrument-based monthly inspections on large sources of emissions. An aggressive timeline for repair of leaks found using either these instrument-based methods or leaks found through sight, smell or sound. Leak detection and repair of storage tanks, at well-site production facilities and at compressor stations. Requirements for detection and repair of leaks of a wide variety of hydrocarbons, including VOCs and methane, another first in the country. Expanding provisions statewide for reducing emissions of pollutants that today apply only in nonattainment areas, so anyone living near a well site would benefit. New, more stringent limits on emissions from dehydrator units located near where people live and play.
“Colorado is fortunate to have a governor who is invested in protecting the state’s environment and who brought parties together to advance the draft regulations,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at CDPHE.
CDPHE estimates the package will reduce volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions in Colorado by approximately 92,000 tons per year. That’s more VOC emissions than the VOCs emitted by all cars in Colorado in a year, and it would be a 34 percent reduction based on a 2011 inventory by CDPHE that showed oil and gas VOC emissions were approximately 275,000 tons. [ed. emphasis mine]
The draft rules also include elements that have the unique and additional benefit of significantly reducing methane emissions.
These kinds of significant reductions in VOC emissions will improve public health by decreasing asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Colorado’s unique state rules would complete the state’s adoption of EPA rules that further reduce air pollution associated with oil and gas operations. Interested individuals and parties can submit comments on the proposed rules to the Air Quality Control Commission at email@example.com. The proposal and related information may be found online here.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
State health officials rolled out groundbreaking rules for the oil and gas industry Monday to address worsening air pollution, including a requirement that companies control emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, linked to climate change. The rules would force companies to capture 95 percent of all toxic pollutants and volatile organic compounds they emit.
This would cut overall air pollution by 92,000 tons a year — roughly equivalent to taking every car in the state off the road for a year, state health chief Larry Wolk said. Such reductions could help bring Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range, where smog and ozone are on the rise, back into compliance with federal air quality standards.
No state has adopted rules directly limiting methane emitted by oil and gas operations. Federal government and United Nations authorities are developing rules to try to reduce such emissions because they are a large factor in global warming.
“These are going to amount to the very best air quality regulations in the country,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
He credited executives from Anadarko, Encana and Noble Energy — the state’s largest producers — for compromising and helping minimize environmental harm from drilling before the cost implications are fully known.
“They understand it is a shared responsibility,” he said, “and they have really stepped up.”
Under the rules, companies would have to:
• Detect leaks from tanks, pipelines, wells and other facilities using devices such as infrared cameras.
• Inspect for leaks at least once a month at large facilities and plug leaks.
• Adhere to more stringent limits on emissions from equipment near where people live and play.
• Use flare devices to burn off emissions from facilities not connected to pipelines.
Noble Vice President Ted Brown said the prescribed practices are “the right thing to do” but added that “it’s a tough rule.”
He and counterparts from Anadarko and Encana said they support the proposed rules as a way to operate more safely and build public trust.
“Regulatory certainty is important to the company, and doing the right thing also is important to the company,” Encana’s Lem Smith said. Reducing industry air pollution will bring a “quantifiable environmental benefit.”
Colorado Petroleum Association president Stan Dempsey questioned the state’s authority and the need for new rules. Regulation of industry air pollution might better be done through the state’s overall air pollution control program or by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, he said.
The COGCC, part of the state Department of Natural Resources, has a dual mandate of promoting and regulating the industry and has been the primary overseer after contentious rule-makings over where wells can be drilled and protection of groundwater.
But state air pollution control division director Will Allison said statutes give the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment the authority to regulate hydrocarbons. “Volatile organic compounds are one type of hydrocarbon. Methane is another type of hydrocarbon.”
An industry study estimated the costs related to the new rules, assuming monthly inspections for leaks, could reach $80 million a year. A CDPHE study estimated costs at $30 million.
“I am very concerned that the costs — especially for small and midsize operations — will be quite significant,” said John Jacus, an attorney who represented five companies in CDPHE stakeholder sessions.
Environment groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, helped craft the proposed rules.
“First in the nation, direct regulation of methane from oil and gas production facilities is a big, exciting step forward,” Conservation Colorado director Pete Maysmith said.
Around the nation, state regulators have not dealt comprehensively with increasing air pollution from the oil and gas industry — a challenge as companies ramp up domestic energy production. And, when it comes to emissions of methane, the industry is largely unregulated, even though state data show oil and gas operations are a major source.
Colorado’s political landscape for oil and gas development has been toughening, however, with voters in four cities passing moratoriums and a ban on operations inside city limits.
The new air rules, to be hashed out at formal hearings in February, do not include a proposal to raise the threshold of air pollution above which companies would have to obtain permits from the state — 4,000 this year. State health officials had proposed reducing their administrative workload by raising the reporting threshold to 25 tons of air pollution per year from 2 tons to 5 tons. But state officials dropped the effort because the “messaging” to residents would be difficult, Allison said.
“It was going to distract from the overall process,” he said. “We want the focus in this rule-making to be on emissions reduction.”
From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):
Unveiled Monday, the proposed rule will be formally sent on Thursday to the Air Quality Control Commission, a division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Public hearings are expected to be held in February. The proposed regulation aims to reduce the amount of natural gas and methane leaking into the air at all stages of industry operations, such as the well itself as well as storage tanks, pipelines and other steps along the path to market.
At a press conference at the Capitol on Monday afternoon, Hickenlooper joined with representatives from EDF, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC), Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) and Encana Corp. (NYSE: ECA) to praise the effort that went into the proposed rules…
If adopted as proposed, Colorado will be the first state in the nation to regulate methane — an element of natural gas that’s a powerful greenhouse gas…
Cutting those emissions, which contribute to asthma and other respiratory ailments, is expected to improve public health, according to the health department.
Hickenlooper said the proposed rules were a group effort, requiring compromise on all sides.
“We recognize, and the people should recognize, that the rules, while they will be enforced, they weren’t imposed,” he said, referring to the stakeholder group that worked with state officials to craft the proposal.
Industry and environmental representatives in turn credited the governor for pushing the group to make the rules tough…
Ted Brown, Noble’s senior vice president for the Rocky Mountain region, said his company also supports the proposal “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“It’s a tough rule, it’s an additional layer of regulations,” Brown said.
“But we wanted to develop a sound solution based on science. [ed. emphasis mine] We believe this proposal sends a clear message — we can have a health environment, clean air, and responsible energy development here in Colorado,” Brown said.
Gov. Hickenlooper to announce proposed first-of-its-kind air regulation rules for oil and gas drilling todayNovember 18, 2013
From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
Gov. John Hickenlooper will be joined Monday by environmental groups and energy companies to announce proposed rules that would make Colorado the first state to directly regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling. The rules would also further Colorado’s efforts as a national leader in environmental-friendly energy production.
WHEN: 1 p.m., Monday, Nov. 18, 2013
WHERE: West Foyer, state Capitol, Denver
The comprehensive set of rules were crafted after an extensive process in which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sought input from diverse stakeholders across Colorado.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A woman living south of Silt urged Garfield County commissioners Tuesday to continue groundwater sampling there despite new tests finding no clear evidence of a link between methane and benzene in test wells and natural gas development. Lisa Bracken made her plea after representatives of the firm Tetra Tech presented the county with results from the third phase of a nine-year groundwater study in the area. It was conducted after the 2004 discovery of natural gas and benzene in West Divide Creek. The state blamed a faulty Encana well.
The latest tests involved three pairs of groundwater monitoring wells installed by the county, with each pair drilled to depths of about 400 and 600 feet deep in the Wasatch geological formation. The study found that methane in the shallower wells was biogenic, meaning from microbial sources, whereas methane in the deeper wells was thermogenic, resulting from geological heat and pressure. Thermogenic gas is what energy companies target for drilling.
The Tetra Tech consultants believe all the gas in the test wells is likely naturally occurring rather than a result of oil and gas development. Geoffrey Thyne, a longtime consulting geologist for the county, agrees that the research demonstrates that there is naturally occurring Wasatch formation methane that helps explain at least some of the methane being found in a number of domestic water wells.
But Bracken, who lives near the seep area, believes 600 feet is a suspiciously shallow level to be finding thermogenic gas. She said she also found “astonishing” the widespread detection of benzene, a carcinogen, in test well samples. Those detections were within safe drinking water standards in all but one case, and Tetra Tech theorizes the benzene also is naturally occurring.
County commissioners plan to seek a meeting with Thyne, and state oil and gas and health officials, before determining whether the county should undertake any more research.
Resident Marion Wells of Rulison said after Tuesday’s meeting that the latest research relies on several assumptions, including that carbon dioxide is present to allow for the kind of biogenic process believed to account for methane in the shallower test wells.
Northern Water to host meeting about reporting requirements for oil and gas production and exploration, November 18November 16, 2013
Here’s the release from Northern Water via The Greeley Tribune:
A meeting in Greeley next week will focus on water-reporting procedures for users providing water to oil and gas operations. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy is hosting the meeting, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Columbine Room A at the University of Northern Colorado’s University Center, 2045 10th Ave.
As Northern Water officials explained in a press release, the significant increase in oil and gas activity in northern Colorado requires a portion of the region’s water supply. In response to the water needs, the Northern Water board adopted rules governing the use of its Colorado-Big Thompson Project water and Windy Gap Project water for such purposes.
The rules require water users providing project water to oil and gas development to periodically report usage information to Northern Water.
To further describe the reporting requirements, Northern Water officials developed water-use reporting and accounting procedures that became effective June 1, 2012. Northern Water officials are now proposing modifications to those procedures. The purpose of Monday’s meeting is to discuss the proposed modifications.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
High Sierra, which has its roots in Greeley, has developed industry-leading treatment processes, allowing oil companies to turn over their used water to a High Sierra facility, where it is treated and transported back to the oilfields.
This year the company expects to recycle about 2,000 barrels of water daily at its Weld County facilities, up from some 1,500 barrels last year…
High Sierra has operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which includes Northern Colorado, and also works in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas. In Weld County, High Sierra owns two water-recycling facilities, one in Briggsdale and another in Platteville, which company representatives believe are the largest such facilities in Northern Colorado.
“The field seems to be moving toward recycling slowly but surely,” said Doug White, vice president of High Sierra Water.
Companies can use more than 3 million gallons of water per well during hydraulic fracturing, a well-completion technique that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to crack tight shale formations and release oil and natural gas. After the well is complete, water flows back to the surface where it is captured and transported offsite. Most of this contaminated water still is disposed of via deep-injection wells, but growing amounts are treated and reused.
High Sierra Water owns nearly half of the 25 deep-injection wells operating in the greater Wattenberg area. These are designated specifically for wastewater and regulated by state authorities. The greater Wattenberg area spans nearly 3,000 square miles north of Denver and through a substantial portion of Weld County.
High Sierra has developed water-treatment systems that remove elements such as barium, calcium, magnesium, silica, strontium and iron so companies can reuse the water for hydraulic fracturing.
The company has the ability to treat water to match the quality of fresh water, company representatives said. In Wyoming, for example, the company operates a water-treatment facility that has recycled more than 32 million barrels of water and discharged more than 5 million barrels of highly treated water into the New Fork River, a tributary of the Green and Colorado rivers…
Noble Energy said in October that it had recycled about 2 percent of its water so far this year, or 600,000 barrels.
But Noble is in the midst of a major expansion of its water-recycling program. Today, about 80 percent of Noble Energy’s water comes from ponds and wells and 18 percent from cities, while 2 percent is recycled. Noble Energy plans to raise the capacity of its program to recycle 5.8 million barrels of water next year, nearly 10 times more than its current level.
Despite the efforts of companies such as High Sierra Water and Noble Energy, water recycling remains uncommon in Northern Colorado despite heavy drilling activity.
It is more common in Western Colorado, where about half of water used in oil and gas production is recycled, said Ken Carlson, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University.
From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):
At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.
Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.
The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.
The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…
There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.
There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.
There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…
“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”
From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):
…La Plata County sheep and cattle rancher J. Paul Brown addressed a crowd of about 40 people at Christina’s Grill & Bar on Saturday morning to announce his plans to retake the House seat he lost by two percentage points in 2012 to Durango attorney Mike McLachlan. He called the district, which includes La Plata, Archuleta, Hinsdale, Ouray and a portion of Gunnison counties, one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of great importance to the state and nation.
“We are the pull of all of Colorado,” he said. “Tourism, mining, gas and oil, hospitals. It’s a wonderful district.”
While Brown, a Republican, said he is not yet ready to propose specific legislation, he did say he had a long list of issues and possible bills…
“Water is an issue here, and it always will be,” he said. “The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it.”
Brown mentioned water-storage initiatives to keep water on the Western Slope and in the state.
“Six hundred thousand acre feet of water just went to Kansas and Nebraska,” he said. “That’s our water – we just don’t have any way to keep it.”[...]
La Plata County Planning Commissioner and beef rancher Wayne Buck supports Brown’s ideology. He called Brown a politician of moral fiber and character.
“He’s honest, and Lord knows we need honest politicians in Denver and in Washington, D.C.,” Buck said.
From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):</p.
Steve House, a healthcare consultant from Brighton, will announce his candidacy for governor Monday in Adams County…
House is now among five Republicans vying to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have all announced their candidacies for governor.
More 2014 Colorado Election coverage here.
Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette pass bans on hydraulic fracturing, Broomfield = no by 13 votes (2:41 AM numbers)November 6, 2013
From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):
The votes in four Colorado cities on fracking within city limits — in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette — attracted attention far beyond the state’s borders in recent weeks as the nation debates the pros and cons of the widely used practice. And those involved say the issues raised by the campaigns will continue to be debated for months and years to come.
Boulder’s anti-fracking measure was passing handily late Tuesday, while those in Fort Collins and Lafayette saw smaller margins in the “yes” column.
Meanwhile, the yes and no votes on Broomfield’s fracking measure were fairly close late Tuesday, although at least one anti-fracking advocate — Sam Schabacker, Mountain West regional director for Food & Water Watch — appeared ready to concede defeat there.
“We are witnessing historic victories tonight with the anticipated passage of measures to stop fracking in Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette, and what appears to be a narrow defeat of a fracking moratorium measure in Broomfield,” he said in an emailed statement at 10:29 p.m. MST…
Doug Flanders, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group, said his organization…will continue to work with communities about the importance of energy and energy development.
“We never believe a ban is necessary,” Flanders said earlier Tuesday, before the polls closed…
The four initiatives:
• Broomfield: Question 300, which would have imposed a five-year prohibition on all fracking.
• Fort Collins: Its measure will place a five-year moratorium on fracking and storage of waste products related to the oil and gas industry in town.
• City of Boulder: 2H imposes a five-year moratorium on oil and gas exploration.
• Lafayette: Question No. 300 will ban new oil and gas wells in town. (Click here for more on the Lafayette measure, which goes further than the others.)
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Colorado’s oil and gas regulators next month will consider tightening spill reporting rules by going beyond what’s required under a newly passed state law. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rulemaking is slated for its Dec. 16-17 meeting. It was prompted by the need to implement legislation introduced by state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, requiring companies to report within 24 hours exploration and production waste spills of more than one barrel (42 gallons) if they are outside berms or other secondary containment.
The current rule requires 24-hour reporting in the case of all spills of more than 20 barrels, and within 10 days for spills of five barrels or more. Immediate reporting is required for spills of any size that impact or threaten to impact any waters of the state, occupied structure, livestock or public byway. A draft proposal by oil and gas commission staff would eliminate the 20-barrel reference and would require reporting within 24 hours for all spills of five barrels or more, regardless of whether confined within berms or other containment.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has proposed keeping the 20-barrel and five-barrel reporting requirements as they are in the case of spills within contained areas.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is endorsing the proposal for more rapid reporting of all spills over five barrels, said the health department’s oil and gas liaison, Kent Kuster, in written comments to the commission. Otherwise, spills as large as 840 gallons may not be reported in a timely manner, he wrote.
“The majority of well pads are not designed to contain fluids and may contain areas where fill has been used. These fill areas may allow contaminated fluids to move quickly through the soil resulting in greater groundwater contamination,” he wrote.
He said the proposal to require 24-hour reporting for all spills larger than five barrels would result in “increasing the attention to spills and releases and potentially minimizing the impact to ground water.”
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore said during a recent stakeholder meeting on the rulemaking that one point of the agency’s draft proposal is to simplify the rules by reducing the number of reporting thresholds. But he said there’s also concern about the fact that “20 barrels is a fairly sizable release, approaching a thousand gallons.”
While secondary containment prevents lateral spreads of spills, it doesn’t necessarily prevent downward migration, depending on how it’s constructed, and even a 200-gallon spill can be of concern, he said.
While the commission hasn’t yet changed its rules, the new law took effect Aug. 7 and companies have been expected to comply with it.
Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, told county commissioners Monday that he has been receiving reports since then as required. He said that in his experience there has never been a case where a company hasn’t alerted him to a meaningful spill.
Garfield County will be preparing its own comments on the commission’s proposal.
Meanwhile, a presentation Wynn provided to commissioners shows that in the county, there’s been a gradual reduction in spills outside containment since 2008 and a corresponding drop in the percentage of spills affecting ground or surface water. The commission overhauled its rules in 2008, including tightening them for when containment is required around tanks. The county had 116 reported spills in 2008, rising to 140 by 2010, and declining to 59 last year and 65 so far this year. But spills outside containment numbered 64 in 2008 and just 21 last year. Spills affecting surface or groundwater steadily declined from 15 percent in 2008 to 3 percent last year.
“There’s a lot more containment now” than there was before 2008, Wynn said.
The commission has said that last year about 400 spills were reported statewide, including 66 cases where ground or surface water remediation was required.
Click here to go to the Denver Business Journal’s special report page for hydraulic fracturing. Here’s the introduction:
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — a practice widely used in the energy-rich West to extract natural gas from deep underground — has triggered controversy between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists.
Fracking refers to injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock at high pressure, fracturing the rock and creating or extending channels for gas to escape that might otherwise remain trapped.
Some contend that the chemicals used in fracking can contaminate underground drinking-water supplies. The industry has long argued the practice is safe.
The Denver Business Journal has been covering the debate over fracking and efforts to increase regulation and disclosure of chemicals used.
Here are recent highlights of the DBJ’s coverage in print and online, most of it by DBJ energy and environment reporter Cathy Proctor.
Most recent articles appear first. (Articles that appeared in the last month in the print edition are accessible to subscribers only.)
From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):
Some environmental groups are gearing up for a fight against proposed changes to emissions regulations on the oil and gas industry.
Weld Air and Water and the Colorado Progressive Coalition issued press releases this week citing concerns that the proposed changes to emissions regulations in the state don’t go far enough to regulate the oil and gas industry.
But state officials at the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division say no formal draft rules will be released until November and they will not comment on the draft until then. The division in the last few months has sought comment from those involved based on a loose draft set of rules forwarded to “stakeholders.”
The division will issue a formal draft, taking into account suggestions from those stakeholders, in November, with a rule-making process to begin in February, said Christopher Dann, spokesman for the Air Pollution Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The environmental groups, however, have already sharpened their pencils for a revamp.
“The new regulations (Gov. John) Hickenlooper’s team is recommending will continue to allow significant amounts of methane to escape into Coloradoan’s air,” Progress Now’s Joe Boven stated in a news release this week. “A recent study found that air pollution is a stronger environmental cause of cancer than second-hand smoke, yet while eliminating smoking from public facilities has gained momentum, this proposal would reduce many regulations for oil and gas emissions.”
Weld Air and Water members wrote they were “bitterly disappointed” at the proposed language in the rules.
“This proposal fails to solve any of our state’s pressing air quality problems,” said Matt Sura, an attorney who is representing communities in the rule-making process, in a news release. “These regulations do nothing to address the threat of toxic emissions of oil and gas facilities that are near homes. The proposed regulations will also be ineffective at bringing down dangerous levels of smog and ozone on the Front Range, and do little to reduce methane emissions that contribute to climate change.”
Current rules regarding emissions control are tailored around reducing emissions so that 90 percent are controlled; the rules contain extensive documentation of emissions control equipment. The new rules will implement new Environmental Protection Agency rules.
“State and federal air quality laws do not currently require formal self-inspections to the degree that the state is going to propose,” said Will Allison, director of the Air Pollution Control Division, in an e-mail response to questions. “For example, the use of infrared cameras is an emerging technology that improves upon existing inspection methods. The proposal will include a statewide leak inspection and repair program to further reduce emissions and complement the existing inspection framework. The proposal will be one of the first of its kind in the country, and will significantly strengthen existing rules.”
Doug Flanders, of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said Colorado has some of the toughest regulations on the industry throughout the country.
“Common sense and innovative standards are necessary to control air pollution, which is exactly why the new EPA rules, which CDPHE’s air rulemaking will implement, are based on Colorado existing rules and regulations,” Flanders wrote in an email. “As we have found in Colorado, there are positive aspects of the draft rule that promote conservation through the capture of natural gas and the resulting emissions reductions, and while methane is not considered an ozone precursor, it is captured by these devices as well.”
The environmental groups say the draft language would only weaken existing state law because they require inspections of tanks, based on their sizes, quarterly to annually. The groups say they will advocate for monthly inspections instead.
Emission controls on oil and gas companies have been in existence for the last decade in the state, updated every few years with more restrictions, but required storage tank inspections haven’t yet been a part of the mix. Operators are required to weekly inspect their emissions control equipment, according to the existing rules.
The environmental groups say they will seek more frequent inspections, quicker turnarounds on required repairs, and greater emissions control standards for wells within a quarter mile of homes and schools.
After last month’s Front Range flooding tore through oil and gas facilities, causing some tanks to leak and even become unmoored, employees with the energy producer Encana noticed an interesting trend. Although Encana’s tanks were damaged, the company didn’t experience the kind of damage that some other companies did from trees falling on tanks or being swept into them. As it happens, Encana spokesman Doug Hock said, the company typically fences in well pads where it operates in the flooded area because its operations there tend to be in more densely populated areas. While the fences weren’t installed for flooding purposes, they ended up helping keep out debris.
“It was kind of an ah-ha, light-bulb moment to say, going forward we should do this because it helped protect those pads,” Hock said.
As the energy industry continues cleaning up after the flooding and bringing wells back on line, companies, regulators and environmental advocates are all looking increasingly at what lessons can be learned from the disaster — what went wrong, what went right, and what can be done to reduce problems in the case of future flooding. Eventually, this consideration will likely turn to what possibly should be required of the industry in the future, including in terms of floodplain and riparian regulations.
“I’d like to see us get a stakeholder group together to evaluate and assess the floods and also see what worked, what didn’t work, what we can make better” in terms of oil and gas operations, said state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat who earlier this year got legislation passed tightening oil and gas spill reporting requirements.
Alan Gilbert, special assistant for flood response to state Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King, said while it’s still early, the department and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff are evaluating how things went during the flood and what can be improved in the future, including possibly through new regulations.
“We take that very seriously. We think that’s true, we should do that and that’s what we will do,” he said.
Photos of floating tanks and reports of leaks alarmed Front Range residents concerned about oil and gas drilling there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who shares some residents’ general concerns over drilling, called in late September for a congressional hearing on the flood-induced oil and gas damage.
“Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public health disasters,” he said in announcing that request.
More recently, though, state health officials reported no evidence of pollutants from oil and gas spills in rivers and streams affected by flooding, even as it found in some areas high levels of E. coli from sewage contamination. That contamination amounted to many millions of gallons, whereas as of Friday 47,106 gallons of oil and 28,149 gallons of produced water from drilling were reported spilled.
Gilbert voiced some relief over no single catastrophic release or cumulative collection of spilled oil or other contaminants being found so far.
“It’s an emergency and a tragedy and a terrible situation but this aspect of it is on the side where we are grateful for less rather than more contamination and releases,” he said.
Although the sheer volume of floodwaters heavily diluted what spills occurred, oil and gas activist Dave Devanney of Battlement Mesa said he shares the concerns of Front Range residents about what happened there.
“Any time you have volatile organic compounds and … chemicals in the waterways, that’s an issue. No matter how much it’s diluted it’s still there, and I think it’s something that the oil and gas conservation commission should be taking a look at and ensuring that there’s adequate protections for future oil and gas development at or near water sources.”
He noted last winter’s natural gas liquids leak from a pipeline leaving a Williams gas processing plant outside Parachute. Contamination reached Parachute Creek and threatened the Colorado River.
“We don’t want to see that happen again,” he said.
Devanney believes preventing such problems means having the oil and gas commission take up the issue of riparian setbacks, which were unfinished business from its comprehensive 2008 rules rewrite, except for setbacks it established to protect municipal water supplies.
“The events of the last few weeks on the Front Range demonstrate that it’s an important topic that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Devanney said.
Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, agrees.
“I mean, this is just an unfinished topic of conversation,” he said. “… If this isn’t a wake-up call to take a look at those issues I don’t know what would be.”
Noble Energy, which like Encana also has operations in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, reported four floodwater-related releases totaling about 9,000 gallons. But it also points to several things it believes minimized flood-related damage, including proactive emergency response training of more than 150 workers on the Front Range, and automatic technology that let it shut in 85 percent of its wells remotely, with almost all the rest being manually shut in by the time the water reached flood level.
“Overall, our equipment held up amazingly well and was a testament to our engineering and facility design,” the company said in an emailed response to inquiries for this story.
“… We believe we can successfully operate in the flood plain, as proven by this event. We are in the process of evaluating our operations in and around flood plains, and we’re working with the state of Colorado and all stakeholders on how we can improve future preparedness. We will use lessons learned to create new best management practices in those areas.”
WELL DAMAGE SLIGHT
Gilbert said the industry’s proactive effort to shut in wells ahead of the flooding, oftentimes through automated means, was a significant action because it was designed to ensure fluids aren’t moving up wells if the wells are damaged.
Of note was that damage to wells in general was relatively slight compared to the more significant tank damage that occurred, he said. And like Encana, the state has noticed the extra protection that metal fences or berms seemed to provide to tanks and other infrastructure.
“We will take a look at that in more detail and talk to everybody to find what their experiences were as well with that,” he said.
He said something else of note applied to tank batteries in wetlands. State rules require them to be tied down, but companies do so in different ways, some “relatively flimsy,” he said.
“We have noticed some of those ways have held better than others,” he said.
The degree to which it will be left to companies to apply lessons learned as they see fit, as opposed to being required to do so by state rules, is likely to be one of the decisions oil and gas regulators will be left to make.
“Why wouldn’t we require best practices? Why shouldn’t we hold the oil and gas industry to the highest possible standard?” Conservation Colorado’s Maysmith said. “I think the answer is, we should.”
Maysmith also has been critical of the state for not requiring rather than requesting information from the industry pertaining to the status of facilities potentially impacted by flooding. But Gilbert said it hasn’t mattered whether the state asked or required: “The industry is giving us the information we’re asking for.”
Mitsch Bush, who sits on the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, credited both the oil and gas commission staff and the industry for their post-flooding responses, and said it’s still too soon to know what regulatory or other changes should occur due to what the flooding has taught the state.
“I don’t want to be jumping to any conclusions. … Let’s get all the input from all the sides on what happened and get some technical assessment from (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and COGCC and really understand the impacts,” she said.
The flooding only added to the highly contentious debate over oil and gas development on the Front Range, but Encana’s Hock believes a lot of the more strident voices critical of the industry as it pertains to flood impacts “are opposed to oil and gas whether there’s a flood or not. So that really didn’t change anything.”
For Maysmith, things such as the flooding and the Parachute Creek contamination demonstrate the need to protect an important natural resource in the West.
“We’ve got to be asking ourselves, are we doing all we can to protect our water sources?” he said.
He worries when he sees well pads close to creeks, and knows tanks can be knocked over or other things can cause leaks and benzene and other toxic substances to reach waterways.
“That says we have a problem. That says we don’t have this figured out,” he said.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
While ruptured oil and gas infrastructure was part of the problem when it came to the recent Front Range flooding, the energy industry also was part of the solution in terms of providing flood relief. Companies have contributed more than $2 million to American Red Cross relief efforts. Some of the donations initially were prompted by a $500,000 contribution by Noble Energy, a major Front Range oil and gas developer that also has operations in Garfield County. Noble challenged other Colorado Oil & Gas Association members to match its gift and raise a total of $1 million, an amount that now has been more than doubled.
At last report, donations by COGA members had reached about $2.15 million. That doesn’t include donations from company employees or company matches for those donations. It also doesn’t include relief-related contributions from companies who are not members of COGA, such as Encana, which contributed $250,000 to local United Way entities and other organizations assisting in relief. Some of the COGA-member contributors with Western Slope operations include Chevron ($250,000), ConocoPhillips ($200,000), Whiting Petroleum ($100,000), Bill Barrett Corp. ($25,000), Marathon Oil Co. ($10,000), Calfrac ($5,000) and Black Hills Exploration and Production ($2,500). Utility Xcel Energy gave $50,000.
“Their members have been a very generous supporter of our flood relief as well as donating to our general disaster relief over the last month,” said Patricia Billinger, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Colorado.
She said her organization’s flood-relief costs alone at this point are around $7 million, and it has received flood-designated donations of about $4 million. But general-relief donations also have helped enable the organization to respond to continuing other needs such as families left homeless by house fires.
“The recovery process is going to be long, and for some, very difficult,” Michael DeBerry, area manager for a business unit of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., a Chevron subsidiary with operations in Colorado, said in a news release. “We want the people who have been affected by these devastating storms to know that they are in our hearts. With longstanding ties to Colorado, we hope this donation eases the hardship.”
COGA has said that in cases in which companies’ personnel and equipment could be freed up, they were made available for rescue and relief efforts, such as by providing pumps, trucks and earth-moving equipment to affected communities.
Noble says its employees bought and delivered 14 truck- and SUV-loads of relief supplies for one shelter, and served meals three times a day for five days at shelters in Greeley and Evans, and 60 of its workers processed and sorted 57,000 pounds of food in a day for the Weld County Food Bank. The company and a contractor also provided 200 portable toilets in Evans, where a no-flush rule was in effect.
The company also has matched $40,000 in employee donations.
“We have 450 employees who live and work in the Greeley area, where we have operated more than 30 years — we are committed for the long-term,” Noble said in a prepared statement.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
In Northern Colorado, estimates have put water recycling levels at just 2 percent of water used for fracking.
Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL), for example, has recycled about 2 percent of its water so far this year, or 600,000 barrels, said Adam Prior, technical water specialist for the company. Noble Energy, one of the largest oil companies in Northern Colorado, is working with CSU to improve its water recycling capabilities, but most of its water still comes from water wells and ponds.
“It’s not economical right now,” Prior told an audience at the 2013 Natural Gas Symposium on Wednesday. The CSU event drew hundreds of people from the oil and gas industry, environmentalists and students.
Prior was one of three panelists who spoke about the barriers to water recycling in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which includes Northern Colorado. The low cost of fresh water, prevalence of wells used by companies to dispose of used fracking to dispose of used fracking water, recycling infrastructure challenges and a lack of regulations have led to lower water-recycling levels in the region, panelists said…
Noble has improved its water-recycling program since 2011, when all of its water came from cities. Today, about 80 percent of Noble Energy’s water comes from ponds and wells, 18 percent comes from cities and 2 percent is recycled…
Increased water recycling by companies can improve people’s opinion of oil and gas companies, said David Ellerbroek, vice president of MWH Global, an engineering company focused on water.
Click here for the pitch.
From The National Geographic (Bill Chameides):
…a paper published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology by Nathaniel Warner formerly of Duke University and colleagues focuses on another of those environmental costs: disposal of wastewater.
Hydraulic fracturing, as the term implies, involves water — both at the front end with fracking fluid, the water-based chemical cocktail that is injected into the shale, and at the back end where there is flowback water and produced water.
Flowback water (which literally “flows back” during the fracking process) is a mixture of fracking fluid and formation water (i.e., water rich in brine from the targeted shale gas-rich rock). Once the chemistry of the water coming out of the well resembles the rock formation rather than the fracking fluid, it is known as produced water and can continue to flow as long as a well is in operation…
As a general rule, you would not want to take a shower much less drink flowback or formation water, nor would you want to just pour the stuff into a river or stream (although that has been known to happen, as described here and here). Fracking wastewater can contain massive amounts of brine (salts), toxic metals, and radioactivity. And so the gas companies have a problem: what to do with the stuff.
Ideally, the water would be reused or recycled, eliminating the need for immediate disposal. And indeed there is a lot of that. In the Marcellus Shale gas country of Pennsylvania, for example, a large percentage of the water, in the vicinity of 70 percent, is currently reused. And methods to reuse more are being developed. Even so, that leaves a massive amount of toxic wastewater to be disposed of.
One disposal route is injection into deep wells, and a good deal of flowback and produced water from the Marcellus Shale is transported to Ohio for just such a deep burial. But this method has its own problems — the injection process has the inconvenient habit of causing an earthquake every now and again.
Another alternative is waste treatment: removing the contaminants and then dumping the“clean” water into a nearby sewer or river. But you can’t use a standard municipal water treatment plant to treat flowback and produced water as those facilities are just not designed to handle the level of contamination, especially radioactivity, found in these waters.
But there are so-called brine treatment plants that are at least in principle equipped to handle that level of contamination. Although they’ve been in use for quite some time to treat water from conventional oil and gas operations, many facilities of this type have been found lacking and some have even incurred fines for failure to meet Clean Water Act or other regulatory standards.
From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):
As floodwater started to rise Sept. 11, some oil and gas operators began shutting wells and securing facilities. It would be five days before state regulators announced their plans. “Did the state have a disaster plan for the oil and gas fields?” asked Bruce Baziel, energy program director of the environmental group Earthworks. “It was hard to tell.”
From the start, state oil and gas regulators were gathering information and passing it on to the incident commander overseeing disaster response, said Alan Gilbert, a Colorado Department of Natural Resources official. “That’s our role as a technical agency,” Gilbert said.
Throughout the weekend, oil companies were providing information on their operations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “Demands on us to be transparent were high,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group.
Yet as pictures of bubbling pipes, spouting wells and floating tanks began to appear on social media, fears rose about what was happening in the flooded oil fields.
On Sept. 16, as the flood covered parts of the oil-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin, additional steps to assess impacts were announced by the oil and gas commission staff. “We intend to compile an ongoing spreadsheet with the status of operations,” said Matt Lepore, executive director of the commission.
Regulations require operators to report spills, but for the rest Lepore asked for voluntary cooperation of the industry on assessing the status of all wells. “In the middle of a disaster, it strikes me that this ought to have been required,” said Peter May-smith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “If it wasn’t required by regulation, the governor should have issued an executive order,” May-smith said.
The steps announced were “ad hoc,” but the commission had been monitoring the situation, DNR’s Gilbert said. “We are going to have a formal review,” Gilbert said. “We’ll look at what worked and what didn’t work.”
Within days, the commission had about 18 inspectors in the field checking sites. The commission used its mapping capabilities to identify wells and facilities in floodplains and focus on those. About 1,500 wells were identified in the floodplains of the South Platte and other Front Range rivers, Gilbert said.
“For years, conservation groups have pressed for limited drilling in floodplains, and the state and the industry have fought it,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action. “Part of this wasn’t a natural disaster but a man-made disaster,” Wockner said.
The industry estimated that at the height of the flooding, 1 ,900 wells were shut in — there are more than 20,000 wells in the basin.
State inspectors have counted 14 “notable releases,” primarily from overturned or damaged tanks, accounting for 1,042 barrels (43,764 gallons) of petroleum products. There also were 13 releases of produced water — which contains well impurities — totaling 430 barrels (18,060 gallons), according to the state.
“That’s thousands of gallons of pollutants poisoning our waterways,” Wockner said. “It isn’t something to be dismissed.”
By Thursday, inspectors had covered 90 percent of the wells and facilities in the floodplains, Gilbert said.
“When you have an industrial activity of this scale, you need clear contingency plans,” said Conservation Colorado’s May-smith. “A clear plan in advance.”
In their review, state officials will evaluate how effective the regulations were in preventing flood spills and whether reporting was adequate and the emergency plans adequate, Gilbert said. Could that lead to new rules or plans? “That is what we are going to look at,” Gilbert said.
Still, in the face of a 500-year flood , state and industry officials contended the performance was good.
“It was chaos — 11,000 homes, 200 miles of road, destroyed,” the Oil and Gas Association’s Schuller said. “You can’t plan for that. You just have to be flexible and responsive.”