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

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

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More oil and gas coverage here.


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

April 21, 2014

Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Pure Cycle Corporation Announces Second Fiscal Quarter 2014 Financial Results

April 14, 2014

waterfromtap

Here’s the release from Pure Cycle Water:

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


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

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

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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

April 5, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

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

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

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

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

BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

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

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


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

April 3, 2014

chemistryglassware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Colorado legislative committee OKs oil and gas health impact study — Denver Post #COleg

April 2, 2014

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