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.


Brighton works with oil and gas drillers to protect water — The Greeley Tribune

September 10, 2014

Wattenburg Field

Wattenburg Field


From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

For almost a month last spring, Brighton business owners found out just how important the oil and gas industry was to their town. In March, shortly after the Brighton City Council put a four-month moratorium on oil and gas development — to some residents and business owners, seemingly out of the blue, with no pending applications for development — the oil and gas industry reacted, showing the tiny town what that could mean economically.

“You have people like us, the motels, the restaurants, all these people who were doing a lot of business with oil and gas here, going ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing poking a stick in the eye of the major industry here?’” said Steve Whiteside, owner of Whiteside’s Clothing and Boots, 855 E. Bridge St., Brighton, who supplies energy employees with their industry-required flame-resistant clothing in town. “Yeah, we felt the effects.”

The ill-timed ban seemed to punctuate the moratoriums and bans that were ongoing throughout the Front Range, with five votes in the previous election in November 2013. But Brighton was the first such city to induce the rancor of oil and gas-related businesses that helped fuel the local economy.

The move prompted a bit of an uprising, and some local oil and gas-related businesses opted to do business elsewhere. Weeks later, the council rescinded the order under assurances from the industry that they would not submit any applications for development, so the city could buy time to study the effects it could have on its unique municipal water system that is almost entirely reliant on a series of shallow groundwater wells, ditches and streams in and around Barr Lake.

In that time, the city worked out a deal with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, creating an order that creates larger setbacks surrounding those wells and natural waterways that supply Brighton’s water. The new boundaries extend setbacks beyond state rules because of the unique circumstances.

“We met with operators, outlined the desire to protect the water System … then fleshed out details,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission in late July. “It’s taken the better part of two months. It’s been a collaborative process, again with various stakeholders engaged in the process all the way.”

TIMEOUT

For many who hadn’t been completely advised on the city’s happenings, a four-month ban on oil and gas drilling seemed almost ridiculous given where they were — almost in the heart of the Wattenberg Field, where oil and gas drilling had been a mainstay since the field was discovered in 1970.

Kristen Chernosky, spokeswoman for the city, said it wasn’t really a ban. Chernosky wouldn’t answer questions other than through email and city officials deferred comment on the situation to her. It turns out the apparent knee-jerk reaction wasn’t so much about fear-mongering as it was a legitimate concern for the city’s water supply. The council opted for the “timeout” after hearing the industry’s intention in town, Chernosky wrote.

“Residents within the city of Brighton have been receiving leasing offers from the oil and gas industry,” Chernosky wrote. “The city also receives frequent notices from the COGCC about drilling applications in our area. … As a result of the dramatic increase in oil and gas activity in our area, the city of Brighton put forward a four-month “timeout” to allow us to revise our oil and gas regulations.

“Our oil and gas regulations had not been revised for eight years. The city council believed the timeout was unnecessary after the industry agreed to give the city time to update our regulations by voluntarily refraining from proposing oil and gas development within the city limits.”

THE BAN

Reaction to the event, however, was pronounced and potentially fueled by a growing resentment of an anti-industry sentiment across the Front Range. For those working in the oil and gas industry, as a matter of fact, it was time to do business someplace else.

“Some of the oil related businesses took offense in a big way and said to the city of Brighton, ‘If that’s your attitude about our industry, then we won’t do business in your town anymore,’” Whiteside said. “The whole kerfuffle got squared away, but it came to blows a bit.”

But in the two weeks it took to lift that temporary timeout, local businesses felt the pain.

Holly Hansen, president/CEO of the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce, noticed the effects almost immediately. Soon, her members were calling.

“I eat out in Brighton probably every day. And if you go on a normal lunch hour almost anywhere, you’ll see a long line of oil and gas employees,” Hansen said.

Hansen said officials at Halliburton and Conoco-Phillips tried to get the city to back off its moratorium to no avail. Word came down to employees. Brighton was suddenly off limits.

“There was just nothing,” Hansen said. “It was dead. … Something didn’t feel quite right. I had downtown merchants who weren’t really following what was going on (at city hall), in the first couple of days, saying, ‘I’m $1,000 down from last year at this time. What’s going on?’”

The oil and gas industry in that area of southern Weld County is huge. Halliburton, which is an oil and gas service company working with the likes of Anadarko Petroleum, has a massive facility just a couple of miles north in Fort Lupton, and had recently invested more than $40 million to stay in the area, after initially seeking to move further north in the county.

Several oil and gas employees had called Brighton home, and the time they spent away from Brighton business had an impact. The town also was reliant on other industry-related businesses.

“There was a gas station in town that had a sign saying, “We love Halliburton,” said Jared Whipple, an area resource coordinator for Halliburton, on a recent lunch at the Philly Cheese Steak at the Pavillions in downtown Brighton.

Shortly after the industry showed its collective might, the council agreed to rescind the ban. Meanwhile, the city would get to work with the COGCC on the concerns of its water system.

“Actually, as soon as the (measure) was revoked, business did come back to Brighton, and that made companies really happy,” Hansen said. “But also, and I talked at length with folks from Halliburton, they made it clear they appreciated Brighton and the support the town gives to families of employees. The overall kind of lesson was that oil and gas has to work in tangent with the city because it’s such an important industry.”

Business owners, while lauding any agreement the city could make, feel that cloud has lifted.

“From a business point of view, it was a bit shortsighted,” Whiteside said of the council’s ban. “It was presumptive, and I’m sure all with good intentions. But you know, people that aren’t really involved in (oil and gas) business maybe don’t realize how business works. It’s just such a key part of the economy in the area.

“It was a little frustrating, but government oftentimes proves they’re really disconnected from what’s reality. I’d think in this particular issue, they might have stopped and talked to a few people first.”

Small business owner Gary Mikes, who was opposed to any ban, spoke out against it to the council.

“It just sends a message that, ‘We don’t want your business, go away,’” said Mikes, who said his refrigeration business wasn’t directly affected by the temporary ban. “I look at it as a microcosm of what will happen statewide if we vote for no oil and gas exploration. These people will pack up and go to other places like Texas and Oklahoma, and we’ll be left holding our hands with nothing.”

The event laid the groundwork the city council was looking for in protecting the city’s unique water resources.

A NEW DAY

Brighton’s water system includes about 11 shallow groundwater wells near ponds and Barr Lake, both of which serve as water storage for the town, as well as some streams and ditches that are integral parts of the city’s water supply, COGCC Director Matt Lepore told the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at its monthly meeting held July 28 in Greeley.

“The circumstances in Brighton are unique,” Lepore said. “The regulatory agencies have crafted a unique response and solution that is appropriate we believe in these circumstances. The intent is this is a site-specific response to these set of circumstances.”

The agreement — which is not intended in any way to set a precedent for other municipalities throughout the state — will prohibit drilling around several natural water sources and shallow groundwater wells that make up a majority of the city’s municipal water system.

The commission unanimously approved the order preventing drilling from 500 feet around water wells and 300 feet from the city’s many streams, ponds and ditches, all of which make up about 70 percent of the city’s water.

Lepore explained that the agreement also called for groundwater sampling — once before and twice after drilling — for all drilling locations within a half-mile of water wells or from 301 to 500 feet of a river or a stream, or a ditch.

“All the parties with a stake in this have been engaged and crafted this order together and presented it as a joint presentation for approval,” Lepore told the commission. “This represents a great partnership between the state, municipality and operators. We all came together, worked hard and identified the issue, and we’re pleased to put this order in front of you and ask you to adopt it.”

COGCC member Tommy Holton, who also is mayor of neighboring Fort Lupton, said he could understand the council’s concerns about drilling, especially being new and having so much mis-information out there.

He said the agreement that came out of the mess, while not at all to be used as a template for other cities, showed that all entities could work together to come up with an amicable agreement.

Mikes said he was pleased to hear that the parties could come together on a plan.

“I’m encouraged they came to compromise. It’s shows the stakeholders they can come together,” Mikes said. “It’s 100 times better than an outright ban, not even considering the economic impacts to what happens when you totally ban something.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


USGS: Tuesday is Protect Your Groundwater Day

September 9, 2014

Denver District Court Throws Out License to Build Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill—Again — @sheepmtn

September 4, 2014

Here’s the release from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary Cooper):

A Denver district judge has ruled against the license issued by the state of Colorado to Energy Fuels to construct and operate a uranium mill in Paradox Valley in western Montrose County for the second time.

In a court ruling issued Wednesday, September 3, 2014, District Judge Robert McGahey found that the hearing process for the mill, ordered by a previous judge who invalidated the license in June of 2012, did not comply with the 2012 order. In today’s order, Judge McGahey ruled that a hearing officer must review the record established at the November 2012 hearing and make an “initial decision as to whether Energy Fuels application has met all criteria under state law.” Sheep Mountain Alliance and Rocky Mountain Wild retained technical experts who presented solid evidence at the hearing to prove that Energy Fuels’ application was based on false information and that the environmental review was incomplete.

“This process has been mishandled by the state agency from the start and the district court has agreed again,” stated Hilary Cooper, executive eirector of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “If the state chooses to continue this process, it will be taking action on a 2009 application for a project that will most likely never be built.”

Sheep Mountain Alliance, a grassroots conservation group based in Telluride, Colorado, has led the effort with Rocky Mountain Wild to stop the Piñon Ridge uranium mill based on significant environmental impacts to the surrounding region. SMA filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado in February 2011 after the first radioactive materials license was issued to Energy Fuels. The Piñon Ridge mill would have been the first conventional uranium processing mill approved in the U.S. since 1980. The judge agreed with SMA’s challenge and ordered an independent hearing officer to conduct a hearing in November 2012. The hearing officer did not take action on issues raised during the hearing. Instead, the hearing officer sent the file to the state with simple direction to proceed with the license consideration. The state then issued a second license to Energy Fuels in April 2013. SMA and RMW again challenged the decision, and today’s ruling found that the hearing officer “failed to make a conclusion as to whether Energy Fuels application met all criteria for issuance of a license pursuant”.

In the meantime, Energy Fuels acquired the existing White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah, and admitted that they did not intend to build the Piñon Ridge mill because of unfavorable economic conditions and the redundancy of two mills in close proximity. In addition, Energy Fuels has entered into a contract to sell the Piñon Ridge mill property and other assets to George Glasier, the original founder of Energy Fuels, who is backed by Baobab Asset Management, Inc.

“The application lacks sufficient analysis of impacts to wildlife and the environment,” states Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “This decision is a win for the wildlife and the natural resources of this region. Our hope is that this remand will finally highlight the deficient environmental analysis included in the application.”

“The state has a clear choice to deny the Energy Fuels application and require a future developer to reapply with an updated application, which must address the conditions on the ground at that time,” states Cooper. “It’s time to release the communities of southwest Colorado from the false hope embellished by this industry for too long.”

More nuclear coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver Basin states release triennial water quality review — Casper Star-Tribune

September 3, 2014
Colorado River Basin

Colorado River Basin

From the Casper Star-Tribune (Trevor Graff):

The Colorado River Basin states are completing a required triennial review of water quality standards in that river. The forum of basin states released its report earlier in the month. As an upper basin state, Wyoming plays a large role in helping to prevent the rise of salinity in Colorado River waters.

The state’s agricultural producers can often decrease the amount of salt in the river by choosing more efficient irrigation practices that don’t use as much water.

“By reducing the salt, it reduces the damages to water users and the cost of treatments associated with salinity,” said David Waterstreet, program manager for the water quality division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. “This allows us to develop water in the upper basin states and meet our requirements with moving water to Mexico.”

Wyoming officials said the new report wouldn’t change the state’s implementation of measures aimed to curb salinity.

“The meat of it hasn’t changed in a number of years, but to fulfill the requirement of the Clean Water Act, we undergo a triennial review,” said Lindsay Patterson, natural resources program supervisor at the DEQ.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“It’s a well thought out proposal that we’ve been working on for two years” — Dennis Hisey #COpolitics

September 3, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County voters will decide in November whether to implement a fee to provide $39 million annually for stormwater protection by creating the Pikes Peaks Regional Drainage Authority. Commissioners Tuesday finalized an intergovernmental agreement and placed the issue on the ballot on a 5-0 vote.

“It’s a well thought out proposal that we’ve been working on for two years,” said Dennis Hisey, chairman of the commissioners. “It’s a vehicle that will put our stormwater protection on track with other communities throughout the state.”

The 11-member authority would include the mayor of Colorado Springs, five members appointed by Colorado Springs City Council, two members appointed by commissioners and one each from Fountain, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls.

The authority would collect up to $39 million in 2016 through fees collected on property within the Fountain Creek watershed. The fee would be determined based on impervious surface area, density, land use and ownership, according to the IGA. Over the next 20 years, the money would go toward a $700 million list of projects, and after that, a smaller fee would pay for maintenance. The average homeowner would pay about $7.70 per month.

Mayor Steve Bach opposes the fee, which he calls a tax, and has suggested alternative ways to finance improvements Colorado Spring needs and is obligated to make under its permits for the Southern Delivery System. Colorado Springs City Council supported the IGA by a 7-2 vote.

“We’re expecting a robust campaign,” Hisey said. “Any time you ask for money, there’s a need to educate the voters and make your case.”

More stormwater coverage here.


USGS: Analysis of Water Quality in the Blue River Watershed, Colorado, 1984 through 2007

August 26, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (Nancy J. Bauch, Lisa D. Miller, and Sharon Yacob):

Water quality of streams, reservoirs, and groundwater in the Blue River watershed in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado has been affected by local geologic conditions, historical hard-rock metal mining, and recent urban development. With these considerations, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Summit Water Quality Committee, conducted a study to compile historical water-quality data and assess water-quality conditions in the watershed. To assess water-quality conditions, stream data were primarily analyzed from October 1995 through December 2006, groundwater data from May 1996 through September 2004, and reservoir data from May 1984 through November 2007. Stream data for the Snake River, upper Blue River, and Tenmile Creek subwatersheds upstream from Dillon Reservoir and the lower Blue River watershed downstream from Dillon Reservoir were analyzed separately. (The complete abstract is provided in the report)

Click here to read the report.

More USGS coverage here.


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