Energy Pipeline: Produced water from drilling sites may have other beneficial uses — The Greeley Tribune

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

From The Greeley Tribune (Tracy Hume):

Most of the produced water coming out of exploration and production operations in Weld County ends up being disposed of in one of 39 injection wells in the county. The produced water is injected back into the earth, thousands of feet deep, never to be used again.

Water quality expert Gary Beers thinks that’s a waste, and he is on the front lines of a growing movement to examine the economic and environmental benefits of treating and re-using produced water from oil and gas operations. Beers’ company, Industrial Water Permitting and Recycling Consultants, LLC, helps operators navigate Colorado’s complex regulatory environment and permitting processes to find better uses for produced water than just throwing it away.

“I was born and raised in southern Arizona, where water is very scarce,” Beers said, “I guess that planted the seed of being very concerned about not wasting water.”

Beers’ interest in water led him to pursue several degrees in the field, including a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of Arizona and a doctorate in aquatic ecology from Utah State University. He established his consulting firm after a long career in the water quality field, including stints with the Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver and nearly 10 years in the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. His extensive experience on the regulatory side helps him to help operators identify and navigate the obstacles that impede beneficial use of produced water.

One of those obstacles is the public perception of produced water as “contaminated.” According to Beers, a lot of people “don’t understand that E&P (exploration and production) waste is just a category that’s used to identify any type of waste material generated while they’re drilling and producing oil and gas.

“But just because it is labeled ‘E&P waste’ doesn’t mean the water is polluted or anything; it just says that’s where it came from,” Beers said, “You can have E&P waste that’s very clean, or you can have E&P waste that’s contaminated. There is a lot of variability.”

Produced water comes in two main types, each with distinctive characteristics that have implications for beneficial use. The first type of water to return from a well, called “flowback,” is the water used to facilitate the initial drilling process, and may include traces of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. The second type, “formation water,” is the water that is part of the original geological formation and is brought to the surface in the course of oil and gas production.

“Most of the produced water people talk about is the long-term formation water that’s brought up as the well is producing oil and gas,” Beers said. “The quality of the initial flowback water can change, because of the different chemicals used in drilling and other factors, but the quality of the formation water is pretty consistent, depending upon the original geological formation.”

Some operators in the DJ Basin have taken steps to treat and re-use produced water, including flowback water, for hydraulic fracturing. Flowback water may include chemical additives and total dissolved solids, but it typically includes fewer salts than formation water, making it easier to treat for industry re-use.

Concord Produced Water Services is a produced water treatment provider that Beers has worked with in the DJ Basin. Among the services Concord offers is mobile recycling units, which can be taken out into the field to treat flowback and produced water for re-use.

Re-use of produced water within industry operations is, in some ways, the most straightforward beneficial use to implement. When operators re-use produced water within their own organizations, it minimizes the number of regulatory hoops that have to be negotiated. Furthermore, the public typically supports industry re-use of produced water because it reduces the industry’s impact on public water supplies.

“There’s a lot of controversy around the issue of using fresh water supplies, such as surface water or shallow ground water, for hydraulic fracturing,” Beers said. “The use of public water to supply the oil and gas industry is a continuing issue in Weld County.”

The possibilities of treatment and re-use could make it possible for the industry to decrease its reliance on municipal water sources.

“There have been significant efforts to ramp up re-use practices in Weld County,” Beers said, pointing out that “in theory, the demand for water for hydraulic fracturing in Weld County could be met by recycling all the produced water five times over.”

Another possibility for beneficial use of produced water is dust suppression. Many rural communities with high numbers of dirt roads use significant amounts of water to mitigate dust and maintain roads. Some communities have begun exploring the idea of using produced water, particularly formation water, for this purpose.

“The deeper formations were laid down when the land was almost totally dominated by oceans,” Beers explained, “so produced water from these marine sediments typically has a high concentration of salts.” Interestingly, the composition of these briny produced waters is similar to the composition of common commercial magnesium chloride solutions municipalities use for dust control on unpaved roads. Beers sees an opportunity there.

“Many counties in Colorado spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for commercial magnesium chloride solutions,” Beers said, despite the fact that the produced water coming out of the oil fields might serve the same purpose.

However, this particular beneficial use is quite a bit trickier to implement. The beneficial use of produced water is overseen by a complex network of regulatory agencies including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and county permitting processes. Which regulations and permitting processes apply is contingent upon variables such as the produced water source; the composition of the water; whether the water has been treated, how it has been treated, and by whom; and the proposed use.

Beers finds irony in the fact that despite the similarities in composition between commercial magnesium chloride products and produced water (brine), there are virtually no regulatory hurdles to using a commercial magnesium chloride solution for dust suppression, but there are numerous regulatory hurdles to using produced water for the same purpose, because it is classified as industrial waste.

“Let’s say you’re going to buy ‘Compound X’ for dust suppression,” Beers said. “The company is required to disclose what chemicals they put in their solution. If you look at that, they’ll say so much magnesium chloride, etc. Then they’ll say ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ ingredients and they won’t disclose what they are. So you don’t know.

“But if you were going to use produced water,” Beers said, “you would have to get state approval to do that. You would have to analyze hundreds of compounds and disclose what each of those were. So if you were going to buy the magnesium chloride solution from a commercial guy, he would say, ‘Well, it only has salt in it and a bunch of stuff which I can’t tell you.’ And then you look at the produced water and say, ‘Look at all of the things they found in it!’ Whether those components are harmful or not.

“Nine times out of ten the buyer will say, ‘I’m not going to get that produced water because it’s got all these weird things in it.’ But I’ve done some side-by-side testing and there are a lot of materials in the commercial products that they should tell you about, but they don’t, because they don’t have to,” Beers said.

The bottom line is, “it’s an uneven playing field, because recycled products, like produced water, have regulatory baggage and they have to disclose everything, unlike commercial products,” he said.

Beers sees the possibility of change on the horizon.

The industry is starting to acknowledge the economic benefits of water re-use. Treating and re-using water in the field cuts down on the cost of purchasing water and transporting it to the site. Treating produced water and using it for dust suppression, or similar beneficial uses, even holds the potential of turning an industry expense, such as disposal of produced water, into a revenue stream, such as selling treated produced water to municipalities.

Stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies, are also beginning to discuss streamlining permitting processes to make it easier to recycle produced water and use it for beneficial purposes. In January of this year, the Colorado Energy Office and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University convened 65 stakeholders from the Grand Junction community to talk about re-use projects on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Beers said he believes that with enough education, the public, too, will begin to see the benefits of treating and using produced water.

“A lot of people are looking at beneficial uses for produced water,” Beers said, “it’s just a matter of having a few on-the-ground projects to show people that it does work and that it can be done.”

More oil and gas coverage here.

Huerfano County: Shell fails to convince the Division of Water Resources that produced water is non-tributary


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An oil company’s claim for underground water near Gardner in Huerfano County was rejected last month by the state.

Shell Oil argued produced water from planned drilling is non-tributary, meaning it could be claimed for other uses. Produced water refers to excess water that nearly always accompanies oil and gas drilling operations.

But the Colorado Division of Water Resources said Shell failed to prove its case, in an initial report. Shell has until Aug. 22 to appeal the finding.

Shell’s consultant, AMEC, failed to consider local geologic factors that connect as well as separate the deep Niobrara shale formation with the natural stream system, according to a decision written by Ralf Topper and Matthew Sares of the hydrogeological services section of the division.

Shell’s application was opposed by Citizens for Huerfano County, a group of about 450 local residents and 600 total members that advocates for clean water and air.

“We’re contending that the water is connected because of the vertical dikes in the particular geology of the area,” said Jeff Briggs, president of the citizens group.

Shell made the claims for water underlying three 25,000-acre tracts known as the Seibert, State and Fortune federal units. It plans to drill 7,000 feet deep with horizontal fracturing at a depth of 5,000 feet.

That plan troubles area residents because of past contamination from drilling, Briggs said.

“We feel the state Legislature and executive branch have tried to facilitate as much oil and gas exploration as possible,” Briggs said. “I think what we are saying is that the decision by all levels of government and the oil and gas industry to go all in on fracking was economic and political and not scientific or medical.”

However the Huerfano County decision might not have statewide implications because it applies to specific geologic conditions found in the Spanish Peaks area.

A nontributary designation has advantages for a driller, because containing produced water for either direct use, treatment or deep injection would not require finding other sources to augment stream depletions

More coalbed methane coverage here.

‘Colorado Supreme Court rules against holders of vested water rights inside and outside of an Indian reservation’ — Lexology

Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources
Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

From Lexology (Daniel C. Wennogle):

In 2010 a group of water rights holders in Colorado raised a constitutional challenge to certain rules promulgated by the Colorado State Engineer’s Office regarding the designation of certain ground water resources as “nontributary.” The particular groundwater resources were located, in part on an Indian reservation, and the State Engineer’s determination was a part of an effort to promulgate rules regarding the permitting and regulation of oil and gas wells that extract groundwater in Colorado.**

The rule in dispute, referred to as the “Fruitland Rule,” was part of a set of “Final Rules” promulgated by the State Engineer under its authority granted by HB 09-1303, codified at C.R.S. § § 37-90137, 37-90-138(2), and 37-92- 308(11) (C.R.S. 2009). The Fruitland Rule related to underground water in a geologic formation called the Fruitland Formation, which extends into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Final Rules, which included the Fruitland Rule, contained a provision stating:

These rules and regulations shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over nontributary ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as recognized in Pub. L. No 98-290, § 3, 98 Stat. 201 (1984).

The Plaintiffs argued that the above-quoted provision in the Final Rules effectively divested the State Engineer from having jurisdiction to, among other things, designate water as nontributary in its rulemaking process. The trial court had agreed with this position, and stated that the State Engineer did not prove its authority. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the State Engineer’s authority came from HB 09-1303, which “authorized the State Engineer to promulgate the Final Rules to delineate nontributory groundwater extracted in oil and gas production throughout the state” of Colorado.

The Court of Appeals held that nothing about the above- quoted statement in the Final Rules did or could divest the State Engineer of this authority.

The Court of Appeals noted that its decision would not prevent a constitutional challenge to the Fruitland Rule based upon discriminatory application, if facts warranted.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

‘The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it’ — J. Paul Brown


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.

Coalbed Methane: ‘The reason I go to meetings like this is so someone might listen to me’ — Brett Corsentino


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For most of two days, Brett Corsentino sat quietly listening to theoretical discussions about the relationship of oil and gas drilling to water. For him, however, there is a much more direct and personal link. Toward the end of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, he spoke up about how he believes gas drilling has brought tainted water from under the ground and to the surface, where it ruined his land. He also feels he has hit a brick wall trying to get the state to make things right. “The reason I go to meetings like this is so someone might listen to me,” Corsentino said.

Instead, he got into a public argument with Peter Gintautas, an environmental protection specialist from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “We have a difference of opinion over whether remediation on my land has failed,” Corsentino said. “Not a single representative from COGCC has come out to verify that remediation has taken place.”

“The agency has taken its final action, and offered other courses of action if you disagreed with staff,” Gintautas replied.

For Corsentino, it was another in a long string of disappointments. A fourth-generation dairy farmer, he milks about 400 head of cattle and employs 14 at his dairy east of Walsenburg. Over nearly a decade, beginning in 1998, Petroglyph Energy pumped about 100,000 acre-feet of highly saline water into the Cucharas River while exploring for gas. The company agreed to some remediation by supplying gypsum to reduce salinity, but Corsentino still is dealing with the damage. “They say it will take time and a lot of water to reverse the damage. I don’t have either,” Corsentino said, while giving a windshield tour of the 300 acres of fields that lie fallow.

A reservoir above the fields is dry, partly because of a three-year drought, but also — Corsentino believes — because the gas drillers took so much water out of the aquifer. He also blames poor water quality for low resistance to tuberculosis, which infected his entire herd a few years ago. He is now building a new herd. “This problem continues and I just want to know what a person is supposed to do,” Corsentino said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two tables side-by-side outside the meeting room at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week told the story. One table featured an array of handouts touting the benefits of produced water, monitoring programs by Norwest on behalf of Pioneer Natural Resources and pleas for science-based watershed protection. The other counteracted the display next door with informational handouts from groups that highlighted the dangers of fracking, warned about health concerns from produced water and expressed alarm at how much water could be used.

Inside the meeting room, proponents and opponents of gas drilling shared the stage. “There are issues of water quality and quantity,” said Alan Curtis, a partner in the White-Jankowski law firm, who highlighted the dangers of oil and gas drilling. Locally, those include wells that had exploded, caught fire or have caused pollution. The current practices of oil companies involve using large amounts of dangerous chemicals that companies try to downplay by talking about percentages, he said. White-Jankowski, in the 2009 Vance v. Wolfe case, obtained a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state engineer to administer oil and gas wells in the same way that water wells are regulated.

From other presentations, it became clear that state regulation is fragmented when it comes to water and gas drilling. In one session, staff members of the Division of Water Resources and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were unable to answer some questions from local concerned citizens, because they involved the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission instead.

Industry spokeswoman Sarah Landry sought to dispel “myths” about fracking, saying hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells goes back to 1947. She said the chemicals used in the process are the same type as found in most households. While some opponents say there are hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals in use, less than a dozen might be employed at any given drilling operation, she explained.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

‘They ruined my way of life, and the state agencies turned a mute ear to my complaints’ — Brett Corsentino


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The damage to farm ground caused by water released from gas wells has been lasting while state protection has proven elusive for Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino. “I can’t raise feed and I can’t hold anyone accountable. The bottom line is that the state agencies failed to protect me,” Corsentino said. “It’s all about the money these gas companies have. There’s no way to pierce the corporate veil.”

Corsentino farms is in the Cucharas River basin, which is north of the Apishapa and Purgatoire river basins where oil and gas exploration is most active in Southern Colorado. Pioneer Energy and XTO Energy are active in the lower watersheds. They are engaged in studies to show the water quality is sufficient in some cases for release into streams. Some landowners in the Apishapa and Purgatoire watersheds have asked the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to allow CBM releases.

But Corsentino said he was blind-sided by releases from Petroglyph Energy that began in the Cucharas basin in the late 1990s. He claims the water was high in salts and barium, which broke down the soil on his farm. “I used that water and put it on my fields, but didn’t know about (the releases) until 2006,” he said.

The productivity of his soil fell to one-third of its former level, and one-time soil amendments were paid for by Petroglyph. But the state never followed up with testing, and the Oil and Gas Commission said he had proven damage. “It was a joke. Sucks to be me,” Corsentino said.

His warning to other landowners is clear. “There have been four generations of my family here since my greatgrandfather came over from Sicily in 1905. It’s a hard life. We’ve taken care of the ground and it’s taken care of us,” Corsentino said. “We’ve gone through a reorganization, and I’ve lost the equity. At this point, I just want to be able to raise feed for my animals.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some Las Animas County farmers and ranchers in the Apishapa River basin are concerned that releases of water from oil and gas drilling could render cropland useless. They want water tested — and even treated — before it is released into the river system, saying the danger of increased salinity outweighs any benefit of more water during a drought. “Our main concern is that what happened in Huerfano County doesn’t happen to our soil,” said Gary Waller, who holds senior water rights for fields he irrigates near Aguilar. “We want to be proactive and make sure we do not get contaminated.”

Ken Valentine, whose family irrigates further up in the basin, said a spring above one of its fields was potentially contaminated by a release from coal-bed methane drilling last year. He is also alarmed that CBM water is routinely sprayed on gravel roads throughout the area. “The water should be treated before it’s released into the watershed, either at the company’s expense or those people who are using it for things like livestock ponds,” Valentine said.

They want to avoid the types of troubles Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino experienced when Petroglyph Energy dumped CBM water into the Cucharas River in the late 1990s. Water high in salinity and barium ruined his farm ground. “I was harvesting 18-21 tons of corn silage per acre before, and it dropped to six tons after,” Corsentino said. “They ruined my way of life, and the state agencies turned a mute ear to my complaints.”

While the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission required Petroglyph to stop dumping water in 2006 and to help Corsentino try to restore farmland, it ruled in 2011 that Petroglyph no longer had any liability. All say the state should be insisting the water produced by Pioneer Natural Gas in the Apishapa River basin is either of equal quality to surface water, and reinjected into deep wells if it fails to meet standards.

While some in the area contend the water is suitable for livestock and wildlife, the farmers fear it will contaminate their fields — particularly during a drought when there is less natural surface water to dilute the effects. “If the water is good, it should be utilized,” Waller said. “But if it’s not, it will get into the groundwater and onto our place eventually.”

Meanwhile, oil and gas producers in the Purgatorie River watershed have asked the state to relax standards for discharged water. Here’s a report from Steve Block writing for The Trinidad Times. Here’s an excerpt:

A leader of a regional environmental protection group said she’s deeply concerned about the possible lowering of water quality standards in the Purgatoire River Watershed, and asked the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners to write a letter to the Colorado Water Quality Commission, protesting the potential change.

Paula Ozzello of the Southern Colorado Environmental Council (SCEC) spoke at Tuesday’s board work session about the potential dangers of the reduction in water quality standards.

Ozzello, chairperson of SCEC, said XTO Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources have proposed to the commission a reduction in water quality standards for the Lower Arkansas River Basin, specifically the Purgatoire River Watershed and the Apishapa Watershed. She said the XTO and Pioneer proposal would reduce the surface water quality standard, by increasing the allowable level of boron in water used for agricultural purposes from its present level of 0.75 milligrams (mg) per million to a new, and higher, standard of 5.0 mg per million.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award


Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.