“There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination” — Ken Carlson

A schematic of possible migration pathways of contaminants, water-based and gas-phase, into the bedrock aquifer from adjacent faulty oil or gas wells.
A schematic of possible migration pathways of contaminants, water-based and gas-phase, into the bedrock aquifer from adjacent faulty oil or gas wells via Colorado State University

From Colorado State University (Anne Ju Manning):

There’s no evidence of water-based contaminants seeping into drinking water wells atop a vast oil and gas field in northeastern Colorado, according to Colorado State University scientists working to protect and inform citizens about the safety of their water.

Ken Carlson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has led a series of studies analyzing the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends north-south from Greeley to Colorado Springs, and east-west from Limon to the foothills.

The studies have been performed under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort begun last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and/or natural gas wells. The CSU researchers primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.

Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin
Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin

“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”

That isn’t to say that some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg oil and gas field aren’t compromised. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane – a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component in natural gas.

And that’s not good, Carlson said. Methane, a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive (which is why coal mines blow up, and why the movie “Gasland” portrayed flaming taps). But it’s not toxic, and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking water safety. It also is found in large quantities in the basin from naturally occurring, biogenic sources.

With regard to the really bad stuff – the bariums, chromiums and other soluble contaminants that people have been worried about getting into their water – Carlson’s team didn’t find any.

Their studies strengthen the theory that thermogenic (originating from oil and gas formations) methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around the aquifers. Well casings are the cement and steel housing around the production tubing of the oil rig. That tubing penetrates the ground, straight through the aquifer, and into the oil- and gas-rich sediment thousands of feet below.

“My guess is that most of the thermogenic methane-contaminated wells we see out there are 10 to 30 years old,” Carlson said. “Well casing requirements and monitoring have tightened up significantly since the 2009 regulations.”

The latest studies were published in Environmental Science and Technology, and in Water Research.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

A series of studies, led by CSU civil and environmental engineer professor Ken Carlson, analyzed the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends between Greeley and Colorado Springs and between Limon and the foothills.

The studies were done under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort started last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the DJ Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and natural gas wells, say CSU researchers.

Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post
Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post

They primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.

“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”

Still, some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg field are compromised, says CSU. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane — a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component of natural gas.

Methane, in addition to being a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive. Still, it’s not toxic and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking-water safety.

But other worrisome soluble contaminants — including barium and chromium — were not found by Carlson’s team.

They say that strengthens the theory that thermogenic — that which originates from oil and gas formations — methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around aquifers.

The issue: "...it's disposal of wastewater." -- Don Frick
The issue: “…it’s disposal of wastewater.” — Don Frick

“This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies” — Jeff Parsons

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A company’s application to conduct exploratory borehole drilling for uranium in the Tallahassee neighborhood west of Canon City has been denied.

The Mined Land Reclamation Board on Oct. 28 denied the application from Black Range Minerals that would have allowed development of an underground borehole extraction experiment in the Tallahassee Creek area. As presented, the application would have proceeded under the minimal requirements of a prospecting permit.

Objections to the proposal were filed by opponents including Tallahassee Area Community, Inc., Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction and the Information Network for Responsible Mining.

“Under Colorado law, the difference between prospecting activities versus mining activities equates to a big difference in how carefully regulators review the permit and how well water quality will be monitored and protected,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented the opponents and Tallahassee resident Kay Hawklee in the proceedings. “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies that haven’t yet proven they can be utilized without polluting the watershed.”

Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acres of property known as the Hansen Deposit, which is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the district.

Black Range proposed to the state to use underground borehole mining, dubbed uranium fracking. The process involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a highpressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

Black Range’s proposal submitted to the state anticipated the development of the underground borehole passing through an unconfined drinking water aquifer in the Tallahassee Creek basin, but omitted a complete water-quality monitoring plan, Parsons said.

“The proposal that Black Range Minerals submitted was so minimalist that the company didn’t even identify the location of the main borehole or the detailed water-monitoring regime normally required for mining activities,” he said.

“This was an attempt by Black Range Minerals to get its mining operation going on the quick,” said Cathe Meyrick, president of Tallahassee Area Community group. “If we’re going to have an uranium mine next door, we expect the state to require a thorough review, including a comprehensive water monitoring plan and have enough protections in place to ensure that our drinking water isn’t contaminated.”


Manitou Springs to rehab 118 year old supply line from French Creek

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The city of Manitou Springs plans to take advantage of a much-needed upgrade to an almost 120-year-old deteriorating pipeline and become a bit more environmentally and economically efficient.

A more than $3 million project to upgrade the iron pipe just entered its beginning stages. And city officials already plan to add a small hydroelectric generator to the line that brings water from French Creek on the eastern slopes of Pikes Peak and into the city’s water treatment plant.

The city began plans for the project after heavy rains in September 2013 eroded soil that covers the pipe, which was installed in 1897 and is hidden less than three feet below the Ute Pass Regional Trail.

The line was exposed in multiple places during the 2013 storms that pummeled the entire Front Range, causing roads to wash away, resulting in at least eight deaths, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and leaving some people stranded for days. The pipe sprung a couple of leaks during the torrent. The city temporarily shut off its water main for repairs. And officials became urgently concerned about just how long the three-and-a-half mile pipe will last.

“If it were to fail, there is only a couple days-worth of reserves,” said Sara Hartley, a flood recovery project manager with Manitou Springs. “This is a very high priority project.”

As city council discussed the plans earlier this year, one council woman suggested piggy-backing the hydroelectric generator onto the project.

“Coreen (Toll) brought up the idea that if we were going to replace the pipe, we might as well look into hydro,” said city administrator Jason Wells.

Just last week Manitou Springs received word from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it will receive a $3.3 million Community Development Block Grant for the pipeline project. Adding a bypass that will send water flowing through a 40-kilowatt water turbine and generate electricity is expected to add about $300,000 to the cost.

Kurt Johnson, a consultant at Telluride Energy LLC, said a pressure-reduction valve would be needed to ensure that water flowing into the treatment plant doesn’t cause damage to the facility and its controls. According to Johnson, the bypass and the water turbine will consume any extra water pressure and make good use of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.

By adding the turbine during the pipeline project, some of the costs for installing the hydro generator will be avoided, Wells said. He and Johnson also talked about potentially designing the new pipeline so it can accommodate multiple future turbines at low cost.

Hartley said that possibility has been discussed by Manitou officials. She said those details could be added to the plans in the design and construction phases of the project.

This isn’t the first time the city has explored potential benefits of hydropower. Manitou Springs did a feasibility analysis in 1990 to see if installation of a hydro generator at the treatment plant would be cost effective, Hartley said.

According to Johnson, it wasn’t until 2013 when the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama, that small hydro projects became economically feasible. Johnson said that prior to 2013, tens-of-thousands of dollars were going toward bureaucratic paperwork and trickling down to consumers. He said the bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support and has led to “small hydro innovation,” more grant money for such projects and low-interest loan availability.

Manitou Springs plans to borrow money for the hydropower supplement to the pipeline project. The turbine is expected to generate about 237,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential utility customer used just under 11,000 kilowatt-hours in 2014.

The next step for Manitou Springs is to compile preliminary plans and engineering designs and turn them over to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for an environmental review. Upon completion, a “funding obligation date” will be determined. From that date, the block grant guidelines require Manitou Springs complete the pipeline project within 24 months.

Hartley said the city will submit a Request for Proposal next year and accept bids to choose a contractor. She estimates it will be at least 10 months before construction begins on the project.

In the meantime, Manitou Springs must simply wait and hope that the 188-year-old pipe holds up.

“It’s just long overdue,” said Kirk Greasby, the city’s water treatment plant operator.

The South Canal and the future of energy — Allen Best

South Canal hydroelectric site -- via The Watch
South Canal hydroelectric site — via The Watch

From The Denver Post (Allen Best):

The South Canal was sculpted through hardscrabble hills to deliver water imported from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The water irrigates 66,000 acres of farms and orchards in the Delta-Montrose area. Emerging from a tunnel, the water drops rambunctiously in several places, with electricity-generating potential that was obvious even when William Howard Taft, our most portly of presidents, visited Montrose in 1908 to dedicate the Uncompahgre Project.

Instead of developing small, local power sources, however, electrical providers in the Delta-Montrose area turned to giant new power sources: the massive new dams of the Colorado River and ever-bigger coal-fired power plants. It was a national trend. After World War II, in response to burgeoning demand, power generation became like products from Costco: big and bigger.

In recent years, Delta-Montrose Electrical Association has challenged that paradigm. It’s among 22 electrical co-operatives in Colorado set up in the late 1930s to service primarily rural areas. Several of them — along with co-ops in other states — in 1952 created a wholesale provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State a decade ago pushed to build another giant coal-fired power plant, this time near Holcomb, Kan. It wanted commitments until mid-century from its 44 member co-ops.

Delta-Montrose, along with Kit Carson Electric, a co-operative in Taos, N.M., refused. Flattening demand has, at least for now, idled plans for the giant new coal plant.

Delta-Montrose instead set out in 2008 to develop the raw power of water in the South Canal. Two turbines able to produce 7.5 megawatts of electricity have been installed. The cost of that electricity is relatively low, 4.5 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, says Jim Heneghan, renewable energy engineer for Delta-Montrose.

Then, Percheron Power proposed to yoke the energy of a remaining 14-foot drop with a technological variation of the Archimedes screw. Would Delta-Montrose buy the power?

Yes, Delta-Montrose was interested, but it had a problem. It was already procuring 5 percent of its own power, the maximum that Tri-State policy allows member co-ops to produce on their own. So Delta-Montrose appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an agency with broad powers in the byzantine world of energy regulation. Delta-Montrose argued that a 1978 federal law trumped Tri-States’ so-called all-requirements contract. FERC agreed.

“We find that Delta-Montrose is obligated to purchase power” from the independent provider, FERC declared in June.

How about Tri-State’s 43 other members? In mid-October, FERC indicated the ruling applies to the other distribution co-operatives. Some think it may apply to others among the nation’s 840 electrical co-ops. Much depends upon whether individual co-ops choose to take advantage of the opportunity.

The FERC decision can be seen in tandem with other Colorado news of late: the debate about net-metering and Boulder’s goal of accelerating innovation and energy transformation by getting a divorce from Xcel Energy.

Even without carbon-reduction goals, market forces have been changing the energy landscape. “The cost of local generation from renewables is rapidly declining while the cost of electricity from traditional sources continues its steady rise,” says John Covert, who has worked to foster innovation of business models in the San Luis Valley.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Comments sought for decommission plan

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Public comment is being sought on a Quality Assurance Project Plan designed to help health officials oversee decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The plan establishes the requirements for environmental data collection. It can be viewed at recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm

State health officials will be accepting informal public comments until Nov. 13. Submit comments to Jennifer Opila at jennifer.opila@state.co.us.

Arctic Ocean oil and gas lease auctions canceled

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

jb Arctic Ocean oil and gas drilling is off the table for now.

Feds also deny requests for extension of current leases

Staff Report

Drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. slice of the Arctic Ocean is a no-go for the foreseeable future, federal officials said this week, canceling plans for future lease sales and denying extension requests for existing leases.

Citing market conditions and low industry interest, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it’s canceling two potential Arctic offshore lease sales scheduled under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program. The decision comes on the heals of Shell’s announcement to halt exploration in the Chukchi Sea.

View original 279 more words

Oil and gas exploration near South Park concerns some in Colorado Springs area — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

In a small plane soaring thousands of feet above the expanse of South Park, Jara Johnson surveyed one of the richest landscapes in the state, an area home to endangered wildlife, water, natural gas and uranium.

Although South Park has long been prized as the home of South Platte River and for its native elk herds, its energy prospects are what has put it on the radar of the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency has begun putting together a master leasing plan for South Park to evaluate the risks of drilling for oil and natural gas in what Johnson considers one of the state’s unparalleled playgrounds.

But for those who make their living off the wildlife and water in South Park, the area’s potential for energy development poses a serious economic threat, said David Leinweber, who owns the Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs.

Leinweber’s business has one of the largest guiding permits for the South Platte and habitually fishes the “Dream Stream,” a state-designated Gold Medal fishery at the southern edge of the BLM’s proposed leasing site. Leinweber foresees disaster if oil and gas development were to harm the river and its tributaries.

“In South Park our big concern is not very much different from what just happened on the Animas (River),” said Leinweber, referring to the acid-mine drainage that polluted the southwestern Colorado river last month. “It’s the what-if story.”

For Johnson, the director of operations for the environmental nonprofit Coalition for the Upper South Platte, there is much more at stake than South Park’s rich fishing economy.

Last week, Johnson served as guide for a National Wildlife Federation-organized flight tour over South Park to highlight the area’s mix of crucial water resources and wildlife habitats.

To the uneducated eye, South Park is a treeless expanse that stretches between the Front Range to the east and the Mosquito Range to the northwest. But Johnson sees the 980-square-mile area as a complex ecosystem with rare high-elevation wetlands, agricultural fields and winter refuges for elk and pronghorn. The South Platte meanders through the heart of the park – so named because white settlers thought it was like a natural game preserve – and delivers most of the water for the Denver metro area.

While less than an hour by plane from southeast Denver, South Park might as well be an exotic high-mountain paradise for animals, microbes and plants.

“There are plants in the Mosquito Range that are found nowhere else in the world,” Johnson said.

South Park’s uniqueness comes in part from its geology – a mixture of ancient volcanoes, glaciers and lakes, which make the area precious to the Front Range for its connection to water. Denver, Aurora and Centennial get water from South Park’s rivers, streams and reservoirs. While Colorado Springs gets its water from the Homestake system west of Leadville, two pipelines shuttle water east through the park, right through the BLM’s proposed leasing site.

With 28 abandoned wells and no active permits for the area, South Park has seen minimal drilling, said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. Areas around Lake George are “prime for uranium development,” although none has happened, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, potential for oil and gas development has raised the alarm in Park County, which gets most of its water from aquifers beneath South Park. While locals are anxious to see how leasing will play out, they are getting what many consider an unprecedented opportunity to plan with the BLM.

In years past, master leasing plans were done once energy companies expressed interest in drilling on BLM lands. But in 2010, inspired by the risks and interest in South Park, the BLM reformed the process, Lacayo said.

“The concept of the leasing reform (is) it doesn’t wait for someone to submit an expression of interest,” she said.

Instead, the BLM triggered the process without active interest in energy development in South Park. And the BLM is seeking the input of people like Leinweber.

“I think that when we initiated the master leasing plans, it was to provide the public with more opportunities to take a closer look at oil and gas leasing,” Lacayo said.

Before 2010, the first time locals learned of plans to drill on BLM lands was when mineral rights were sold, Lacayo said. Now, residents and others impacted will know about the area’s potential for oil and gas development long before leases are made available. The BLM has placed a moratorium on energy development around the state until several leasing plans are completed, Lacayo said.

Lacking funds, the agency has relied on CUSP to jump-start conversations about the impacts of oil and gas development. The nonprofit received a grant from the Keystone Policy Center to host three public meetings from October to February to give Park County officials, residents and business owners a chance to express concerns.

In a report submitted in March, CUSP found that South Park’s cattle owners welcome oil and gas development, while others want limited or strict restrictions.

Park County residents are afraid oil and gas wells will pollute their vulnerable aquifers. Various wildlife groups proposed that drilling be prohibited in known wildlife areas, such as portions of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. Water providers, such as Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, lobbied for mandatory setbacks for oil and gas development from water sources.

The BLM will take all the input into consideration for an environmental review, which will be released for another round of public comment after a draft is done, Lacayo said.

Although research has begun, the BLM is possibly years from opening the leasing process in South Park. The area’s leasing plan is but a sliver of the BLM’s Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, which will take years and millions of dollars to complete.

South Park, meanwhile, will continue to be the recreational and wildlife mecca it has always been. But even if it doesn’t become the home to Colorado’s next natural gas boom, Leinweber believes that even the smallest amount of drilling could have devastating impact on the area if it goes wrong.

“What people don’t often recognize with some of the oil and gas things is that it often isn’t the big company that goes in and does the exploration,” he said.

“It’s these small guys that don’t really have the backing of something. If they were to make a mistake, it can be pretty impactful for a long time. My concern is containing any byproducts that come out of the these (drilling) processes that could jeopardize our industry as a business.”