Coloradans urge water fixes: Take Mississippi River water, ban fracking, close borders — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

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Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons, Flickr

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

I’m a Coloradan and I drink water.”

That’s how several letters to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in response to the state water plan begin. The statement may be valid, but it’s not going to solve a predicted water shortage over the next 35 years or contribute much to a state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, intended to address the looming crisis.
According to a 2010 study, Colorado may be short as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, due largely to an expected doubling of the state’s population. That’s about 1.6 trillion gallons of water.
The water conservation board has been seeking public input both into the development of the plan and on its first draft, which was released last December.

A second draft is expected in the next few weeks. A third draft will likely be released in September, with more public comment solicited. The plan is to be finalized and sent to the governor in December.

Coloradans flooded the CWCB with more than 24,000 emails and letters in the past 18 months, beginning when Hickenlooper mandated the plan’s development.

The CWCB staff is responding to every comment – no small feat for less than 50 people.

Many thousands of comments were easy-to-dismiss form letters and form emails. But thousands of Coloradans wrote to the CWCB to express concerns about the status of Colorado’s water and what should be done to improve it.
The vast majority of the comments were thoughtful, well-informed and came from Coloradans from every walk of life, including school teachers, college students, farmers, ranchers, elected officials at every level and retirees.

While many are long-time Colorado residents, with some whose families go back four generations, one person who commented said that she’d just moved to Colorado a year ago.

All of the input showed what CWCB Director James Eklund called “strong public engagement” with the issue.
The comments touched on every aspect of the water plan, although water conservation was the dominant theme.

“As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on education about water conservation. In our household, our water usage is about half that of other households because we make an effort to conserve,” wrote one Coloradan.
But another person, who also called for more education about water conservation, complained that he witnesses a guy at the local YMCA who takes showers that are way too long.

And then there were those with some seemingly off-beat ideas about how to save Colorado water. Gary Hausler suggested importing water from east of Colorado, including from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

It’s not the first time somebody has proposed pumping in water from the Midwest. Two lawmakers during the 2015 session proposed studying the feasibility of extending a Kansas pipeline that brings in Missouri River water to the Eastern Plains. That bill, House Bill 15-1167, won approval from the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee but later died in the House Appropriations Committee.

Hausler is a proponent of piping in water from the Mississippi, south of Cairo, Illinois, to add one million acre-feet of water to Colorado.

“The Mississippi represents an immense source of unused water that meets Colorado’s future needs and eliminates the need for ag dry-up and additional trans-mountain diversions,” he wrote. (In Colorado, 80 percent of the water for the Eastern Plains comes through a system of 24 tunnels that travel through the Continental Divide from the Western Slope and its major rivers, including the Roaring Fork and Colorado.)

But Hausler said the proposal has been ignored and derided for years for political reasons, and he was careful to add that he has no financial interest in the proposal.

The CWCB staff replied that importing water from the Midwest has been studied and is not believed to be feasible for many reasons. However, the idea has been discussed by the various basin roundtable groups, the staff replied.
Colorado has eight major river basins. Each river basin has a roundtable group, plus a ninth, representing the Denver Metro area. The groups are made up of local governments, water districts and other representatives. Each basin roundtable developed its own recommendations for the state water plan.

Hausler’s suggestion was similar to one made months earlier by Brenda Miller, who called transferring water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope “futile” and a reflection of Denver’s “urban sociopathology.”
Look to a place with surplus, Miller suggested, such as the Missouri River, an “easy 400 to 500 miles from Denver.”

Another commenter wanted to offer his high-tech ag services to solve the predicted water shortage: “I have invented a growing system that uses less than half the water and produces more end product than conventional methods. It will save more water than I can claim,” said Larry Smith, who did not elaborate on his system.

Many letters dealt with a particular water use that writers believed ought to be curtailed: hydraulic fracking.
Sally Hempy wrote: “The biggest impact we can make in our Colorado waters is to outlaw the fossil fuel industry. You can’t protect one county that is free of fracking while the neighboring county mines, fracks and pollutes our acrifers (Note: aquifers).”

She also complained about runoff from agriculture and animal feedlots. “Let’s protect what we have!”

The CWCB staff said fracking doesn’t need a lot of water compared to other uses, such as power plants, and that the plan does not make a “value judgment” on any specific water use.

At least two letters suggested another ban: the livestock industry.

Jerry Daidian suggested eliminating “production of livestock feed as a beneficial use…The disproportionate use of Colorado’s [river] water by the livestock industry lies at the core of the problem.”

Other writers suggested Colorado close its borders and stop shipping water to other states.

Mary Ratz wrote that the state’s precipitation “is ours to use. We should not have to let ANY of it flow to other states and should not have to prove we own that water and that we need all of it. This is a state RIGHT, not for the federal government’s to decide.”

She also noted the Colorado River “is all ours” and shouldn’t be watering lawns in Las Vegas or any of the lower Colorado River basin states (Nevada, Arizona, California and New Mexico).

CWCB staff responded, trying to explain interstate compacts, Congressionally-approved agreements between states that govern just how much water goes from a headwater state, like Colorado, to its downriver states.

But by this spring, the CWCB staff had a different suggestion: The writer should read the “Citizen’s Guide to Interstate Compacts,” produced by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Then there was the comment from Jeremy Davis: “Please lay-off. We are not merely cannon fodder. We are people with lives, dreams, and families. Leave our water alone. Allow us the opportunity to be.”

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USGS: Water Used for Hydraulic Fracturing Varies Widely Across United States

2011-2014 Hydraulic Fracturing Water Use (Meters Cubed per Well) via the USGS
2011-2014 Hydraulic Fracturing Water Use (Meters Cubed per Well) via the USGS

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Anne Berry Wade/Leigh Cooper/Tanya Gallegos). (Multiply meters cubed used by 264.172052 to get gallons used). Here’s an excerpt:

The amount of water required to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells varies widely across the country, according to the first national-scale analysis and map of hydraulic fracturing water usage detailed in a new USGS study accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research found that water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

More oil and gas coverage here.

COGCC debuts redesigned website for improved public access

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website screen shot May 1, 2015
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website screen shot May 1, 2015

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week migrated to a new and more user-friendly website at http://cogcc.state.co.us/. The new site provides a more contemporary look and feel, provides a more intuitive experience and streamlines the organization of large amounts of data and content available to the public.

The newly designed site also improves search capabilities while maintaining or enhancing all the content and functions of the previous site.

“We recognize the high public interest in the COGCC, its work and the data it maintains,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore. “Our agency has always been among the most transparent in the country in providing access to volumes of information about the regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado; with this redesigned website we’ve taken another important step in making public information available to all interested parties.”

The redesigned site is one of several recent steps to make interaction with the COGCC easier. The agency has streamlined the complaint process, aggregated spill data and converted its water quality data to a downloadable format. Work continues on additional projects that will make more data more easily accessed and analyzed by the public.

The website is part of an ongoing focus at COGCC to strengthen its regulation of oil and gas development in Colorado.

Since 2011, the COGCC under the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to increase setbacks, reduce nuisance impacts, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.

The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

Colorado sues feds over new fracking rules

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Colorado AG claims BLM regs ‘invade’ state authority

asdfg A fracking rig in western Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is challenging the federal government’s ability to regulate oil and gas development on federal public lands in the state. In a quiet Friday news dump, Coffman announced her department is suing the federal government over new fracking rules issued in March.

The lawsuit claims the federal rules “invade” the state’s regulatory authority, a similar argument over jurisdiction used by Gov. Hickenlooper and his administration when they sued a local jurisdiction that sought to impose fracking rules in a case that has since been dismissed.

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COGCC approves new rules for operations within floodplains

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post
Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today [March 2] unanimously approved new rules that outline requirements for operators with facilities located within floodplains.

The new rules implement several of the recommendations contained in the Commission’s “Lessons Learned” report published in March 2014 following the Front Range floods of September 2013.

The nine-member Commission approved regulations designed to better protect oil and gas facilities that may be subject to flooding and that require more preparations from operators to reduce potential impacts. The new rules formalize “best management practices” when operating within a floodplain and require:

  • All tanks, new and existing, be surrounded with hardened berms made of steel instead of earthen barriers.
  • Critical equipment be anchored according to an engineered anchoring plan.
  • The removal of existing pits used for exploration and product waste.
  • All new wells to be configured so operators can shut the well in remotely.
  • “We learned a great deal from our experiences in September of 2013, including what existing practices were successful in reducing damages,” said Matt Lepore, director of the Commission. “Requiring these practices for oil and gas operations within a floodplain makes sense and will ensure environmental impacts are reduced and equipment is further protected should we see another flood event.”

    In addition, the new rules require operators, by April 1, 2016, to establish an inventory of wells and critical equipment located within a floodplain and to register all such wells and equipment with the COGCC. Operators are also required to create a formal plan on how they will respond to a potential flood.

    “These new rules requiring operators to establish an inventory and a formal response plan will help ensure both operators and the COGCC can react more quickly when a flood threatens or strikes,” Lepore said.

    These new rules are effective June 1, 2015 for new wells and equipment and April 1, 2016 for retrofitting of existing equipment.

    The new floodplain rules is the latest of numerous steps undertaken by the COGCC to improve regulation of oil and gas development in Colorado and part of Governor Hickenlooper’s commitment to long-term recovery and resiliency after the 2013 floods.

    Since 2011, the Hickenlooper administration has crafted rules to increase setbacks, reduce nuisance impacts, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting and significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules.

    The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water, streamlined its process for public complaints, increased public access to COGCC data and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

    More oil and gas coverage here.

    @USGS: Map of Assessed Continuous (Unconventional) Oil Resources in the U.S., 2014

    What Is Oil And Gas Wastewater And What Do We Do With It? — KUNC

    From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

    When a typical oil well starts producing, there are three main products pumped out: gas, oil, and water. The amount of water is significant. In Colorado, for every barrel of oil produced in 2013, there were 6 barrels of wastewater pumped from the ground.

    How that water — sometimes referred to as produced water — is treated and disposed of has become a growing issue as oil and gas production has increased in Colorado and across the United States.

    Mark Engle, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, is working to pin down just how much of the wastewater is being produced nationwide.

    “Since the big explosion in shale gas and tight oil production in the last four or five years, [there is almost no data on] how much the amount of produced water has changed in the U.S,” Engle said.

    Quantities of wastewater, which can be 10 times saltier than seawater and is often laced with hydrocarbons, have grown because of the shale boom, which requires continual drilling of new wells to be profitable.

    “And so just to have stable production, you have to keep putting more and more and more wells in, and they are all producing water,” said Engle.

    Most of these wells, drilled in shale formations like the Niobrara in Northern Colorado, or the Bakken in North Dakota, are horizontal wells that are hydraulically fractured. To do this, millions of gallons of water, chemicals, and proppants, like sand, are pumped into the ground at high pressure, opening up tiny cracks in the shale.

    The goal of this process is to free up trapped oil and gas. But trapped water flows back as well. Some of that water is what was used in the fracking process, but a lot of it is also ancient water from deep within the Earth.

    That wastewater picks up a lot of chemicals because of where it comes from, said Ken Carlson, an engineering professor at Colorado State University who studies energy and water issues.

    While many folks worry about what’s in fracking fluid, Carlson is more concerned with the naturally occurring pollutants from deep below.

    “Sometimes people think it is hazardous because of what we put down there,” said Carlson. “And the truth is, the water that comes back has been in contact with oil and gas compounds for maybe millions of years.”

    Wastewater is almost always incredibly salty. It also often contains dissolved metals and compounds like benzene, a known carcinogen, said Carlson. In some places, like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, that wastewater can also be radioactive, as it picks up naturally occurring elements like radium from deep inside the earth. (Waste from Northern Colorado has not been shown to be more radioactive than natural background levels.)

    Because of this, such water is usually disposed of, said Greg Duronlow, the environmental manager of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    “It is a waste product with some negative characteristics. So it does have to be handled carefully,” said Duronlow.

    When a well is producing, companies separate the products that make them money — oil and gas — from the water. In Colorado, that water is usually stored in on-site tanks or pits that fill up. Later, it gets trucked away.

    There are a few main things that happen to the wastewater after that.

    By far the most common way of dealing with wastewater is disposing of it deep underground, in injection wells. While some energy companies have their own wastewater disposal wells, an injection well industry has also cropped up to meet this need. In the U.S., there are around 30,000 injection wells used to dispose of fluids from oil and gas production.

    Even though wastewater is disposed of deep underground, there are still risks. Recently, some injection wells have been linked to earthquakes. Spills are also an issue. Pipelines carrying wastewater can leak, as can holding pits, and trucks transporting waste can spill it.

    In Colorado, the spill rate for wastewater is very low — over the last 15 years, just 0.009 percent of all wastewater produced was spilled, according to COGCC data. The agency’s oversight over spills has grown in recent years, and it recently made its spill reporting requirements more stringent, requiring spill reports for even one barrel, rather than five.

    “All spills, regardless of their size, are required to be cleaned up by an operator,” said Duronlow. The agency also has tighter restrictions around oil and gas operations that are near public water supply areas, he added.

    “I would say an industry with a spill rate of a thousandth of a percent, they are working pretty hard to keep those numbers low,” Duronlow added.

    While overall, the state does have a very low spill rate, simply because so much wastewater is produced, the total spill quantities can still be high. From 2005 to 2013, spill amounts ranged from 10,000 to 72,000 barrels (420,000 to 3,024,000 gallons) per year.

    In 2008, in Garfield County, a rancher took a drink of water from a tap in his cabin, and swallowed a toxic mix of oil and gas related compounds, landing him in the hospital. The polluted drinking water was contaminated from a produced water holding pit that leaked; the COGCC fined the energy company Williams $432,000.

    Other pits containing produced water have also leaked; Oxy USA also received a COGCC fine for contaminating two springs with produced water from leaking pits.

    Some companies have tried recycling wastewater, re-using it for hydraulic fracturing future wells. In states like Pennsylvania, where disposing of wastewater is expensive, and Texas, where water is scarce, recycling has grown in popularity. Some Colorado companies are also recycling wastewater.

    There are some concerns about this approach. For one, treating the wastewater creates yet another waste stream — the chemicals that were taken out of the water, and are now concentrated. Moving more water around can cause other problems, like increasing the potential for spills as the water is transported and handled.

    Sometimes, wastewater is so dirty that cleaning it up to the standards they need for hydraulic fracturing just isn’t worth the cost. The COGCC is working with some companies on recycling produced water to reuse, but “it takes a lot of work to clean up the water to a point even that they want to use it,” said Duronlow.

    For every new well drilled and the oil it produces, though, there will be wastewater to be dealt with. Getting a handle on that water — whether it is injected or recycled, piped or trucked — will continue to be a significant task.