Opinion: Just call John Hickenlooper the Silver Fox — High Country News #COWaterPlan

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From the High Country News (Forrest Whitman):

John Hickenlooper, the recently re-elected (by a whisker) governor of Colorado, should be called the new “silver fox” for his work on water sharing, in memory of Delphus Carpenter, who earned that title back in 1922. That year, Carpenter cajoled seven Western states into signing the historic agreement that divvied up the Colorado River.

Delph Carpenter
Delph Carpenter

Hickenlooper was certainly wily as a fox when he brokered a difficult deal this summer between the oil and gas industry and Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hickenlooper got Polis to back down from his campaign to put anti-fracking legislation on the ballot, and created a bipartisan commission to work out tougher fracking rules. Hickenlooper avoided a messy political battle while also spurring a fracking pact and developing a first-ever statewide water plan. It was the kind of thing Delphus Carpenter might have done.

Hickenlooper did something revolutionary when he signed a water plan for the entire state, and now, what he calls regional round tables are working hard to find ways to turn the plan into action. Early results show that some water providers east of the Rockies might agree to stop their destructive “buy up and dry up” programs on the state’s Western Slope. At the same time, stakeholders are working on water-conservation ideas, since we’re expecting a shortfall of a half-million acre-feet within the next decade.

This is not just a Colorado plan, because it offers relief to hard-pressed states downstream. That’s important, of course, because water in much of the West begins in Colorado. If we can put more water into rivers that feed into the Colorado River, neighbors as far away as the Sea of Cortez will benefit. It will certainly help states like California, now ravaged by terrible drought.

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

When Delphus Carpenter, the first “silver fox of the Rockies,” got seven states to agree on how to share a river, he put a stop to legal water battles that were just beginning to get bitter and expensive. The compact wasn’t perfect, organized as it was during some of the wettest years in recent history. And increasing drought continues to dim and challenge its assumptions. Changing realities over time will also affect the new Colorado water plan, as well as the oil and gas pact.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have been asked to do something that is not in their natures. The oil and gas industry is seriously looking at ways to interfere less with local communities, which means that it’s talking beyond the mineral rights to which it’s entitled. The same is true with the water plan. Instead of trying to divert existing water for more supply in their own basin, the assembled landowners, water utilities and others are talking about ways to deal with shortages. They’re talking about how much water they can save and how to help the whole state have water. Interstate water compacts are at the table as well, because these obligations don’t go away.

Hickenlooper is responding to many obvious factors, such as the big drought of 2004-’05, and especially to the frightening predictions that Colorado, like the rest of the West, is soon going to be at “peak water” yield. Peak yield will happen when the water resource is giving us absolutely everything it can give. Hickenlooper’s also responding to the political facts about oil and gas development. Fracking may not be popular, but it’s also a $30 billion industry.

I’ve never served on an oil and gas commission, but I have served on one of those water roundtables. I’ve seen how hard it is to look beyond the immediate water needs of “our” basin. It’s also tough to preach moderation and quality of life to oil and gas drillers. How did this new “silver fox” do it?

Hickenlooper played what baseball managers call “little ball.” He didn’t hit for the fences, but made one little move at a time. He apparently aimed to be successful with just one person at a time. He is inclusive, he listens, and he’s persuasive: I still have the little silver water pin he once gave me.

Delphus Carpenter did the same thing. He urged representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to come together at Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe 92 years ago. The basic compact they signed back then still holds. Years ago, Carpenter gave all the credit for the deal to President Herbert Hoover. Hickenlooper does much the same thing with his “aw shucks, it wasn’t me” attitude. If that doesn’t sound like a Silver Fox, I don’t know what does.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Major class of fracking chemicals no more toxic than common household substances — University of Colorado

Gelled hydraulic fracturing fluid via the Denver Business Journal
Gelled hydraulic fracturing fluid via the Denver Business Journal

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

The “surfactant” chemicals found in samples of fracking fluid collected in five states were no more toxic than substances commonly found in homes, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Fracking fluid is largely comprised of water and sand, but oil and gas companies also add a variety of other chemicals, including anti-bacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants. Surfactants reduce the surface tension between water and oil, allowing for more oil to be extracted from porous rock underground.

In a new study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, the research team identified the surfactants found in fracking fluid samples from Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas. The results showed that the chemicals found in the fluid samples were also commonly found in everyday products, from toothpaste to laxatives to detergent to ice cream.

“This is the first published paper that identifies some of the organic fracking chemicals going down the well that companies use,” said Michael Thurman, lead author of the paper and a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry in CU-Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. “We found chemicals in the samples we were running that most of us are putting down our drains at home.”

Imma Ferrer, chief scientist at the mass spectrometry laboratory and co-author of the paper said, “Our unique instrumentation with accurate mass and intimate knowledge of ion chemistry was used to identify these chemicals.” The mass spectrometry laboratory is sponsored by Agilent Technologies, Inc., which provides state-of-the art instrumentation and support.

The fluid samples analyzed for the study were provided through partnerships with Colorado State University and colleagues at CU-Boulder.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technique used to increase the amount of oil and gas that can be extracted from the ground by forcing fluid down the well. Fracking has allowed for an explosion of oil and gas operations across the country. In the U.S. the number of natural gas wells has increased by 200,000 in the last two decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Among the concerns raised by the fracking boom is that the chemicals used in the fracking fluid might contaminate ground and surface water supplies. But determining the risk of contamination—or proving that any contamination has occurred in the past—has been difficult because oil and gas companies have been reluctant to share exactly what’s in their proprietary fluid mixtures, citing stiff competition within the industry.

Recent state and federal regulations require companies to disclose what is being used in their fracking fluids, but the resulting lists typically use broad chemical categories to describe the actual ingredients.

The results of the new study are important not only because they give a picture of the possible toxicity of the fluid but because a detailed list of the ingredients can be used as a “fingerprint” to trace whether suspected contamination of water supplies actually originated from a fracking operation.

The authors caution that their results may not be applicable to all wells. Individual well operators use unique fracking fluid mixtures that may be modified depending on the underlying geology. Ferrer and Thurman are now working to analyze more water samples collected from other wells as part of a larger study at CU-Boulder exploring the impacts of natural gas development.

Thurman notes that there are other concerns about fracking—including air pollution, the antimicrobial biocides used in fracking fluids, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used—that are important to investigate and ameliorate. But water pollution from surfactants in fracking fluid may not be as big a concern as previously thought.

“What we have learned in this piece of work is that the really toxic surfactants aren’t being used in the wells we have tested,” he said. [ed. emphasis mine]

The study was funded in part by The Borch-Hoppess Fund for Environmental Contaminant Research and the National Science Foundation.

Gov. Hickenlooper, Sen. Udall, et al., urge Secretary Jewell to approve Roan deal

Drilling rig above waterfall Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Drilling rig above waterfall Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and both of Colorado’s U.S. senators on Wednesday [October 22] called in a joint letter for federal approval of a proposed settlement to the Roan Plateau drilling dispute, in the latest indication of coalescing support for the deal.

The agreement offers “a unique opportunity” for resolving the controversy, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined Hickenlooper and Tipton in stating in the letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, as they asked her to take prompt action to finalize the deal.

“This proposed settlement would resolve the ongoing lawsuit and end the uncertainty that has plagued the local communities and industry,” they wrote. “This agreement represents the collaboration of the oil and gas industry, environmental organizations, many local governments, the state of Colorado and our respective offices.”

The deal would settle a lawsuit stemming from a Bureau of Land Management decision to lease some 55,000 acres on the plateau outside Rifle in 2008. The status of the leases remains up in the air following a 2012 federal judge’s ruling that found fault with the BLM management plan leading to the lease sale.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, and was appealed by Bill Barrett Corp., which owns the leases on the plateau top. The ruling prompted the BLM to launch a supplemental environmental review.

Talks between the Interior Department, Bill Barrett Corp. and conservation groups reportedly would result in the company giving up certain leases on the plateau in return for compensation, while keeping some leases, and would let companies with leases along the base of the plateau proceed with developing them.

Tipton previously had voiced support for the deal as long as no costs associated with it would be borne by local governments that shared some of the proceeds of the Roan Plateau lease sale through federal mineral lease distributions. Hickenlooper’s office subsequently agreed to support holding local governments harmless through state budgetary action by the legislature.

The state received about half of the nearly $114 million from the Roan lease sale. It would likely repay any lease payments related to a settlement through a reduction in future federal mineral lease distributions. The state shares its portion of such distributions with local governments.

The deal anticipates that royalty, severance and other revenue to the federal and state government from drilling on the base of the plateau would more than offset the cost of reimbursement of leases on the top.

“While the settlement requires a temporary drawback of state and federal funds, collaborators and the state of Colorado have committed to ensuring that local governments will not ultimately lose any resources they realized through the initial lease sale that prompted the litigation. With this last important condition, the local governments in question support the proposed agreement,” Wednesday’s letter to Jewell says.

Both Garfield and Mesa counties have voiced support for the deal, as have Ursa Resources and WPX Energy, which own some of the plateau base leases tied up in the litigation.

Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Wednesday said the county is behind the deal “100 percent.”

The letter from the Republican Tipton and Hickenlooper, Udall and Bennet, all Democrats, says the land beneath the plateau contains natural gas resources, while the plateau “also contains important habitat for elk, mule deer, and native Colorado cutthroat trout.”

The proposed settlement would “protect the most ecologically sensitive parts of the Roan, while providing for the orderly development of the area’s natural gas resources,” the letter says.

Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said Udall thinks the settlement is a good way to end the long-running controversy. Wednesday’s letter “is just building on some of the recent support for this,” he said.

But he believes it’s significant in that it comes jointly from the governor and from the two U.S. senators and the congressman who all represent the area that includes the Roan Plateau.

Said Duane Zavadil, a senior vice president of Bill Barrett Corp., “We’re gratified to see an expression by the U.S. delegation, by our local governments, by folks in state government, a bipartisan sort of recognition of what’s good for Colorado. It’s gratifying and encouraging to see folks kind of put those politics aside — one of those moments even during election season when people are willing to do the right thing for the state of Colorado and implore the Department of Interior to try to make this thing work.”

He said it’s important to note the deal isn’t complete, but he has “real hope” of it getting accomplished, and the letter’s reason was to “help compel parties to see the benefit in getting this done.”

The BLM hasn’t been commenting on the settlement talks while they continue. The Interior Department couldn’t be reached for comment after the letter’s announcement late Wednesday afternoon. Zavadil said the deal conceivably could be completed “in a matter of weeks.”

Mike Freeman, an attorney with the group Earthjustice who represents conservation organizations in the Roan litigation, said he continues to be unable to discuss negotiations while they’re still ongoing. But he said the conservation groups “really appreciate the support” that’s being expressed for the proposed settlement.

More oil and gas coverage here.

DeBeque (Kobe) pipeline project will supply oil and gas operations and irrigators #ColoradoRiver

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A water project that had its beginnings three decades back in connection with possible oil shale development has been revived and repurposed for another kind of energy production involving shale rock.

The pipeline project in the De Beque area also will provide additional benefits including serving up irrigation water to meet the region’s needs and reducing truck traffic related to getting water to and from energy development operations.

The $8 million project is being paid for by Black Hills Exploration & Production and is part of a large infrastructure project that will aid in the company’s efforts to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce from the Mancos shale formation. But the water intake facility on the Colorado River and a short portion of a 24-inch-diameter water pipeline now being extended date back to the 1980s.

Getty Oil built the intake for an oil shale project that never came to fruition, said Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which leased the water rights to Getty. The river district continues to hold those rights today.

“It shows the importance of holding on to water rights,” said Merritt, who has been involved with the project since 1985, having had a longtime career for the river district as an engineer.

“It wasn’t until a few years ago that we were able to come up with an agreement to fully implement this project,” he said.

The 1980s saw an end to the region’s last oil shale boom, as companies couldn’t economically mine and heat the vast reserves of kerogen in northwest Colorado’s Green River shale formation to produce oil.

Instead, energy developers largely turned their attention locally to using hydraulic fracturing to produce gas from wells drilled into the Williams Fork sandstone. And now Black Hills and other companies are using fracking and horizontal drilling to explore and produce gas and liquids from the deeper Mancos and Niobrara shales, just as companies have pursued projects to drill and frack in shale across the country.

The De Beque pipeline project, also known as the Kobe project, will help supply the water Black Hills needs for its Mancos fracking via the 24-inch pipeline that will feed water pumped from the Colorado River to eight, 500-barrel tanks at a terminal northwest of De Beque. But only about 5 cubic feet per second of water will go for industrial uses. Fifteen cfs will be used for irrigation, including by the town of De Beque, which will be able to access it via a ditch.

The town has water rights that are senior to a number of ranchers in the area, so providing more water to the town should reduce the need for calls on water that otherwise would go to others.

“This last summer I was pretty well cut off for most of the time,” said Marty Holt, a rancher up Roan Creek.

Holt serves on the board of the Bluestone Water Conservancy District, which is working jointly with the river district on a project that is getting done at no cost to taxpayers due to Black Hills’ involvement.

“Water for energy development is extremely valuable,” Merritt explained. “They’re much more willing to pay for it.”

The larger infrastructure project also involves installation of a 12-inch-diameter gas pipeline that uses the same corridor as the water pipeline and extends farther west to places Black Hills is drilling. In addition, Black Hills will be repurposing an 8-inch-diameter gas pipeline in the corridor for use in transporting produced water from drilling operations. The company will be operating a facility that will let it recycle water from wells and use it to fracture other wells.

That facility will be operated adjacent to a recently constructed Summit Midstream gas processing plant that is supporting drilling in the area and is capable of handling 20 million cubic feet of gas a day. It’s a cryogenic plant that cools the gas to allow liquids to be stripped from it and sold separately. The new 12-inch gas line will tie into that plant.

In a brief statement Black Hills issued in a request for comment on the project, it said work on the pipeline infrastructure began in late July and is expected to be completed by year’s end. It also pointed to various approvals it had to obtain, including from the Bureau of Land Management and Mesa and Garfield counties. The pipeline corridor also crosses private property, much of it owned by Chevron.

The $8 million part of the project pertains only to work associated with installing and putting into operation the plastic water line that also will meet irrigation needs. While the overall project cost hasn’t been made public, it has involved as many as 300 workers during peak periods, said Brock Degeyter, general counsel for Summit Midstream, which is the project’s general contractor.

Due to rugged terrain and the challenges of locating multiple pipelines in a single, narrow right of way, crews have used horizontal boring rather than open trenches to install many pipeline segments. Ray Tenney, deputy chief engineer for the river district, said as many as nine boring crews have been on site, and pipes haves been pulled through bores as long as 1,180 feet.

Degeyter said such techniques aren’t unusual in mountainous areas.

But he added, “We do think it’s a great example of really state-of-the-art construction techniques, for sure.”

He called the project “a coordinated effort.”

“A couple different parties are getting some significant things done that will ultimately help, I think, consumers — consumers of water, gas, etc. — all at the same time, which is obviously a good, efficient use of resources,” Degeyter said.

“I think it is going to wind up being a very successful and efficient project for us,” he said.

The project also could serve other energy companies besides Black Hills, and it is being hailed as a means of reducing truck traffic through the De Beque area, partly through the movement of water via pipeline to the terminal northwest of town. The tanks at the terminal could provide contract deliveries for trucks serving energy development.

Black Hills’ use of the new produced water line also will cut down on traffic. Mesa County Commissioner John Justman, who also serves on the river district board, notes that reducing truck traffic was a big selling point when Black Hills’ water recycling plant went through Mesa County’s permitting process.

He added that in a time of drought, “recycling the water and reusing it is another big deal.”

A satellite finds a potent hot spot of global-warming methane over Colorado’s Four Corners

Roan Plateau: Settlement on the horizon?

Water For Energy: Challenges to Produced Water Reuse

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

HW 32 coversmallThe water required for oil and gas production is a hot topic in Colorado, and nationwide. We took a close look at it last fall in The Energy Issue of Headwaters magazine, exploring Colorado’s energy mix, oil and gas drilling, and the water market for power and energy. And although, compared to state-wide water usage, water for oil and gas only accounts for a small amount (as of 2011, the Division of Water Resources estimated that .47 percent of the state’s water withdrawals went to thermoelectric power generation; .03 percent to coal, natural gas, uranium and solar development; and .04 percent to hydraulic fracturing), in our water-limited state, where the energy industry could continue growing, players are competing for the same water. Reusing water and produced water is improving every year, and could make the water demands of the oil and gas industry less of a concern.  From Caitlin…

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