Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

April 5, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

“It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

April 5, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

“BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Clarify Protection for Nation’s Streams and Wetlands

April 4, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Julia Q. Ortiz):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) today jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. The proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act. The agencies are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.

Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked for a rule-making to provide clarity.

The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

“America’s waters and wetlands are valuable resources that must be protected today and for future generations,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “Today’s rulemaking will better protect our aquatic resources, by strengthening the consistency, predictability, and transparency of our jurisdictional determinations. The rule’s clarifications will result in a better public service nationwide.”

The health of rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters depend on the streams and wetlands where they begin. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.

About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection.

Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:

  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.
  • The proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. The agencies will work together to implement these new exemptions and periodically review, and update USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation practice standards and activities that would qualify under the exemption. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

    The proposed rule also helps states and tribes – according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, 36 states have legal limitations on their ability to fully protect waters that aren’t covered by the Clean Water Act.

    The proposed rule is supported by the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. The rule will not be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete.

    Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. Because of the Clean Water Act, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet standards.

    The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. The interpretive rule for agricultural activities is effective immediately.

    More information: http://www.epa.gov/uswaters

    Watch Administrator McCarthy’s overview: http://youtu.be/ow-n8zZuDYc

    Watch Deputy Chief of Staff Arvin Ganesan’s explanation: http://youtu.be/fOUESH_JmA0

    From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper joined 15 GOP senators Thursday to urge the Obama administration to reconsider a rule that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate marshes, ponds and streams in states…

    Hickenlooper expressed concern to federal officials that the rule change would stonewall the state’s ability to manage key water systems, and could negatively impact the Colorado economy.
    The rule-change would give the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers clarification on what wetlands and waters they can manage and regulate, such as asking the state to pass a water-quality certification…

    Hickenlooper’s worry was expressed by 15 GOP Senators in a letter sent to the Obama administration that faulted the EPA for asking for the ability to regulate the small water systems before a government peer-reviewed scientific assessment was complete. The senators are concerned about the power invoked by the Clean Water Act and the impact it might have on drought management in several Western states…

    The EPA’s draft scientific assessment, used to inform the proposed rule, will be reviewed and completed at the end of this year or early next year.

    From Water Online (Sara Jerome):

    Conservatives and industry players are skeptical of the proposed rule. Critics are describing it “as a government land grab,” according to a Fox News report. “The proposal immediately sparked concerns that the regulatory power could extend into seasonal ponds, streams, and ditches, including those on private property.”

    “The…rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in U.S. history,” said Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in the Fox News report.

    Bloomberg BNA reported: “All natural and artificial tributaries and wetlands that are adjacent to or near larger downstream waters would be subject to federal Clean Water Act protections.”

    “The agencies also included an interpretive rule, immediately effective, that clarifies that the 53 specific conservation practices identified by the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect or improve water quality won’t be subject to dredge-and-fill permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” the report said.

    One thing seems clear: This proposal will probably land the government in court. “The regulatory action might provoke legal challenges from several economic sectors—including the agriculture, construction and energy industries. Opponents say the rules could delay projects while permits are sought for dredging, filling, or drainage in more areas,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

    But proponents of the rule said it’s a no-brainer. “The rule simply clarifies the scope of jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, ending years of confusion and restoring fundamental protections to waters that serve as the drinking supply for 117 million Americans,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest law group, in the New York Times.

    From the Associated Press (Hope Yen) via ABC News:

    Industry groups and more than a dozen GOP senators are urging the Obama administration to reconsider plans to regulate many of the nation’s streams and wetlands, saying the proposed rule hurts economic activity and oversteps legal bounds.

    In a letter Thursday, the senators faulted the Environmental Protection Agency for announcing a proposed rule last week before the government’s peer-reviewed scientific assessment was fully complete. They are calling on the government to withdraw the rule or give the public six months to review it, rather than the three months being provided.

    The senators’ move puts them among several groups — from farmers and land developers to Western governors worried about drought management — in expressing concern about a long-running and heavily litigated environmental issue involving the Clean Water Act that has invoked economic interests, states’ rights and presidential power.

    The letter was led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and signed by 14 other GOP senators.

    “We believe that this proposal will negatively impact economic growth by adding an additional layer of red tape to countless activities that are already sufficiently regulated by state and local governments,” the letter to EPA chief Gina McCarthy said.

    Alisha Johnson, the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for external affairs and environmental education, said the EPA’s draft scientific assessment, used to inform the proposed rule, was being reviewed and wouldn’t be complete until the end of this year or early next year. The EPA rule will not be finalized until the scientific assessment is fully complete, and will take into account public comments, she said.

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on [March 25] released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

    The agencies, according to an EPA news release, are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.

    Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

    The proposed rule also preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements.

    Any ag activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Thousands of miles of Colorado streams would gain stricter protection under a new approach the Obama administration unveiled this week. The goal is to prevent further fouling, filling-in and dredging of streams, tributaries and wetlands by requiring polluters to obtain permits. The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the change.

    Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 forced federal authorities trying to contain pollution to first prove a stream is linked with “navigable waters.” The new approach would allow regulation of all flowing waters, including temporary streams — while preserving exemptions for agriculture. Just how many more streams are likely to be regulated remains unclear.

    “I don’t know what the actual number is,” regional EPA administrator Shaun McGrath said Wednesday. But he said the new rule will clear up uncertainty about what waters the EPA has jurisdiction over under the Clean Water Act.

    EPA data show that 77,850 miles of waterways in Colorado are temporary — only flowing seasonally or during rain — and are deemed at risk because it’s not clear whether polluters can be controlled.

    “Clean water’s important for my business,” said Jonathan Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks. “This matters. Perception is important. If people feel like your water quality is bad, they’re less likely to book a vacation.”

    Environment groups urged swift passage.

    “This isn’t going to mean there will never be a spill or that polluters will never get away with illegal dumping. But it will mean the EPA can actually go out and regulate a huge amount of waterways,” Environment Colorado water campaign director Kim Stevens said.

    But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, chairman of the Western Governors Association, warned federal officials that the rule change “could impinge upon state authority in water management” and called for better EPA consultation with states.

    Hickenlooper did not take a position on stricter protection. “We are concerned that states were not involved and the governor will withhold judgment until we engage Colorado’s water stakeholders,” spokeswoman Denise Stepto said.

    The American Farm Bureau and land developers oppose the change, saying it would impose unnecessary burdens on their activities. However, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler sent a letter to federal authorities applauding their efforts to make sure the rule would exclude ditches, ponds and irrigation systems — preserving farming and forestry exemptions.

    “There is no disagreement among America’s ranchers and farmers that clean water is critical to our ability to produce food and fiber for the nation,” Peppler said.

    The proposed change faces 90 days of public comment and possible review by Congress, which could take months.

    Here’s a release from Earth Justice:

    [March 25] the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to restore long-standing Clean Water Act protections to streams and many wetlands across the country. These protections, which stood for decades since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, were dismantled in the last decade by two Supreme Court decisions that created confusion about how to interpret which water bodies should be covered under the Clean Water Act and by policies of the George W. Bush administration that removed longstanding protections from many streams and wetlands. As a result, 59 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands were left vulnerable to toxic pollution.

    The new rule reinstates protections for many of those waters based on an analysis of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by an EPA independent science advisory panel last year. The proposed rule must now be opened for public comment before the Obama Administration can move forward with finalizing it.

    The following is a statement from Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen:

    “We applaud the EPA for proposing a rule that would reinstate clean water protections for streams and wetlands that supply the drinking water of 117 million Americans.

    “Unfortunately, for the last decade while these protections have lapsed, we have seen the consequences of not protecting our waters. Today, more than 55 percent of our rivers and streams are in ‘poor’ condition, considered unfit for drinking, swimming, or fishing.

    “As the West Virginia chemical spill shows, the cost of not having clean water is too great a price to pay.

    “The EPA’s new Clean Water Act rule finally restores protections so that we can begin the hard work of cleaning up our waters for our children to swim in, fish in, and drink from.

    “No doubt, polluters will rail and lobby against this rule and any other clean water safeguards that keep them from dumping their toxic waste in our communities and waters, or that hold them accountable for their pollution.

    “We cannot back down on protecting the waters that eventually flow through our faucets. Our children, our health, and our very drinking water are at stake. We urge the Obama administration to resist the polluter lobbies and quickly move forward in protecting our waterways and our families.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    CU-Boulder offers well users guide for testing water in areas of oil and gas development

    April 3, 2014

    chemistryglassware

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

    A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

    The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

    The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

    “Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

    “Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

    CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

    CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

    “Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

    “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

    The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

    CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

    CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

    To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.


    As Big As It Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking

    March 31, 2014

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    By Mark Scharfenaker

    Everyone seriously interested in water quality throughout the United States has 90 days to let EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and federal lawmakers know what they think about the agency’s newly proposed rule intended to clarify just where in a watershed the protections of the Clean Water Act cease to apply.

    This long-awaited rulemaking aims to define CWA jurisdiction over streams and wetlands distant from “navigable” waters of the United States…the lines of which were muddied by recent Supreme Court rulings rooted in a sense that perhaps EPA and the Corps had strayed too far in requiring CWA dredge-and-fill permits for such “waters” as intermittent streams and isolated potholes.

    This rule is as big as it gets in respect to protecting waterways from nonfarm pollutant discharges, and the proposal has not calmed the conflict between those who want the jurisdictional line closer to navigable waters and…

    View original 788 more words


    EPA: Addressing Crucial Water Issues in Our Communities — Nancy Stoner

    March 24, 2014

    waterdrop
    From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

    This year, we here at EPA celebrate the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to address environmental disparities in minority and low-income communities. We’ve certainly accomplished a lot since the order was signed, but sadly, too many people still breathe dirty air, live near toxic waste dumps, or lack reliable access to clean water. But we continue to make progress in all of those areas, and here in EPA’s Office of Water, I’m proud of how we’re helping communities across America—both rural and urban—address their most crucial water issues.

    Last fall, I was in Laredo, Texas and visited a community near the U.S.-Mexico border called the colonias, which until recently did not have regular access to clean water. Thanks to funding from EPA’s U.S.-Mexico Border Infrastructure Program, 3,700 people in the colonias now have access to a modern sewer system. We also have a program that provides funding for the planning, design and construction of wastewater infrastructure for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Providing access to clean water to people who have never had it before is one of the most important things we have the power and resources to do.

    In 2012, I traveled to Baltimore to help announce funding from EPA’s Urban Waters program that’s being use to educate residents in the Patapsco watershed about the benefits of water conservation and give people the know-how to reduce water usage at home. Urban waterways can provide myriad economic, environmental and community benefits, and EPA is helping dozens of communities across the country reconnect with these important, valuable resources.

    Our drinking water program is also providing substantial funding to help improve small drinking water systems across the country, which comprise more than 94% of the nation’s public drinking water systems. Small systems, those that serve fewer than 3,500 people, face unique financial and operational challenges in providing drinking water that meets federal standards. Last year, we provided close to $13 million to help train staff at small systems and give them tools to enhance system their operations and management practices.

    This year, I’m proud to celebrate 20 years of EPA’s work to make a visible difference in communities across the country. We’ve made so much progress over the last two decades, and I know we’ll make even more over the next 20 years.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    COGCC issues ‘Lessons Learned’ report for operations affected by September #COflood

    March 18, 2014
    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

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

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    …while images of tipped storage tanks and flooded well sites were part of the national media coverage of the storm and the aftermath, the amount of petroleum products spilled into the rushing waters was small compared to the raw sewage and chemicals from flooded wastewater treatment plants, homes, stores and other facilities, state officials said in the weeks following the flood.

    Now, the COGCC, which oversees the state’s multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry, issued its staff report to focus on “Lessons Learned” from the flood. The report doesn’t suggest putting new laws in place, but does propose the COGCC consider adopting “best management” practices for oil and gas equipment located near Colorado’s streams and rivers.
    Along with encouraging remote wells, the COGCC recommends boosting the construction requirements for wells located near streams and rivers and developing an emergency manual to help the the COGCC staff better respond in the early days of a future emergency.

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Jerd Smith):

    In the wake of last September’s floods, a new report from state oil and gas regulators recommends that oil companies maintain precise locations and inventories of wells and production equipment near waterways, that all new wells near waterways contain remote shut-in equipment, and that no open pits be allowed within a designated distance from the high-water mark of any given streams.

    In the report, released Monday, staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said they would not recommend any new state laws to address flood damage in oil and gas fields, but that they would suggest changes to regulations governing how production and gathering facilities are sited and constructed.

    The commission noted that more than 5,900 oil and gas wells are within 500 feet of a Colorado stream.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, said that the industry responded well to the emergency and that no further regulatory action was needed.

    “The floods were a difficult and trying event for everyone, and we are proud at our ability to engage meaningfully in the response and recovery of our Colorado communities,” Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive of the association, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “The flood report reiterated facts supporting that Colorado’s oil and gas industry was extraordinarily well prepared, responded in real time, and is committed to Colorado’s recovery.

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The suggestions from the commission’s staff include requiring that storage tanks be anchored with cables so they’re less likely to tip and spill and requiring all wells within a certain distance of waterways to be equipped with devices that allow operators to shut them down remotely.

    The staff recommendations didn’t say what that distance should be.

    The commission is expected to discuss the proposed rules at a meeting this spring.

    The report described the flood damage to storage tanks and production equipment as “substantial and expensive” but gave no dollar amount. It also said oil and gas production has still not returned to pre-flood levels but again gave no figures.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    COGCC: A Staff Report to the Commissioners “Lessons Learned” in the Front Range #COFlood of September 2013

    March 17, 2014
    Flooded well site September 2013 -- Denver Post

    Flooded well site September 2013 — Denver Post

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

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today released a comprehensive public report describing the lessons learned from the September 2013 flood. This 44-page report will support a Commission discussion in coming months as it decides whether to modify its regulations and policies that apply to Colorado’s oil and gas industry.

    The flood along the Front Range and eastern plains of Colorado in September 2013 inundated many oil and gas facilities. Production equipment and oil and gas locations were damaged by rushing flood waters and debris. Colorado experienced spills of oil, condensate and produced water.

    The report, Lessons Learned in the Front Range Flood of September 2013, describes the Commission’s investigation and conclusions following its flood response so far. The Commission has completed more than 3,400 individual inspections of oil and gas facilities affected by flood waters. It has discussed flood observations and lessons learned with the oil and gas industry, first responders, federal, state and local government agencies, conservation groups, and many other interested parties. On February 6, 2014, the Commission held a workshop in Denver to support a wide-ranging public discussion of these matters.

    The report describes recommendations for changes to Colorado’s oil and gas program, and it also collects the flood response information gathered by the Commission. Recommendations include improved construction and protection of oil and gas facilities sited near Colorado’s streams. The report also includes recommendations for how the Commission can work better in a future emergency, emphasizing the importance of the Commission’s collection and dissemination of reliable oil and gas information in the very early days of an emergency.

    The COGCC will schedule a hearing in the near future to discuss the report and take additional public comment.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission oversees the responsible development of oil and gas in Colorado and regulates the industry to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment. The Commission oversees wells, tank batteries, and other oil and gas equipment located, in some cases, near streams throughout the state.

    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC” or the “Commission”) estimates that more than 5,900 oil and gas wells lie within 500 feet of a Colorado waterway that is substantial enough to be named. When these streams flood, nearby oil and gas facilities are at risk of damage, spills, environmental injury and lost production.

    COGCC continues its work in the state’s recovery from the September 2013 flood along the Front Range of Colorado. COGCC has completed more than 3400 firsthand inspections of the oil and gas facilities affected by the flood. It has discussed flood observations and recommendations in detail with industry, other federal and state agencies, first responders and local governments, conservation groups and many others. The agency participates fully in Governor Hickenlooper’s broad flood response efforts started when the extraordinary rains began to fall.

    COGCC has learned from these experiences, and this report is built upon that information. Section III collects and describes flood observations by COGCC staff and others. These observations range from highlighting significantly varying levels of protection offered by different anchoring systems to the importance of releasing to the public accurate and comprehensive COGCC information in the early days of the flood. Section IV assembles suggestions to improve Colorado’s oil and gas program – suggestions gathered from many sources by COGCC since the flood. These suggestions also vary widely, from those who believe COGCC regulations worked well to protect against the flood and should be left as they are today to those who believe that additional construction and other regulations are called for statewide as a result of the flood experience.

    From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

    The the state and the oil and gas industry need to do a better job of managing the 20,850 Colorado wells within 500 feet of rivers and streams, according to a report released Monday.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission report on lessons learned from the 2013 floods sought to identify the potential risks and suggest steps to be taken.

    “The flood that struck the Front Range of Colorado in September 2013 was a major disaster and emergency,” the report said. “Damage to the oil and gas industry was significant.”

    The oil and gas commission conducted more than 3,400 flood-related inspections and evaluations, and evaluated each of the 1,614 wells in the flood zone.

    The inspections determined that wellheads generally fared well, but that tank batteries and other production equipment were toppled or dislodged by flood waters.

    Flowing water, for example, eroded earthen foundations below tanks and equipment.

    “Many oil and gas facilities located near flooded streams were damaged in the September 2013 flood,” the report said. “Oil, condensate and produced water spilled into the environment.”

    About 48,250 gallons of oil and condensate spilled and more than 43,478 gallons of produced water also spilled, the report said.

    Among the recommendations are that tanks and equipment be located as far from waterways as possible.

    Secondary containment should be constructed with steel berms, which held up better in the flood, and lined with synthetic liner material bolted to the top of the steel berm.

    Tanks should be constructed on compacted fill to reduce sub-grade failure and they should be should be ground-anchored, with engineered anchors and cabling.

    The report also suggests regulatory changes including requiring each driller to have an inventory of all wells and production equipment in waterway areas.

    Wells within the high-water mark of a waterway should be equipped with remote shut-in devices. These were very effective in closing wells during the flood, the report said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: New spill contained onsite

    March 11, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    For the second time in five months, Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill officials have discovered a leak of contaminated water, but both spills reportedly were contained on-site. On Monday, Cotter personnel reported to Colorado Department of Public Health officials a release of greater than 500 gallons of water from the barrier system pump-back pipeline. The water spilled was contaminated groundwater recovered by the barrier system and being pumped back to the facility.

    The spill was discovered at 8 a.m. Monday and mill personnel were last on-site at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday. The spill did not result in contaminated materials leaving the Cotter property. More information will be provided as the investigation continues, according to Deb Shaw, health department program assistant. A similar spill occurred in November when between 4,000 and 9,000 gallons of contaminated water seeped from the same pipeline.

    Contaminated water usually is pumped, along with groundwater, to an on-site evaporation pond to prevent further contamination in Lincoln Park, which has been a part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1988. The now-defunct mill is in the process of decommissioning and has not been used to process uranium since 2006.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    More details have emerged in connection with a Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill leak of contaminated water which occurred over the weekend south of town. State health officials reported Tuesday that about 20,000 gallons of the contaminated water leaked from the pump-back system pipeline.

    “Analytical results show that the water contained 2,840 micrograms per liter of uranium and 3,740 micrograms per liter of molybdenum. For comparison, the groundwater standard in Colorado for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter and for molybdenum is 100 micrograms per liter,” said Deb Shaw, program assistant for the state health department.

    At those concentrations of contamination the spill is not reportable to the National Response Center because the quantity is below 10.3 million gallons, Shaw said.

    The contamination did not seep off of Cotter property.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


    Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers — CERES

    March 2, 2014

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates


    Click here to register to download the report.

    Thanks to the Boulder Weekly (Haley Gray) for the link. Here’s an excerpt:

    Water is the lifeblood of Colorado’s Weld and Garfield counties, and lately it’s been in short supply. Both of these counties face extremely high stress in terms of water scarcity, and both have seen an intense concentration of the water-intensive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process.
    It’s a bad combination, according to a recent report issued by Ceres, a nonprofit devoted to promoting corporate responsibility and sustainability leadership.

    The report, released Wednesday, Feb. 4, is titled, “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Demand by the Numbers,” and it projects that the clash between water shortages and fracking is only going to get worse, given that a significant increase in shale development via fracking in these areas is likely. In the Denver- Julesburg (DJ) Basin alone, which covers parts of Boulder and Weld counties, Ceres predicts a redoubling of fracking activity by 2015…

    CERES FOUND THAT 100 PERCENT OF THE NATURAL GAS AND OIL WELLS IN COLORADO ARE LOCATED IN AREAS FACING EXTREME WATER STRESS, 89 PERCENT OF WHICH ARE LOCATED IN WELD AND GARFIELD COUNTIES…

    Ceres’ report constitutes the first systematic effort to investigate water usage by natural gas companies. One of the purposes of the report is to identify water sourcing risks to oil and gas companies, thereby generating information previously unavailable to the public. Famiglietti lauds the “deep dives,” or meticulously detailed case studies, conducted by Ceres for the report.

    It is, however, by no means a comprehensive study of the risks associated with fracking. Concentrated usage of water in extremely dry regions was just one of three primary concerns Famiglietti points out regarding the report. Famiglietti listed earthquakes and the removal of water from the natural water cycle as additional issues demanding further investigation. Both of these concerns arise from the practice of using injection wells to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process by injecting it into deep formations.

    The report also issues recommendations and identifies some of the most progressive current practices in the industry. It specifically mentions, among other companies, Anadarko, the single largest natural gas producer in the DJ Basin in terms of water use, as a “pocket of success.” Anadarko earned the mention for its practice of leasing wastewater from local municipalities. Even so, Anadarko is one of the most at-risk companies in terms of drilling in water-scarce areas, according to Freyman.

    “In a general year, cities have more water than they can use,” says Brian Werner, public information officer of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD).

    Leasing excess water to oil and gas companies to use for fracking allows municipalities to pad meager budgets. The years 2009, 2010 and 2011, for example, were wet years, according to Werner. In 2012 the Front Range was hit with a drought. Werner expects 2014 to be a particularly wet year.

    According to Werner, it is not unheard of to see a town both lease excess water and impose water rationing simultaneously, since water rationing is used to keep water conservation on the public’s minds. “In most years [how much, if any, excess water leased] depends on comfort levels and a number of other factors,” Werner says.

    No towns in Colorado currently lease water directly to companies for fracking purposes, according to Werner. Generally, a water leasing company such as A&W Water Service Inc. secures water from municipalities or local farmers, who might own the rights to more water than they need, and then resells the water to a third party for fracking purposes.

    The increased demand for water by “deep-pocketed” oil and gas companies is not beneficial to all farmers, though. According to the Ceres report, it has driven up the price of water in Colorado, making it difficult for struggling farmers to stay afloat.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    USGS: Cross-ecosystem impacts of stream pollution reduce resource and contaminant flux to riparian food webs

    February 28, 2014
    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

    Click here to go to the Ecological Society of America website to download a copy of the report. Here’s the pitch:

    The effects of aquatic contaminants are propagated across ecosystem boundaries by aquatic insects that export resources and contaminants to terrestrial food webs; however, the mechanisms driving these effects are poorly understood. We examined how emergence, contaminant concentration, and total contaminant flux by adult aquatic insects changed over a gradient of bioavailable metals in streams and how these changes affected riparian web-building spiders. Insect emergence decreased 97% over the metal gradient, whereas metal concentrations in adult insects changed relatively little. As a result, total metal exported by insects (flux) was lowest at the most contaminated streams, declining 96% among sites. Spiders were affected by the decrease in prey biomass, but not by metal exposure or metal flux to land in aquatic prey. Aquatic insects are increasingly thought to increase exposure of terrestrial consumers to aquatic contaminants, but stream metals reduce contaminant flux to riparian consumers by strongly impacting the resource linkage. Our results demonstrate the importance of understanding the contaminant-specific effects of aquatic pollutants on adult insect emergence and contaminant accumulation in adults to predict impacts on terrestrial food webs.

    Credit: Johanna M. Kraus, Travis S. Schmidt, David M. Walters, Richard B. Wanty, Robert E. Zuellig, and Ruth E. Wolf

    More USGS coverage here.


    Animas River: E.coli, nutrients, mixed authority complicate water quality picture at the Colorado/New Mexico border

    February 24, 2014
    E.coli Bacterium

    E.coli Bacterium

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    A study last year found that the level of E. coli bacteria in the Animas River just north of the New Mexico state line met water-quality standards but exceeded them in the New Mexico stretch of the river. E. coli levels in the San Juan River above its confluence with the Animas at Farmington also were above the limit.

    The E. coli limit in New Mexico for a single sample is 410 colony-forming units or a monthly average of 126 CFU, said Melissa May with the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District. Colorado uses only the second criterium, she said. The CFU is measured by placing bacteria and an algae extract in a petri dish and counting the number of colonies.

    But the results of the survey should be considered preliminary until a follow-up study this year is completed, a report by the San Juan Watershed Group says. The new round of testing, scheduled to get underway in April and run through October, also will look at the level of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in the rivers…

    Colorado has an interim standard for nutrients, but it has been applied only on the upper reaches of the Rio Grande and Arkansas rivers, said Peter Butler a past member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In New Mexico, limits are water-body specific, May said…

    Testing was done last year at four sites, two each on the Animas and San Juan rivers, she said. BHP Billiton paid for the study, which consisted of 40 samples in all. Discrepancies in laboratory analysis of the source of E. coli require a second year of testing, May said. A different laboratory than the one used in previous years did DNA analysis in 2013, she said.

    DNA analysis can indicate if the source of E. coli is avian, ruminant (cattle, sheep, deer and elk), equine, canine or human, May said. The absence of equine samples, the low number of cattle samples and a high number of human samples call into question the sensitivity of the probes and the accuracy of overall results, the watershed group report said. Bacteria levels increased the further downstream that samples were taken, both in the San Juan and Animas rivers. The highest level of bacteria was found in the San Juan River at the Hogback Canal, the beginning of the Navajo Nation near Waterflow. Preliminary results of testing at Farmington found that fecal pathogen levels in the San Juan River exceeded the New Mexico standard. A predominant source of the pathogens was human. The finding of human pathogens was unexpected and not consistent with other studies in New Mexico, the report said…

    The Animas River is complicated because it flows through three political jurisdictions – Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation and New Mexico – and numerous land uses, Ann Oliver, a spokeswoman for Animas Watershed Partnership, said. The three political jurisdictions answer to different regions of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

    “While preliminary data indicates a link between high E. coli from human sources in the Animas in New Mexico, this has not been documented by any study of the Animas near the state line,” Oliver said.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    Regression Models for Estimating Salinity and Selenium Concentrations at Selected Sites in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin, Colorado, 2009–2012

    February 22, 2014
    Study area in western Colorado

    Study area in western Colorado

    Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Joshua I. Linard/Keelin R. Schaffrath):

    Elevated concentrations of salinity and selenium in the tributaries and main-stem reaches of the Colorado River are a water-quality concern and have been the focus of remediation efforts for many years. Land-management practices with the objective of limiting the amount of salt and selenium that reaches the stream have focused on improving the methods by which irrigation water is conveyed and distributed. Federal land managers implement improvements in accordance with the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act of 1974, which directs Federal land managers to enhance and protect the quality of water available in the Colorado River. In an effort to assist in evaluating and mitigating the detrimental effects of salinity and selenium, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Resources District, and the Bureau of Land Management, analyzed salinity and selenium data collected at sites to develop regression models. The study area and sites are on the Colorado River or in one of three small basins in Western Colorado: the White River Basin, the Lower Gunnison River Basin, and the Dolores River Basin. By using data collected from water years 2009 through 2011, regression models able to estimate concentrations were developed for salinity at six sites and selenium at six sites. At a minimum, data from discrete measurement of salinity or selenium concentration, streamflow, and specific conductance at each of the sites were needed for model development. Comparison of the Adjusted R2 and standard error statistics of the two salinity models developed at each site indicated the models using specific conductance as the explanatory variable performed better than those using streamflow. The addition of multiple explanatory variables improved the ability to estimate selenium concentration at several sites compared with use of solely streamflow or specific conductance. The error associated with the log-transformed salinity and selenium estimates is consistent in log space; however, when the estimates are transformed into non-log values, the error increases as the estimates decrease. Continuous streamflow and specific conductance data collected at study sites provide the means to examine temporal variability in constituent concentration and load. The regression models can estimate continuous concentrations or loads on the basis of continuous specific conductance or streamflow data. Similar estimates are available for other sites at the USGS National Real-Time Water Quality Web page (http://nrtwq.usgs.gov) and provide water-resource managers with a means of improving their general understanding of how constituent concentration or load can change annually, seasonally, or in real time.

    More USGS coverage here.


    Hydraulic fracturing: ‘It really is just water and sands that goes down a hole’ — William Fronczak

    February 22, 2014

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Rachel Alexander):

    He said the fluid used in the hydraulic fracking, as it is called, process is 99 percent water and sand, with only a small percentage being added chemicals.

    “It really is just water and sands that goes down a hole,” Fronczak said.

    He said vertical fracking uses between 375,000 and 410,000 gallons of water while the more frequently used horizontal fracking uses between 2 and 4 million gallons.

    “There’s a lot of logistics handling water,” he said. “We don’t want to shut down a frack due to water.”

    Fronczak used a variety of charts to show the association members how the actual fracking is only a small portion of what is done with the industry’s water. Initially, water has to be sourced, then transported or transferred to the fracking site. After it is brought out of the fracking hole, the water has to be contained and treated.

    “The challenge is meeting that high rate of demand in a short period of time,” Fronczak said.

    He discussed the limitations of trucking water to fracking sites and the use of piping to transfer the water over distances. This also allows the industry to decrease its carbon footprint.

    “Where there’s a lot of activity, there’s not a lot water,” he said, adding that industry members have work to find solutions to the water issue. “Closest water isn’t always the best. From a quality standpoint as well as from a logistical standpoint.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Cancer-causing chemical PCE contaminates Colorado soil, water and homes — The Denver Post

    February 9, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Here’s an in-depth look at the problem of mitigating PCE (perchloroethylene or perc) spills around dry-cleaning operations, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.

    Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people…

    Dry cleaners are found in most communities nationwide. But the PCE problem hasn’t been as visible as the large-scale industrial disasters that mobilize advocacy groups. Unlike oil rig ruptures and chemical spills into rivers, PCE plumes remain hidden.

    They formed because, in the past, PCE legally could be flushed into sewers, dumped out backdoors, emptied down alleys. Dry cleaners didn’t grasp the potential cumulative impact of day-to-day drips on their floors.

    PCE is heavy, sinking through soil and groundwater to form pools that can remain volatile for decades and do not readily break down.

    Health authorities say they worry most about sites where PCE levels in soil and groundwater are so high that vapors rise up and contaminate buildings.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    COGCC flood response lessons learned forum recap

    February 7, 2014
    Flooded well site September 2013 -- Denver Post

    Flooded well site September 2013 — Denver Post

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Colorado oil and gas regulators set a precedent on Thursday by hosting a public forum on lessons learned from oil spills caused by the September 2013 floods, said Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore.

    But in recapping its response to the spills — which poured about 43,000 gallons of oil into the South Platte River basin — few new updates came out of the meeting, held in the Wells Fargo building in downtown Denver. Representatives from COGCC, a state agency that regulates oil and gas, and industry advocacy group the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, spoke about response to the spills that alarmed Front Range residents for weeks last fall. The groups intend to present a series of recommendations to the state government as a result of their review, Lepore said.

    But the main purpose of the meeting — time for public discussion — was largely a bust. Lepore had set aside an hour for discussion with an audience of more than 70 people, but after four or five comments and questions, the audience was silent.

    “I am pleased with the turnout,” Lepore said after the meeting adjourned almost an hour early. “Honestly, I hoped for much more dialogue.”[...]

    When it comes to flood aftermath, Laura Belanger, an environmental engineer with Western Resource Advocates, is still hopeful that COGCC’s list of best management practices — now only suggestions — become hard-and-fast rules. While larger oil and gas operators might go above and beyond what the list recommends, smaller operations may not, she said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    The COGCC explores expanded policy for horizontal drilling ‘communication’ with existing wells

    February 6, 2014
    Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

    Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plans to expand statewide a policy aimed at preventing horizontal wells from causing leaks involving existing wells, due to a leak southwest of De Beque where such a possible link is being investigated.

    The Bureau of Land Management also is looking at what it can do to try to help head off such problems.

    The agencies’ actions follow the Dec. 14 discovery of natural gas and fluids bubbling up around a Maralex Resources well on Jaw Ridge, which is BLM-managed land about seven miles from De Beque. The leak’s cause continues to be investigated, and one possibility the COGCC is considering is that it resulted from hydraulic fracturing of a Black Hills Exploration & Production well that was drilled from a surface site about a mile away, but made a 90-degree turn underground and passed within about 400 feet of the Maralex well.

    The Maralex well was drilled in 1981 but was shut in shortly after its drilling. It stopped leaking Jan. 17, as work continued on permanently plugging it, an effort completed a week later. Fluids initially escaped from the well pad after the leak’s start. Maralex then opened the well and directed the flow into a pit for removal by truck. That flow fluctuated widely but averaged about 6,300 gallons a day during the month before it ceased. Authorities have found no indication of contamination of surface water or groundwater. Testing continues to try to determine exactly how far the fluids spread beyond the pad within what the BLM considers to be a known maximum spill parameter.

    ‘COMMUNICATION’ CONCERN

    The COGCC currently has a policy aimed at preventing what it calls the potential for “communication” between horizontal wells and existing wells in 11 counties in eastern Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin. That area is seeing a boom in horizontal drilling aimed at producing oil and other liquids, in an area with numerous existing vertical wells that in some cases may not have been constructed to withstand modern-day, high-pressure fracture operations nearby.

    “It is apparent that that policy needs to be pushed out statewide. It needs to be pushed out statewide very quickly,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission at its last meeting.

    The policy requires the COGCC engineer to evaluate all wells within 1,500 feet of a proposed horizontal wellbore to determine whether the existing wells have adequate cement sealing around them to isolate the geological formation to be fractured, as well as all groundwater zones. Also to be evaluated is whether an existing well’s wellhead and master valve are rated to 5,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, or alternatively that there is adequate mechanical isolation down the well.

    If concerns exist regarding an existing well, the company proposing the horizontal well must take measures that can range from doing remedial cement work in the existing well to isolate all formations, to properly plugging it, to replugging it if needed or proposing alternative mitigation. An existing well’s owner cannot refuse to let mitigation work occur.

    The COGCC initially implemented the policy for horizontal wells coming within 300 feet of existing wells. It eventually expanded the distance after pressure readings and other data collected at existing wells during fracking of new ones indicated a need to do so.

    Lepore told the commission one concern companies have is the lack of data that would justify the 1,500-foot-distance standard in the case of wells outside the DJ Basin. He also noted that there are currently few plans to drill horizontal wells elsewhere in the state. Companies have been drilling a small number of such wells for exploratory purposes in the Piceance Basin.

    LEAK THEORY INVESTIGATED

    The Maralex well was drilled into the Dakota sandstone formation, while the Black Hills well targeted the Niobrara shale, part of the shallower Mancos formation. The COGCC says the Maralex well wasn’t cemented to isolate the Niobrara zone because that zone wasn’t considered a producing formation when the well was drilled. It’s looking at whether gas liberated from fracking the Black Hills well reached the Maralex well, pushing gas and water to the surface.

    Bruce Baizel, energy program director with the Earthworks conservation group, has said another concern in horizontal drilling is that it may occur around older existing wells that may have corroded pipes or cement sealing that has weakened over time and can’t stand up to fracking pressures.

    Maralex plugged its well in stages after the discovery of the leak. When it finished plugging the Dakota sandstone formation, the leak slowed but continued. The leak stopped once plugging was completed at the top of the Mancos formation. But that in itself hasn’t been enough to convince officials that the Black Hills well fracking caused or contributed to the problem.

    Test results of fluid that flowed back from the Black Hills well are still being awaited. Samples of flowback fluid from another Black Hills horizontal well farther from the Maralex well proved to differ significantly from the fluid that came up the Maralex well.

    THE BLM’S ROLE

    Agency spokesman Steven Hall called the Maralex situation a rare one for the BLM, which he believes has seen few instances where fracking has occurred close to shut-in wells on lands it administers in Colorado. While noting that the leak’s cause hasn’t been determined, he said the BLM wants to do what it can to prevent problems between horizontal and existing wells. He said the BLM is reviewing how it manages horizontal drilling and fracking on federal land in the state. The agency has no rules or policies addressing potential communication between horizontal and existing wells. But Hall said it has a lot of leeway during the process of reviewing drilling permit applications to impose conditions to try to avoid such situations. In addition, it is working to deal with the situation of wells that are shut in for a long time, to make sure they are permanently plugged, put into production, or tested to ensure their integrity.

    “We’re going to try to be very aggressive in addressing those,” Hall said.

    The agency previously has said that of 110 wells Maralex owns that involve federal lands or minerals in western Colorado, 86 are shut-in — in nearly half those cases for more than 20 years. It has met with Maralex about coming up with a strategy for addressing its shut-in wells.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    New Hydraulic Fracturing Report Finds Texas and Colorado Face Biggest Water Sourcing Risks

    February 6, 2014
    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from CERES via CSRWire:

    As hydraulic fracturing is increasingly used for oil and gas extraction across much of the United States and Western Canada, a new Ceres report issued today shows that much of this activity is happening in arid, water stressed regions, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks for companies operating in these regions as well as their investors.

    The report provides first-ever data on oil & gas companies’ water use and exposure to the most water stressed regions, including those in Texas, Colorado and California. It includes recommendations for companies to improve their water management and reduce their overall exposure to water sourcing risks.

    “Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Ceres President Mindy Lubber, in announcing Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers. “Barring stiffer water-use regulations and improved on-the-ground practices, the industry’s water needs in many regions are on a collision course with other water users, especially agriculture and municipal water use. Investors and banks providing capital for hydraulic fracturing should be recognizing these water sourcing risks and pressing oil and gas companies on their strategies for dealing with them.”

    The report is based on water use data from 39,294 oil and gas wells reported to FracFocus.org from January 2011 through May 2013 and water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI). It shows that nearly half of the wells were in regions with high or extremely high water stress. (Extreme high water stress regions, as defined by WRI, are areas where 80 percent of available surface and groundwater are already allocated to municipal, industrial and agricultural users.) Read the rest of this entry »


    Restoration: North Empire Creek acid mine drainage mitigation

    February 4, 2014
    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    From the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh):

    The Clear Creek Watershed Foundation will spend $536,000 to remove the waste and re-vegetate the area between April and August. David Holm, the foundation’s executive director, hopes the mitigation will begin to make the water less acidic, eventually allowing plants to grow along the creek’s banks and fish to live in its waters.

    However, he doesn’t want to mislead people into thinking the creek will be perfect when the work is complete.

    “So how will it look afterward?” Holm asked. “We hope the stream corridor is going to look pretty good. There’s not going to be mine waste in it. It is going to look like a natural stream, and it is going to have vegetation on both sides as far out as we can get it.”

    Empire Mayor Wendy Koch lauded the effort, saying the stream does not currently support life of any kind.

    Koch said an Empire resident once questioned why he could never find deer, elk or any wildlife in that area.

    “Well, that’s why,” Koch said of the stream and its acidity level. “(The project) will support our various wildlife, everything from bears to birds and anything in between.”

    The project will be paid for by Miller Coors, which gave $394,000; the watershed district; the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety; and in-kind donations from the county, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

    Holm said the stream has a pH of 3, compared to a neutral pH of 7.
    “When you get down to pH 3, you’re into 10,000 times more acidic than what you’re really going for,” Holm said. “So acidity is a real problem in North Empire Creek. There are very high elevations of copper and zinc. Both of those are very toxic to aquatic life.”

    Holm said the stream also has toxic levels of iron, aluminum and manganese…

    Holm said the area has an interesting history, being one of the earliest mining sites in the state.

    “Initially, they did hydraulic mining in this area, which involves high-pressure hoses that are used, essentially, to wash the unconsolidated soil and subsoil … which in this area had disseminated gold deposits,” Holm said. “But it is a brute-force, ugly kind of mining that results in the hill slopes really not having a growth medium when it is said and done.”

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Colorado State University researchers receive $2.2 million for efforts to improve water quality

    January 31, 2014
    Blue-Green algae bloom

    Blue-Green algae bloom

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    Today at the 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment in Washington, D.C., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a grant of $2.2 million to the Center for Comprehensive, OptimaL and Effective Abatement of Nutrients (CLEAN) at Colorado State University to demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s waterways.

    Colorado State University is among four research institutions receiving a total of $9 million in EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants to advance innovative and sustainable water research to manage harmful nutrient pollution. Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways.

    The mission of Colorado State University’s CLEAN Center is to create knowledge, build capacity, and forge collaboration to develop and demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s water resources. Colorado State University researchers will use the EPA grant to lead a multi-stakeholder effort to study and control the sources of excess nutrients in wastewater, stormwater, agricultural water, and natural systems. Key areas of research include: wastewater treatment technologies; water reuse systems; urban stormwater management; agricultural conservation; socioeconomic incentives; nutrient trading; and water rights.

    “These grants will go towards research to help us better manage nutrients and better protect our precious water resources from the dangers of nutrient pollution, especially in a changing climate,” said Administrator McCarthy.

    When excessive nitrogen and phosphorus enter our waterways — usually via stormwater runoff and industrial activities — our water can become polluted. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and health issues, and negatively impacting the economy. For example, nutrient pollution can reduce oxygen levels in water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. In some cases nutrient pollution leads to elevated toxins and bacterial growth in waters that can make people sick.

    The Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants announced by Administrator McCarthy are an integral part of EPA’s research on water quality and availability. Improving existing water infrastructure is costly, which makes creating new and sustainable approaches to water use, reuse and nutrient management important.

    These grants support sustainable water research and demonstration projects consistent with a comprehensive strategy for managing nutrients and active community engagement throughout the research process.

    In addition to Colorado State University, the following institutions received grants:

    · Pennsylvania State University Center for Integrated Multi-scale Nutrient Pollution Solutions, to focus on nutrient flows in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake basin

    · University of South Florida Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management, to support Tampa Bay and similar coastal areas as they face problems of aging wastewater collection and treatment systems, and rapid population growth

    · Water Environment Research Foundation, Alexandria, Va., National Center for Resource Recovery and Nutrient Management, for innovative research in nutrient reduction through resource recovery and behavioral factors affecting acceptance and implementation.

    For more information on Colorado State University’s CLEAN Center, visit: http://www.engr.colostate.edu/ce/

    For more information on the grants and projects, visit: http://epa.gov/ncer/nutrient

    For more information on EPA-funded research supporting water quality and availability, visit: http://www.epa.gov/research/waterscience

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Noble Energy looks to the Denver Basin Aquifer System for non-tributary groundwater for operations

    January 29, 2014
    Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS

    Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Many water needs in the region have been met by buying supplies from farmers and ranchers, but a Noble Energy manager said Tuesday the oil and gas industry could and should stop being a part of that problem, and explained what his company is doing to get water. The large energy developer is looking to use deep groundwater wells — drawing “non-tributary water” — to meets its needs down the road, said Ken Knox, senior adviser and water resources manager for Noble, during his presentation at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley.

    Farmers and others who pump groundwater typically draw water that’s less than 100 feet below the Earth’s surface — water that’s considered to be “tributary,” because it’s connected to the watershed on the surface and over time flows underground into nearby rivers and streams, where it’s used by farmers, cities and others. Wanting to avoid water that’s needed by other users, Knox said Noble is looking to have in place about a handful of deep, non-tributary groundwater wells that draw from about 800 to 1,600 feet below the Earth’s surface. Digging wells that deep is considered too expensive for farmers, Knox and others said Tuesday, and the quality of water at that depth is typically unusable for municipal or agricultural uses.

    One of Noble’s deep groundwater wells is already in place, and the company is currently going through water court to get another four operating in the region down the road, Knox said. Along with digging deeper for water, Knox explained that Noble across the board is “strategically looking” to develop water supplies that don’t put them in competition with agriculture or cities.

    Oil and gas development, according to the Colorado Division of Natural Resources, only used about 0.11 percent of the state’s water in 2012 — very little compared to agriculture, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s supplies. But in places like Weld County — where about 80 percent of the state’s oil and gas production is taking place, and where about 25 percent of the state’s agriculture production is going on, and where the population has doubled since 1990 and is expected to continue growing — finding ways for an economy-boosting energy industry to not interfere with the water demands of farmers, ranchers and cities is critical.

    The growing water demands of the region is coupled with the fact that the cheapest way to build water supplies is to purchase them from farmers and ranchers who are leaving the land and willing to sell. Those factors leave the South Platte Basin, which covers most of northeast Colorado, potentially having as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study, released by the state in 2010.

    With that in mind, the Colorado Farm Show offered its “Water Resources Panel: Agriculture, Urban and Oil and Development Interactions.”

    Joining Knox on the panel were John Stulp, who is special policy adviser on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper; Dave Nettles, division engineer with the Water Resources Division office in Greeley; and Jim Hall, resources manager for the city of Greeley. The panel was moderated by Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

    Knox also spoke Tuesday of Noble’s and other energy companies’ efforts to recycle the water they use in drilling for oil and gas — a hydraulic fracturing process, or “fracking,” that involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations, about 7,000 feet into the ground, to free oil and natural gas. The average horizontal well uses about 2.8 million gallons of water. Some water initially flows out of the well, but another percentage flows back over time. Knox stressed it is cheaper for companies to dispose of that returned water and buy fresh water for drilling purposes than it is to build facilities that treat used water. But, seeing the need to make the most of water supplies in the region, Noble is willing to invest in water-recycling facilities and other water-efficiency endeavors.

    Hall noted that the city of Greeley, which leases water to both ag users and oil and gas users, has seen a decrease in the amount of water it leases for energy development. With improved technology and improved drilling techniques, also decreasing is the amount of land oil and gas development is using, and the number of water trucks on rural roads.

    Knox said oil and gas companies — once requiring about 8 acres for one well site — can now put four to eight wells on just 3 acres, meaning the impact on farm and ranch land is less than it once was. By becoming more water efficient, he said Noble has decreased its water truck loads by 1.65 million annually, and reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 264,000 tons.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    ‘Eva Montoya was elected to chair the [Fountain Creek district board] last week’ — Chris Woodka

    January 26, 2014
    Fountain Creek

    Fountain Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya was elected to chair the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board last week. Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider will serve as vice chairman. The board’s top job rotates between elected officials in El Paso and Pueblo counties annually. The board has nine members — four from each county and one from the citizens advisory group.

    Other Pueblo County members are Commissioner Terry Hart; Melissa Esquibel of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board; and Jane Rhodes, who owns land on Fountain Creek.

    Other El Paso County members are Commissioner Dennis Hisey, Palmer Lake Trustee Michael Maddox, and Fountain Mayor Gabe Ortega.

    Richard Skorman, of Colorado Springs, represents the CAG, which is made up of members from both counties. On Friday, the board also approved 14 appointments each to the CAG and its Technical Advisory Committee.

    The board also renewed Executive Director Larry Small’s contract at $30,000 per year.

    Meanwhile the district is keeping an eye out for project dough from Colorado Springs. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Will the City for Champions drive to boost tourism in Colorado Springs detract from funds for flood control? The question was raised Friday by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart at the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, who heard the comment in a recent television report.

    El Paso County members of the district immediately assured him the funding streams are separate and would not impair a drive to get some sort of stormwater fee or tax on this November’s ballot.

    “If we see another major project competing, we sit up and take notice,” Hart said. “We’re looking for a dedicated revenue source for stormwater.”

    The question of Colorado Springs stormwater funding has vexed Pueblo County officials since 2009, when City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise created four years earlier and funded for just three years. As part of conditions for a 1041 land use permit for Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs pledged to keep its stormwater utility in place. The permit even requires other communities that tie onto SDS to have an enterprise like Colorado Springs had in place.

    A regional task force began meeting in 2012, when Colorado Springs leadership admitted it should be funding $13 million-$15 million in stormwater projects annually. Two of the largest, most destructive fires in the state’s history have compounded the potential damage from flooding. Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who has worked with the stormwater task force, said it is moving toward a way to fund stormwater improvements on a more permanent basis and place a measure on the November ballot.

    El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey and Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, another former Springs councilman, said Mayor Steve Bach’s City for Champions proposal uses a sales tax incremental financing plan, rather than a direct tax or fee. City for Champions is a $250 million package to fund an Olympic museum, stadium, arena and other improvements designed to draw tourists to the Pikes Peak region. Meanwhile, El Paso County is faced with a backlog of about $750 million in stormwater projects. The city also has shortfalls in transportation and parks funding, Small said.

    The Fountain Creek district has the ability to assess a 5-mill tax on property owners in El Paso and Pueblo County under the 2009 law that created it. Last year, the Fountain Creek board agreed to hold off on asking for any tax increase until Colorado Springs and El Paso County dealt with the stormwater issue.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.


    Oil shale: An alliance of conservationists are asking Utah to reconsider recent permits for groundwater disposal

    January 25, 2014
    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Conservation groups are asking the state of Utah to reconsider its December approval of a groundwater discharge permit for Red Leaf Resources’ oil shale project.

    The request comes as the company hopes to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project in the Bookcliffs about 55 miles south of Vernal.

    The groups on Tuesday filed what’s called a “request for agency action” with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the department’s Division of Water Quality. It seeks review and remand of the division’s December decision and an order revoking the permit.

    Attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates filed the action on behalf of Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

    In a news release, the groups said the permit “lacks measures to prevent or detect surface or groundwater pollution, in violation of state law.”

    Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said in the release, “Amazingly, they are not even requiring monitoring of springs, seeps, or groundwater on site.”

    Spokespersons for the Department of Environmental Quality and Red Leaf Resources could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a December news release, the department said that “leachate produced from mining operations appears to have levels of dissolved contaminants that are comparable to, or less than, the levels in existing groundwater in underlying rocks.”

    It also said rock just below the project area “is of very low permeability and protects underlying aquifers from any contaminants that could possibly be released from the capsule.”

    Red Leaf Resources plans to try out what it calls a capsule approach in which it will excavate shale from a pit, install heaters and collection pipes, replace the shale and heat it to produce oil. The groundwater permit applies to a test capsule, and if the company wants to build additional ones for commercial production it would have to seek a major modification to the permit.

    The conservation groups’ challenge of the permit says a planned 3-foot-thick liner made of up shale mixed with clay is inadequate. It says the Division of Water Quality determined groundwater just beneath the mine site doesn’t quality for protection because it is not usable, but in fact the division is required to protect all groundwater from contamination.

    Meanwhile, a British Company, The Oil Mining Co (TOMCO), is moving ahead with plans to implement Red Leaf’s kerogen recovery process just west of the Colorado Border. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    A British company filed papers in Utah to begin mining oil shale on land just west of the Colorado state line. TomCo submitted a notice of intent to begin mining on 2,919 acres in Uintah County for shale, which it plans to roast in large earthen capsules to release oil.

    Red Leaf Resources, which owns the technology that TomCo plans to use, last month received a groundwater discharge permit for its operation, and TomCo said it is working to obtain a similar permit for its leases, which are on state property.

    TomCo, which is an acronym for The Oil Mining Co., anticipates tapping the leases for 126 million barrels of oil on what is known as the Holliday Block lease. TomCo licensed the Red Leaf technology, in which oil shale is excavated and the pit is lined with a network of pipes. The crushed shale is then replaced into the pit and covered over, then heated by the network of pipes beneath, to the point at which the oil breaks free of the surrounding rock and is collected with another network of pipes. Once the oil has been recovered, the material is left in place beneath its covering.

    The EcoShale In-Capsule Process is expected to produce up to 9,800 barrels of oil per day on TomCo’s leases.

    TomCo said it hoped the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining would approve the permit for mining in the middle of this year, and then open the matter for a 30-day comment period.

    Red Leaf, meanwhile, expects to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project the company hopes will allow it to tap as many as 600 million barrels of oil at the rate of 9,800 barrels per day.

    Red Leaf Resources expects it to take a year to construct its first test capsule and that it will take into next year before oil will be recovered.

    Red Leaf’s site is on Seep Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of the TomCo holdings.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.


    CSU Sponsors First Poudre River Forum Feb. 8

    January 21, 2014
    Cache la Poudre River

    Cache la Poudre River

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

    The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:

    • The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
    • Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
    • Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.

    The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.

    Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.

    Pre-registration is required by Jan. 31. The cost is $25; students 18 and under are free and scholarships are available. To register, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/thepoudrerunsthroughit

    The event is sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

    More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


    Colorado Springs Mayor Bach touting regional stormwater solutions, eschews tax increase to pay for them

    January 17, 2014
    Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

    Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Mayor Steve Bach acknowledged that Fountain Creek stormwater control is a regional issue, but said his job is to look after his own “sandbox.”

    “We know it has to be a regional solution,” Bach told a gathering of El Paso County elected officials, including mayors from five other cities, Thursday. “But don’t expect me to sign off on a tax increase.”

    That said, Bach said it would be the job of Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners to determine the budget, but his responsibility is to make sure the money is spent wisely. He acknowledged that upstream users have an obligation to relieve downstream problems caused by development or deteriorating infrastructure.

    Bach provided a list of stormwater projects in this year’s budget that total $24.8 million. The money will make a small dent in the city’s $534 million backlog of stormwater projects. The figure includes $11 million in new funds and $13.8 million in carryover funds from 2013 — money that was budgeted but never spent. It also includes wildfire mitigation funds that were not envisioned in 2009, when Colorado Springs made commitments on Fountain Creek flood control to downstream users in Pueblo County as part of its permit process for Southern Delivery System.

    At the same time, El Paso County has a backlog of $189 million in stormwater projects, some of which overlap Colorado Springs boundaries. Meanwhile, Fountain has compiled its own list of $40 million in needed flood control projects.

    Councilwoman Jan Martin repeated council’s concerns that a sustainable funding source is needed to meet SDS requirements and to protect Colorado Springs.

    “I think the public is looking for us to come up with one solution, not multiple solutions,” Martin said. “We’re not that far apart.”

    After the meeting, Council President Keith King said Pueblo needs to be included in regional discussions.

    “I would hope that any regional solution includes Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo,” King said. “We need to look to the Fountain Creek watershed district for a solution.”

    A regional task force that has been meeting for the past two years plans to make recommendations for a sustainable funding solution by the end of February, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen said.

    In the past, Bach has resisted any solution that would increase taxes.

    Meanwhile here’s a report about a recent study of stormwater issues from Matt Steiner writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

    Dave Munger, of the Pikes Peak Runoff and Flood Control Task Force, which is comprised of business leaders, city councilors, county commissioners, water district representatives and Colorado Springs Utilities representatives, presented the results of the November survey at the [El Paso County] commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday. The survey of 402 county voters showed most favor a regional solution with a steady stream of funding, but are adamant that the money shouldn’t come from added sales and property taxes or fees for El Paso County residents.

    Hisey stressed that in order to find a long-term solution, however, new taxes and fees will likely be an inevitable reality…

    Munger’s presentation Tuesday showed that flood coverage by media and several public meetings have kept awareness high since the first flash flood closed Highway 24 near Cascade on June 30, 2012, shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire was contained.

    While 61 percent of those surveyed said they had not been personally impacted by the flooding, 64 percent said flood control and storm runoff is “very important” to the entire Pikes Peak region.

    The survey also took into consideration a series of mid-September floods that reached from southern El Paso County along the entire Front Range north to the Wyoming border. During those storms, thousands of people were displaced, roadways were washed out and 10 people were killed, including two in El Paso County.

    Hisey said the next step in battling floods and regional stormwater issues is to “come up with some good ideas that might solve the problem” that will compliment several projects that have already been done by the county, the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation. He said the task force plans to heed the results of the survey and have solid recommendations by the end of February for the best possible long-term plan.

    More stormwater coverage here.


    High Sierra Water Services opens new oil and gas production fluids recycling facility

    January 7, 2014
    Wattenburg Field

    Wattenburg Field

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

    The sun shines, the temperature is still unaware of a looming arctic freeze and Josh Patterson chats happily in his new truck as it lumbers down a maze of Weld County roads headed northeast from High Sierra Water Services offices in west Greeley. Heading toward his company’s latest accomplishment, his truck turns, moves ahead and turns a few more times before we’re in open country of blue skies and golden plains. He tears open his breakfast burrito, and manages to swallow a few bites as he answers questions about C7, High Sierra Water Services’ latest commercial water recycling facility about 10 miles southwest of Briggsdale.

    This one is unique in that it is the first water recycling facility in Colorado that will transport water via pipeline. As of early December, the planned four miles of pipeline remain to be set to connect it to Noble Energy’s central processing facility — a centralized area that will become one of the global oil and gas company’s hubs. The facility will take in oil, natural gas, and water piped in from the wellhead, separate it all on one 40-acre space, recycle the water, and pipe out the oil and natural gas to the markets. As a unit, it will eliminate hundreds of truck miles spent transporting from one place to another. Noble plans to build a few more in the field to centralize its operations.

    “This is the big brother to C6,” says Patterson, director of operations for High Sierra Water, of the nine-acre water recycling and injection facility called C7.

    High Sierra is one of a few companies in the Wattenberg Field that recycles used production water from wells, a process that Patterson designed, and which he continues to upgrade. High Sierra’s C6 facility, unveiled publicly last year west of Platteville, is High Sierra’s other recycling facility in the Wattenberg where produced water can be recycled or injected into underground wells. The company also has a recycling facility in Wyoming.

    Recycling water has been on the rise in recent months as companies strive to become more environmentally friendly — Noble Energy, especially, with it is Wells Ranch central processing facility, and Anadarko Petroleum, are both big customers of High Sierra.

    We stop outside the sprawling Wells Ranch Central Processing facility to view the route of the four miles of pipeline to bring water in and out of the facility for Noble, which will be the chief customer at C7.

    “C7 was built in concert with C6, but it sat idle for a year,” Patterson explains. “The demand essentially wasn’t there. It took time to prove up the water quality to frac-fluid compatibility. A lot of water isn’t compatible with gel-frac chemistry. It requires a certain water quality. So we’re taking treated water and making sure it doesn’t ruin a $7 million frac job.”

    The trench for the last bit of pipeline is already dug in some spots, and workers work to fuse the pipes together along the pipeline’s route as we travel those four miles north. The pipeline typically sits about 4 feet underground, depending on the frost line.

    “There are lot of rolling hills and we want to lay the pipe out as flat as possible,” Patterson said. “We don’t do it by gravity. We have a medium pressure pipeline set at 120 psi.”

    At Weld County roads 74 and 69, we stop finally at High Sierra, where a backhoe is digging the trench that will feed into the recycling plant. To the eastern side of the site, workers are on a rig, drilling a directional well to dispose of production water that doesn’t get recycled. It is the facility’s second injection well.

    On the outside, it looks as if it’s one massive storage facility, with several tank batteries, and an open concrete pad where the company plans to place more for storage of both produced and recycled water.

    The company started operations with a 2,000-barrel sale on Thanksgiving Day. It has the capacity to process 15,000 barrels a day.

    “Now, we can store 6,000 barrels for incoming water, and 3,000 barrels for finished water,” Patterson said. Noble will have the capacity to store 80,000 barrels (enough for about one frack job) at the central processing facility, all piped in from High Sierra.

    “It’ll get to capacity and based on my projections, it will require an expansion,” Patterson said of C7’s capabilities. “With the drilling plans and projected water use (in the field), by 2018, we’ll need another facility or an expansion to that facility.”

    To date, C8, a new injection facility with planned recycling capabilities, has been built in Grover, and officials are mulling plans for future expansion.

    We walk inside to don hard hats and step into the belly of the beast. Actually, the big blue beast, an injection pump, sits in the middle pumping production water downhole into the plant’s first injection well, arguably the loudest piece of equipment in the metal building with concrete flooring. Across the room, a door leads to the recycling facility, where tanks and equipment are placed strategically and carefully in tight quarters, leaving just enough room for a body to roam through and maybe clean and check tanks. Each massive tank inside has a function in the four-step process that takes four hours from production wastewater to recycled product. The process starts by removing the suspended solids from the water, such as cuttings from the wells. Step two is dissolving other solids; step three is polishing, and step four is filtration. It’s a process that Patterson has honed in his time at High Sierra, and in which he takes enormous pride. With each step, or system design, he tries to improve on the process.

    The facility has eight employees who work on the disposal side and nine for the recycling side; the process is 24/7, and the facility is open 15 hours a day.

    After about 30 minutes, and Patterson disappearing to discuss a site production issue with staff, we’re back in the truck en route to Greeley.

    His burrito barely touched, Patterson swigs from a bottle of water nabbed for the trip, and he talks about the future needs of recycled water.

    While not every company in the field is going with recycled water, Patterson said more inquires are coming in all the time. It’s a rather expensive process, and volume dictates the cost. With a long-term contract with Noble, dealing in millions of gallons of water, the costs make it on par with trucking costs. Some companies have experimented with recycling water at the wellhead — Patterson himself has even tried it. But the amount of power needed to recycle water, makes the paltry amount coming out of wells cost-prohibitive, Patterson said.

    “It’s just not economic. Just the power required to run a treatment system brings the costs way up,” Patterson said. “A lot of companies have put together treatment technology. But there’s just not enough water. If you’re on a seven-well pad, with a seven-well pad next door, it could be economic. But it goes back to the fixed costs (which don’t fluctuate).”

    Recycling water is not the only answer in this growing field, which produces roughly 85,000 barrels of water a day, but it is growing. Between C6 and C7, High Sierra has the capacity to recycle 25,000 barrels a day. The rest must be put into injection wells. Barring additional storage capacity for a growing need for recycled water, it must go somewhere.

    “We’re still a drop in the bucket compared to the water that could be utilized,” Patterson said.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Officials still don’t have conclusive evidence between hydraulic fracturing and the leaking well near De Beque

    December 31, 2013
    Debeque phacelia via the Center for Native Ecosystems

    Debeque phacelia via the Center for Native Ecosystems

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Authorities are still awaiting test results that could help determine the cause of a leak at a 32-year-old, nonproducing oil and gas well seven miles southwest of De Beque.

    The Maralex Resources well is now producing about 100 barrels, or 4,200 gallons, of fluids a day into a containment pit, about a week and a half after the discovery of gas and fluids leaking from and around the well. Part of the leak investigation is focused on whether recent hydraulic fracturing of a nearby Black Hills Exploration & Production well could have caused the leak.

    As of Tuesday, results weren’t back from water and soil tests that could confirm or rule out the presence at the leak site of frack fluids from the recent operation.

    Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said test results are expected the first week of January.

    Black Hills drilled a well about a mile away that by design turned horizontally underground. The company believes it came within about 400 feet of the Maralex well, which is on Bureau of Land Management land. The Black Hills well is targeting the Niobrara shale formation, whereas the Maralex well was drilled deeper to reach the Dakota sandstone formation.

    BLM spokesman Chris Joyner said it’s theoretically possible the two wells are as close as 260 feet. He said that in the spring, Black Hills ran measuring tools down the Maralex well, and it headed in a direction that would place the new well about 400 feet from it. But for some reason Black Hills didn’t measure the entire length of the Maralex well, so if it happened to make a 90-degree turn beneath the measured length, the wells could be as close as 260 feet, Joyner said. That’s unlikely for what is considered to be a vertical rather than horizontal well, and the 400-foot distance is probably correct, but the BLM has to consider worst-case scenarios, he said.

    An unknown amount leaked from the well before it was discovered and Maralex began diverting it into the pit, from which fluids are being removed by trucks. The BLM says no surface water impacts have occurred. The nearest surface water is the Colorado River, which is anywhere from four to six miles away as measured by the winding canyons below the spill site.

    Crews have built a berm and shored up the downhill side of the pad, and installed a trench to protect a nearby draw, particularly from any possible leaked fluids that may now be frozen but could flow when thawed. Soil samples also have been taken in the draw, and Joyner said it’s likely Maralex also will be ordered to install groundwater monitoring wells in the area.

    Following the leak’s discovery, Maralex opened the well and installed a diversion pipe from it, and leaking around the well ceased. Flows from the well itself also have been intermittent. Joyner said some of the flows may simply consist of substances coming up from the well’s target production zone because it’s no longer shut in. That shut-in occurred in 1981, the same year the well was drilled, but it remained capable of production, the BLM says. The well showed no structural problems during a BLM inspection this summer.

    The BLM has ordered Maralex to permanently plug and abandon the well and reclaim the site. Joyner said plugging could occur as soon as the end of this week, but first the problem with the well must be identified and fixed.

    “Right now we’re very actively engaged in trying to figure out what the problem is with the well,” he said.

    “… It’s a very controlled situation now. We just don’t have the well killed, so to speak, and fixed.”

    He said the BLM has been happy with the efforts by Maralex and the industry in general, including contractors and companies that have lent equipment. Quick early actions helped contain the leaking fluids, he said.

    Black Hills also has been involved on the scene.

    “It’s certainly not looked at as just a Maralex problem. It’s looked at as a problem that we need to fix as a group,” he said, referring to the industry, BLM and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Hartman said the COGCC has had personnel on the scene daily. He said the agency has had discussions with Maralex about a remediation plan that will be carried out after the well is plugged.

    Joyner said site access has been a challenge due to alternately frozen and muddy roads.

    An employee for Ignacio-based Maralex who declined to give his name said Tuesday that the company was waiting on test results before it would speak to issues surrounding the leak.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Fremont County: Four property owners sue to shut down well that has polluted surface water

    December 29, 2013
    Typical water well

    Typical water well

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    A Fremont County water district is asserting that its 4,000 users would lose their main source of water if a judge orders a water well, which has discharged pollutants, shut down. The Park Center Water District made that assertion recently in U.S. District Court in response to a lawsuit by four property owners along Fourmile Creek, less than a mile downstream from the well.

    The lawsuit was filed March 18 against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management because the well is on BLM land north of Canon City. It supplies most of the district’s water.

    A judge last month granted the water district’s request to join BLM as defendants, to defend the district’s interest against the lawsuit.

    The property owners are Walter and Katherine Myers, who live along the creek, and their daughter and son-in-law who own nearby land that they use occasionally for recreation and family visits. The Myers contend that they have lost the use of their drinking water well because of discharge of pollutants into the creek, which helps recharge their well.

    The water district is asking a judge not to order the well shut down and says it is not currently discharging pollutants. The Myers allege that the well is continuously discharging pollutants, including arsenic and uranium, into the creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River.

    The district states that BLM has been in an agreement since March 26 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remedy discharges of pollutants from the well. The district and BLM contend that, because of the agreement, there is no need for a judge to order the well shut down.

    Any harm the property owners have sustained does not outweigh the harm that water district users would sustain if the judge orders shut down of the well, the district contends.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Udall: BLM Should Challenge Mining Claims in Middle of Arkansas River, Proposed Browns Canyon National Monument

    December 24, 2013
    Suction dredge with sediment plume

    Suction dredge with sediment plume

    Here’s the release from US Senator Mark Udall’s office:

    Mark Udall, chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, said two pending mining claims located in the Arkansas River and his proposed Browns Canyon National Monument, show the urgent need for Congress to act and protect this area — the most popular rafting destination in the country. Udall urged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to quickly challenge these mining claims in court.

    “Over the past 18 months the people of Chaffee County have told me that Browns Canyon and the Arkansas River are two of the most important economic drivers in Chaffee County. That’s why the BLM must swiftly challenge these two mining claims. Mining on the river could destroy the pristine water quality and scenery that has made Browns Canyon one of the top rafting and fishing destinations in the country. It also could be disastrous for Chaffee County, its economy and the businesses that count on the river,” Udall said. “These claims also underscore the urgent need for Congress to join me in passing my community-driven bill to protect Browns Canyon for future generations. Without a national monument designation and the grassroots protections my bill includes, Browns Canyon could lose many of the qualities that have kept Coloradans — myself included — coming back year-after-year for its unique mix of whitewater and wilderness.”

    The two mining claims were filed when a September 2012 Interior Board of Land Appeals decision temporarily removed mining protections for Browns Canyon and some other lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management across the country.

    Udall’s bill would create the Browns Canyon National Monument, covering 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista, including 10,500 acres of new wilderness. The bill reflects the input of local businesses, residents, ranchers and other stakeholders.

    From the Chaffee County Times (Maisie Ramsay) via The Mountain Mail:

    A trio of gold panning enthusiasts has found themselves caught up in Sen. Mark Udall’s push to create Browns Canyon National Monument. Udall called on the Bureau of Land Management this week to “challenge” mining claims in the Arkansas River and his proposed Browns Canyon National Monument.

    “Mining on the river could destroy the pristine water quality and scenery that has made Browns Canyon one of the top rafting and fishing destinations in the country,” Udall said in a press release that characterized the claims as potentially “disastrous” for Chaffee County.

    The three men who hold the claims, however, have a different take.

    Cañon City resident Dan Scavarda and his cousin Tom Tella bought four mining claims covering 80 acres near their property at Chateau Chaparral, a recreational vehicle campground in Nathrop. The pair described themselves as amateur gold panners who had never owned a mining claim before. They planned to follow the lead of other prospectors using dredges to glean the precious metal from the riverbed.

    “We’re not gold miners. We’re not looking for profit, we’re just recreational guys,” Scavarda said, describing the dredge they planned to use as a “lawnmower on a vacuum cleaner.”
    The idea, Scavarda said, was to “get off the porch, mosey on down to the river, piddle around and then go have lunch.”

    “We wanted to have a little motor to make it easier on us because we’re old,” Scavarda said. “That’s all we’re looking for.”

    Tella echoed Scavarda’s remarks.

    “The way we filed our plan was just to do a little dredging … more of a hobby than any mining activity, so to speak,” Tella said.

    Wallie Robinson said he intends to use his 20-acre claim south of Nathrop in a similar fashion. Robinson makes his living in part by selling mining claims and advertises Arkansas River claims for sale on his website. However, he said his goal with the Arkansas River No. 5 placer claim is to provide a gold-panning venue for his Pic-N-Pan Prospecting Club.

    “We’re not looking to bring big equipment in. We’re looking for a place to pan for gold,” Robinson said.

    The size of the equipment is not the issue, said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone.

    “They could sell or transfer the claim to someone who wants to do larger-scale mining that could be disruptive,” Saccone said.

    Saccone also pointed to the fact that the claims were issued through a loophole in the BLM’s permitting process created by a September 2012 decision by the Interior Board of Land Appeals. That assertion was confirmed by BLM spokesman Steve Hall.

    “The IBLA decision opened up areas to claims that the BLM had previously determined to be unsuitable for mining claims, like Browns Canyon,” Hall said. “This temporarily opened the Browns Canyon area to mining claims. BLM has since initiated the process to close Browns Canyon to future claims.”

    This vulnerability is exactly why Browns Canyon needs the permanent protections afforded by Udall’s national monument legislation, said Keith Baker, Friends of Browns Canyon executive director.

    “The issue is not what these gents would do, but what someone might do who buys that mining claim,” Baker said. “This helps illustrate our concern that the resource is protected in a more permanent way – there is vulnerability there.”

    Udall has called on the BLM to “swiftly challenge” the claims.

    Tella expressed surprise at Udall’s opposition, given the location of his claims. “Well, there’s a 300-campsite trailer park right there,” he said, referring to Chateau Chaparral. “It’s not like it’s in the middle of Browns Canyon in a real pristine area.”

    Tella and Scavarda said they are still working with the BLM to reach a compromise on the use of a dredge.

    “They said we would be allowed to use the claims without any motorized equipment, but you can do that on public land anyhow,” Tella said. “We have claims, so it should give us more rights. That’s the issue we’re struggling with.”

    The BLM has not decided whether to heed Udall’s call to contest the claims, Hall said.

    “The BLM has not determined a course of action of the recent claims in Browns Canyon,” he said.

    Udall introduced his official legislation creating Browns Canyon National Monument Dec. 10. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Leadville: Evans Gulch susceptible to contamination — CDPHE survey shows

    December 24, 2013
    Leadville

    Leadville

    From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Dan Ramey):

    Parkville Water District’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch have a moderate susceptibility to contamination, according to a survey performed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The report looks at the susceptibility of a district’s sources of water to two types of contaminants.

    Discrete contaminant sources are areas “from which the potential release of the contamination would be confined to a relatively small area,” according to the report. These sources include such things as Superfund sites and mining sites.

    Dispersed contaminant sources are defined by the report as “broad based land uses and miscellaneous sources from which the potential release of contamination would be spread over a relatively large area.” These sources includes things such as animal pastures and septic systems.
    According to the report, the district’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch are at risk from one Superfund site and 53 existing or abandoned mining sites. Meanwhile, the surface is only at risk from three dispersed contaminant sources.

    The report also found that Evans Gulch surface water has a moderately high physical setting vulnerability rating. The physical setting vulnerability rating looks at how the area around a water source can buffer that source from possible contaminants. The higher the rating, the less of a buffer the water source has.

    Another survey from the state also assessed the susceptibility of the district’s other water sources, all of which are groundwater sources. All of those five groundwater sources had a total susceptibility rating of moderately low. Those five water sources are threatened by just seven possible discrete contaminants and 18 dispersed contaminants, according to the report.
    The physical setting vulnerability ratings for those water sources vary from moderately low to moderate.

    The survey is part of the state health department’s Source Water Assessment and Protection program. The surveys are also an important part of the water district’s Source Water Protection Plan. The plan uses information found in the two state health department surveys to develop ways to prevent the district’s water sources from becoming contaminated.

    Contamination of the district’s sources, especially those in Evans Gulch, could prove disastrous, Parkville General Manager Greg Teter said. The district has other sources besides those in Evans Gulch, but those other sources would likely only be able to supply half of the community’s demand.

    “We’re trying to stay ahead of a potential situation,” Teter said.

    One of the keys to the protection plan is the sharing of information between Parkville and other local entities. The district recently signed an intergovernmental agreement with Lake County.
    As part of the agreement the county and the district will share both GIS data and information, Teter said.

    For example, the Lake County Building and Land Use Department will share information with the district about potential mining applications near Parkville water sources. This will allow the district to be proactive about protecting its water sources, Teter said.

    Another key part of the plan is education and ensuring that businesses and community members know where Parkville’s water sources are, Teter said. The intergovernmental agreement and protection plan do not create any new restrictions on land uses around water sources, Teter said. They merely facilitate the sharing of information and create an awareness of potential threats to the community’s water sources.

    In addition to protecting the community’s water sources, the Lake County watershed is also important because of its location along the Arkansas River.

    “Ours isn’t the biggest, but it’s important because it’s the first on the Arkansas,” Teter said.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    The COGA is disputing the recent University of Missouri study of endocrine disruptors in Garfield County waters

    December 21, 2013
    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    Doug Flanders, COGA’s director of policy and external affairs, issued a statement this week calling the study’s link between drilling and chemicals known as endocrine disruptors “short sighted.”

    “The Colorado River is a drainage basin for almost half of western Colorado,” reads the statement. “To correlate the (endocrine disrupting chemical) levels in the river to oil and gas drilling is extreme cherry-picking from a number of sources that are known to contain (endocrine disrupting chemicals).”

    The study from researchers with the University of Missouri at Columbia and the U.S. Geological Survey who collected water samples from the Colorado River and water wells near oil and gas development in Garfield County found chemical activity linked to cell destruction. The study is published in the journal Endocrinology…

    She noted that though the study found higher levels of the endocrine disruptors in waters near fracking sites, more research is required to determine whether fracking is causing more of the chemicals to appear in the water supply. Nagel is conducting additional testing on the Western Slope as part of a new, more comprehensive study, she said.

    The researchers collected control water samples in Boone County, Missouri, an area with no natural-gas drilling, and found lower levels of endocrine disrupting chemical activity.

    The Colorado Oil & Gas Association argues that the region in Missouri has a different geology, topography and environment.

    “Additionally, authors of the study are unsure of the exact source of the (endocrine disrupting chemicals) and even acknowledge that the chemicals could come from a host of other sources besides fracking,” the industry group’s statement reads.

    Naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals could contribute to the activity observed in water samples collected by scientists, according to the study. Researchers noted, however, that they collected samples in areas without recent agricultural activity and wastewater contamination that could have led to additional endocrine disrupting chemical activity.

    The researchers also contend that water samples taken in the more urban Boone County lend further support for a link between fracking and chemical activity in water.

    “The more urban samples were found to exhibit the lowest levels of hormonal activity in the current study,” the study states.

    Meanwhile, the State of Colorado has toughened regulations for oil and gas spills. Here’s the release from the COGCC (Todd Hartman):

    The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today unanimously approved new spill reporting regulations that significantly tighten the volume thresholds and timeframe for operators to report spills of oil as well as exploration and production waste.

    Under the new rules, any spill of five barrels or more must be reported within 24 hours. In addition, any spill of one barrel or more that occurs outside secondary containment, such as metal or earthen berms, must also be reported within 24 hours. The previous threshold for such reporting in both instances was 20 barrels, and spills between five and 20 barrels could be reported within 10 days.

    The rules continue to require reporting within 24 hours of any spill that impacts or threatens to impact waters of the state, any occupied structure, livestock, a public byway or surface water supply area.

    The rules approved Tuesday build upon House Bill 13-1278, which was approved by lawmakers earlier this year and took effect August 7.

    “These are important improvements to our spill reporting requirements and improve our ability to track and respond to spills and releases across Colorado,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore.

    “These regulations will improve the public’s confidence in our ability to protect public health, safety and our environment.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    The BLM and COGCC continue to monitor leaking gas well near De Beque

    December 19, 2013
    Colorado River near De Beque

    Colorado River near De Beque

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A recently hydraulically fractured horizontal oil and gas well was drilled within about 400 feet underground, and possibly within 260 feet, of a nonproducing well discovered to be leaking Saturday. The inactive, 32-year-old vertical well showed no leaking or structural problems during a routine Bureau of Land Management inspection July 9.

    Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the newly discovered leak at the Maralex Resources well on BLM-managed land on Jaw Ridge in Mesa County about seven miles southwest of De Beque. One possibility is that hydraulic fracturing of a horizontal well owned by another company, Black Hills Exploration & Production, may be responsible.

    The BLM and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are investigating the incident with the assistance of both companies. BLM spokesman Chris Joyner said the COGCC took soil and water samples Tuesday.

    “We’re being told within a week we’ll know what the analysis shows,” he said.

    “If it’s fracking fluids, then obviously that will give us an indication that it was related to the other site that was recently fracked,” Joyner said.

    Joyner said the BLM is being told a citizen, possibly a hunter, discovered the leak Saturday. The leak was bubbling up from around the well, but Maralex opened the well to divert the leak to a holding pit, which caused the water and gas to come up only through the well and suggested the action relieved the pressure, he said.

    Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said late Tuesday afternoon that it appeared the flow of fluids and gas had stopped altogether. An unknown amount of fluids initially migrated off the pad but didn’t reach surface water, Joyner said.

    Maralex “acted quickly Saturday and got it going into a containment pit. That helped a lot,” he said.

    A containment berm around the pad was built Tuesday.

    Fracked recently

    Joyner said Maralex removed 160 barrels of fluids from the pit, which had been dry during this summer’s inspection. He said precipitation likely accounts for part of that amount.

    The leaking well is 7,300 feet deep and about a mile southeast of a 6,000-foot-deep Black Hills well that Joyner was told was fracked within the last 10 days. He said the leak appears fairly fresh, or the volume would likely be much larger.

    Maralex couldn’t be reached for comment. Black Hills spokesman Wes Ashton said his company’s horizontal well went underground within about 400 feet of the Maralex well. Joyner said that’s possible, but it could have come within 260 feet. Joyner didn’t know how close to the well it was allowed to be, and Ashton didn’t know how far the fractures from the Black Hills well were expected to extend.

    Ashton said Black Hills has drilled four wells, all horizontal, in the De Beque area in the last three years.

    “We’ve got a pretty good track record and history in the local area. … We’re just doing anything we can at this point to assist what’s going on and as far as the review.”

    Horizontal drilling, which involves drilling down and then out 90 degrees sometimes for long distances, is becoming increasingly popular, in Colorado’s case mostly in northeastern Colorado where companies are pursuing oil development.

    Path to surface

    Bruce Baizel, energy program director with the Earthworks conservation group, said such drilling poses a challenge as the wells “wiggle and waggle” between pre-existing vertical wells, at closer and closer distances with less margin for error. Especially if the wells are older, perhaps with corroded pipe or with cement sealing around them that has weakened over time, there’s the potential for leaks when high-pressure fracking occurs, he said.

    “You put pressure on it and boom, there goes your crumbling cement and you’ve got a path right to the surface,” he said.

    Ashton said Black Hills does collision-avoidance studies, including resurveying of existing wells and planning of a well path to avoid existing well bores.

    “This is an issue of concern to the industry and operators in the industry are presently working with regulatory agencies to address the issue and we’re actively participating in that process,” he said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Antibacterial soaps may do more harm than help — Associated Press

    December 17, 2013
    The need for hand washing

    The need for hand washing

    From the Associated Press (Matthew Perrone) via Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    The Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence that antibacterial chemicals used in liquid soaps and washes help prevent the spread of germs, and there is some evidence they may pose health risks.

    The agency said it is revisiting the safety of chemicals like triclosan in light of recent studies suggesting they can interfere with hormone levels and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

    The government’s preliminary ruling lends new credence to longstanding warnings from researchers who say the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.

    Under its proposed rule released Monday, the agency will require manufacturers to prove that their antibacterial soaps and body washes are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. If companies cannot demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products, they would have to be reformulated, relabeled or possibly removed from the market. The agency will take comments on its proposal before finalizing it in coming months.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    De Beque: COGCC is probing flow of water and gas from non-producing well near DeBeque, new activity in area the cause?

    December 17, 2013
    Colorado River near De Beque

    Colorado River near De Beque

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    State oil and gas personnel are trying to determine whether hydraulic fracturing of a horizontal well outside De Beque is responsible for water and gas flowing from a non-producing vertical well a half-mile away. Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said fluid at the surface has been captured in a trench and contained in a pit on site.

    “No surface waters have been impacted and the nearest known water well is roughly six miles away. (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) personnel will be working to determine any potential impact on groundwater,” he said.

    “COGCC is investigating the possibility the hydraulic stimulation of the horizontal wellbore communicated with the vertical wellbore.”

    He said Black Hills Exploration & Production was doing the horizontal drilling and fracturing operation on Bureau of Land Management property. Its well reached about 6,000 feet deep and the fracking was done within the last few weeks. The vertical well, owned by Maralex Resources Inc., is 7,300 feet and was drilled in 1981. It hasn’t produced for many years, Hartman said.

    He said COGCC field inspection personnel were on the site Monday and more, including environmental specialists and engineers, would be arriving Tuesday to determine what happened and assess and remediate any impacts. The agency is collecting water samples as part of its investigation. Representatives with both companies also are involved in the investigation.

    Horizontal drilling involves drilling down and then out horizontally to follow geological formations. The practice has taken off as companies have combined it with hydraulic fracturing to successfully produce significant quantities of oil and gas.

    The practice also has led to some concerns about the possibility of impacting pre-existing vertical wells that may not be designed to withstand the kind of pressure associated with the fracking, which involves pumping fluids into a formation to create cracks and foster oil and gas flow. In October, Encana said its fracking of a horizontal well in New Mexico may have been responsible for releases of fluid from a nearby vertical well, according to a report by KRQE in Albuquerque.

    Meanwhile, a group of 9-15-year-olds have delivered a petition asking the state to stop issuing permits for oil and gas exploration and production. Here’s a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

    A group of eight 9-15-year-olds from Boulder, Lafayette and Englewood have asked state regulators to stop issuing permits for drilling oil and gas wells, or for fracking them, “until it can be done without adversely impacting human health,” safety, or Colorado’s climate, water, earth and wildlife.

    The petition was filed Nov. 15 by the Boulder-based Earth Guardians with the Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency that regulates the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry. It’s available here, on the COGCC website.

    “The COGCC will consider initiating this rulemaking at the January 27-28, 2014 Hearings,” the agency said in a note posted on its website.

    COGCC Executive Director Matt Lepore said the petition was posted to the COGCC website Monday, after the commissioners decided to hear the children’s request for a new rule. The petition was filed under a state law that allows individuals to ask the state to make rules, change them or repeal them.

    Finally, here’s a look at finding common ground in the oil and gas debate from Allen Best writing for the Mountain Town News. Here’s an excerpt:

    In a lecture on Dec. 10 sponsored by the Center of the American West, oil-and-gas attorney Howard Boigon called this “the latest reel in a long-running movie.”

    This latest reel can be distilled into one word: fracking. Short for hydraulic fracturing, it’s a technical process, just one component in the broader activity of drilling. But the word is now fraught with additional meanings, depending upon who is using it.

    The rift has become so deep that, like gang colors, sides can be differentiated by how they spell the word. To drillers, the abbreviated word is spelled “frac.” To most everybody else, including those more neutral about the practice, it is “frack.”

    If we can’t agree how to spell the word, there’s even deeper division as to what it refers. Until a few years ago, it was clinically called a “downhole completion procedure,” one done only after a drilling rig had been laid down. So far, as Boigon noted, there are no confirmed cases of fracking fluids sullying potable drinking water — this after a million fracks during the last 60 years.

    In the language of some, thought, fracking involves much more—and is much more sinister.

    “In its most pointed form,” he said, “it is used to describe in a pejorative way the injection of known carcinogens underground which can percolate into groundwater, with the resulting production of large quantities of toxic fluids which are often spilled on the surface before having to be disposed of in underground wells that cause earthquakes.”[...]

    Boigon was at his best in dissecting the oil and gas industry. It is, he said, “an industry that in many ways is bolted to the past…A stubborn reliance on property rights as the sacred foundation of the industry underlies attitudes and actions. Oil and gas is found where it is found, therefore we must go and get it wherever it is, and our right to do is inalienable and must be protected…. Independence and self-reliance, the willingness to take risk, an aversion to interference by government or neighbor—these are the attributes of the oilman…Oilmen are competitive and notoriously self-confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance and dismissiveness, believing they know best how to do their business and that there is nothing they can’t do. “

    His acknowledgement of the technological prowess of drillers also bears citation:

    “The fact is that the oil and gas industry is one of the most innovative on the planet, and our civilization has benefited greatly from this. Think about the basic technology of the business, drilling a hole several inches in diameter miles below the surface to targets imperfectly identified, through virtually impenetrable rock under conditions of high heat and pressure, under surface conditions ranging from extreme cold to thousands of feet of water to dense jungle to challenging topography to fragile environments to urban surroundings, in political and regulatory contexts all over the world ranging from highly developed to primitive. The imperatives of meeting these challenges have generated extraordinary creativity and innovation, from deepwater platforms to multi-well pads to horizontal drilling to multi-stage hydraulic fracturing to pitless drilling, to water recycling, to fracking without fresh water, to name just a few. Technology is constantly evolving. You give them a challenge, and they figure out a way to meet it.”[...]

    I have made the argument that it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more drilling rigs in our midst, to retain an element of reality in our lives. Those drilling rigs are our rigs, after all. Our giant houses, 12 mph pickups, weekend flights to Las Vegas – we’re all part of this story. It’s not them vs. us. It’s us.

    Does this drilling give us the illusion of sustainability? The late Randy Udall probed this in a presentation at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society in March. We’ve chained ourselves to the drilling rig, he said, and thrown away the key.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    High levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals have been found in water samples near fracking sites in Colorado

    December 16, 2013
    Williams Energy hydraulic fracturing operation near Rulison via The Denver Post

    Williams Energy hydraulic fracturing operation near Rulison via The Denver Post

    Here’s the release from the University of Missouri:

    University of Missouri researchers have found greater hormone-disrupting properties in water located near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites than in areas without drilling. The researchers also found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the controversial “fracking” method of drilling for oil and natural gas are endocrine disruptors.

    Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility.

    “More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Susan Nagel, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the MU School of Medicine. “With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”

    The study involved two parts. The research team performed laboratory tests of 12 suspected or known endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and measured the chemicals’ ability to mimic or block the effects of the reproductive sex hormones estrogen and androgen. They found that 11 chemicals blocked estrogen hormones, 10 blocked androgen hormones and one mimicked estrogen.

    The researchers also collected samples of ground and surface water from several sites, including:

  • Accident sites in Garfield County, Colo., where hydraulic fracturing fluids had been spilled
  • Nearby portions of the Colorado River, the major drainage source for the region
  • Other parts of Garfield County, Colo., where there had been little drilling
  • Parts of Boone County, Mo., which had experienced no natural gas drilling
  • The water samples from drilling sites demonstrated higher endocrine-disrupting activity that could interfere with the body’s response to androgen and estrogen hormones. Drilling site water samples had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and samples from the Colorado River showed moderate levels. In comparison, the researchers measured low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity in the Garfield County, Colo., sites that experienced little drilling and the Boone County, Mo., sites with no drilling.

    “Fracking is exempt from federal regulations to protect water quality, but spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water,” Nagel said. “We found more endocrine-disrupting activity in the water close to drilling locations that had experienced spills than at control sites. This could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

    The study, “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region,” was published in the journal Endocrinology.

    From the Epoch Times (Sarah Matheson):

    The chemicals “could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals],” said one of the study’s authors, Susan Nagel, of the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

    Researchers took surface and ground water samples from sites with drilling spills or accidents in Garfield County, Colo. The area has more than 10,000 natural gas wells. Researchers also looked at control samples from sites without spills in Garfield County, as well samples from Boone County, Missouri.

    The water samples from drilling sites had higher levels of EDC activity that could interfere with the body’s response to the reproductive hormone estrogen, and androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone.

    Drilling site water samples had moderate to high levels of the hormone-disrupting chemical. Water samples from the Colorado River, which is the drainage basin for the natural gas drilling sites, had moderate levels.

    Researchers found little EDC activity in the water samples from the sites with little drilling…

    Researchers looked at 12 suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in fracking. They measured the chemicals’ ability to mimic, or block, the effect of the body’s male and female reproductive hormones…

    The study, “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region,” was published online on Dec. 16.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    COGCC expects to look at riparian setbacks in the wake of September flooding and Parachute Creek spill

    December 15, 2013
    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

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

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Thursday that no firm decisions have been made about how to deal with the question of riparian setbacks following contamination problems in Parachute and on the Front Range. But in response to a question from Rifle citizen activist Leslie Robinson at the quarterly Northwest Colorado Oil & Gas Forum, commission director Matt Lepore promised some kind of action soon.

    “We will sit down in the not-too-distant future in a little more formal way and look certainly at the flooding in September and certainly Parachute Creek as well, as sort of a lessons-learned — what in light of those incidents seems appropriate to change or require or what have you,” he said.

    Lepore was speaking in reference to massive floods that caused damage including the leaking of tens of thousands of gallons of oil and produced water from production facilities, and to last winter’s leak of natural gas liquids from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant near Parachute Creek.

    During a major rules rewrite in 2008, the COGCC set aside action on the question of riparian setbacks, except for requirements it imposed to protect municipal water supplies. Some activists consider it to be unfinished business that recent events have shown needs revisiting.

    In an interview, Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she hopes the COGCC isn’t going to consider lessons learned just on its own. “I hope that they ask for input from environmental and conservation groups like the GVCA,” she said. She said while the Front Range probably has been more impacted by problems related to oil and gas infrastructure near rivers, she’s worried about the proximity of wells to the Colorado River in the Parachute area and potential vulnerability to flooding.

    The leak up Parachute Creek resulted in an estimated 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids getting into groundwater, with benzene ultimately reaching the creek. Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said Thursday no benzene has been detected in the creek since August.

    Results are pending on a quarterly round of water testing in November that involved hundreds of sampling points.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Colorado Springs: Stormwater, the need is there, opposing ideas about financing models

    December 13, 2013
    Fountain Creek

    Fountain Creek

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Colorado Springs City Council says Mayor Steve Bach may have jumped the gun calling his stormwater plan “the most sensible.”

    Hold on, Council says in a letter sent to the mayor. The task force has not solidified its proposal and likely won’t do so until after the New Year. It’s too early to say which solution is the most sensible, said Val Snider, council member and task force member.

    “It’s important to note that the Regional Stormwater Task Force has not made a recommendation about the best structure for governance or funding of the program, and does not anticipate making that decision for at least a couple of months,” the task force said in a Dec. 10 letter to Bach.

    The Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force still is doing research on the laws and finances of various scenarios, Snider said.

    Bach issued a press release Dec. 9 outlining his proposal on how to pay for the millions in backlogged drainage and flood control projects. He was reacting to a community survey the task force had done to gauge public interest in stormwater issues and funding. Respondents of the survey said they favored a regional approach, a dedicated funding source and they wanted some say in the list of projects to be built.

    The task force may not have settled on a proposal, but it has narrowed down its discussion to two options: one models the Pike Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls and collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.

    The other option is modeled after the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

    More stormwater coverage here.


    Pueblo plans $1.08 million addition to wastewater plant to meet stricter discharge standards

    December 13, 2013
    Blue-Green algae bloom

    Blue-Green algae bloom

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The city plans to build a $1.08 million addition at the wastewater treatment plant next year to meet long-term changes in water quality rules. The new enclosed concrete plant is being completely funded by a state grant through a $15 million appropriation designed to help small municipalities meet new state requirements which were adopted to comply with federal regulations.

    “We’re not cutting any corners with this plant,” said Gene Michael, Pueblo wastewater director.

    He said $80,000 will go toward design and engineering, and the plant will have to meet all criteria for new construction. The plant is expected to be complete next summer in order to comply with state requirements to use the grant money prior to 2016.

    The regulations concern the concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus — both of which are found in human waste — that are in water released from the city’s treatment plant. Standards adopted this year require less than 15 parts per million nitrogen and 1 ppm phosphorus. The city completed ammonia removal facilities this year that meet those standards, Michael said. By 2022, the standards tighten to 1 ppm nitrogen and 0.17 ppm phosphorus.

    Biological processes are at odds in reaching those levels, Michael explained, calling it the “zen of wastewater treatment.”

    To meet the nitrogen standard, a fermentation process will be used. Further chemical treatment and filtration, similar to a drinking water plant, will be needed to bring phosphorus to the lower level, he said. The state grant is sufficient to provide fermentation and chemical treatment, but the estimated cost of filtration, about $9.3 million, will have to be dealt with later.

    More wastewater coverage here.


    New online database charts water quality regulations related to oil and gas development

    December 11, 2013
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

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

    A searchable, comparative law database outlining water quality regulations for Colorado and other states experiencing shale oil and gas development is now available on LawAtlas.org.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database project is led by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices (BMP) Project in partnership with Temple University’s Public Health Law Research program and its LawAtlas.org website.

    The newly launched Oil & Gas – Water Quality dataset (http://www.lawatlas.org/oilandgas) was created as a comparative tool for examining water quality laws and regulations related to oil and gas activities in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

    The database allows policymakers, local governments, industry officials and citizens to study the scope of water quality law in their state or to make comparisons with other states. An interactive map allows for easy navigation across different jurisdictions, and downloadable PDFs are available that document each state’s water quality regulations.

    “Across the nation, local and state government jurisdictions are experiencing new or increased oil and gas development,” said Matt Samelson, dataset creator, attorney and consultant for the CU-Boulder Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project. “When development occurs in these jurisdictions, there is tremendous value in examining regulatory regimes already in effect in order to guide conversations about best regulatory practices.”

    Oil and gas production has increased nationwide as technological developments improved directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing practices, which involve pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep down well bores to create fissures in the shale in order to free oil and natural gas.

    In October, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that the United States would surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas by the end of 2013.

    “The development of oil and gas wells, particularly in urban and suburban areas, coupled with the practice of hydraulic fracturing has stimulated interest in laws designed to protect water quality,” said Kathryn Mutz, director of CU-Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project.

    Because water quality regulations depend on the stage of development, the Oil & Gas – Water Quality database has been divided into five stages of oil and gas activities: Permitting, Design and Construction; Well Drilling; Well Completion; Production and Operation; and Reclamation.

    Web users can select multiple queries and search by statute categories or by state. The water quality dataset contains nearly 100 distinct questions and corresponding regulations addressing oft-cited oil and gas development issues, such as public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid; baseline water source testing; disposal of water in hydraulically fractured wells; and spill and accident reporting.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database is curated by CU-Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, part of the CU-Boulder Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database is supported by the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program and a Sustainability Research Network grant from the National Science Foundation. The dataset is part of Public Health Law Research’s LawAtlas, an online portal exploring variations in laws relating to current public health issues nationwide. In the coming year, datasets for water quantity and air quality pertaining to oil and gas development will be added to the website.

    To learn more visit http://www.lawatlas.org/oilandgas.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Quality: Selected USGS Publications, August 2012 to present

    December 9, 2013
    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

    Click here to go to the USGS website with links to their publications about hydraulic fracturing since 2012.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Eagle River Watershed Council: Hydraulic Fracturing & Water an informational panel, Wednesday December 11th

    December 7, 2013
    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    Click here to read the announcement.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    CSU, Noble Energy and DNR partner on groundwater monitoring project in the Wattenberg field

    December 6, 2013
    Groundwater monitoring well

    Groundwater monitoring well

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

    Like the crime scene investigators on television, researchers in northern Colorado will be taking an intense look at water wells throughout the oil patch in a demonstration study in the coming months to determine changes in the water over time. Conducted through Colorado State University in partnership with Noble Energy, the Colorado Water Watch demonstration project will soon begin water table monitoring in test wells at roughly 10 Noble production sites in a real-time look at how the water changes.

    “It was conceived not so much as a research project but as a tool to provide information to the public,” said project lead researcher Ken Carlson, an associate professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU. “The oil and gas industry is taking the initiative here to provide some visibility.” Read the rest of this entry »


    #ColoradoRiver District: 2014 Water Resources Grant Program

    December 4, 2013
    Roaring Fork River

    Roaring Fork River

    From email from the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

    Effective immediately, the Colorado River District is accepting grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources within its 15-county region. (district map)

    Projects eligible for the grant program must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

    • develop a new water supply
    • improve an existing system
    • improve instream water quality
    • increase water use efficiency
    • reduce sediment loading
    • implement a watershed management action
    • control invasive riparian vegetation
    • protect pre-Colorado River Compact water rights (those in use before 1929)

    Previous successfully grant-funded projects have included the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of nonfunctioning or restricted water storage / delivery / diversion structures, implementation of water efficiency improvements and watershed enhancements.

    Successful grantees can receive up to a maximum of $150,000 (or approximately 25% of the total project cost; in the case of smaller projects, this percentage may be slightly higher) for their project. The total amount available for the 2014 competitive grant program is $250,000. The application deadline is Jan. 31, 2014.

    To access the Water Resources Grant Program application, instructions, guidelines, policies, and other details please visit http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org/page_193.

    More information can be obtained by contacting Dave Kanzer or Alesha Frederick at 970-945-8522 or by e-mail to grantinfo@crwcd.org.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.


    Environment: Ocean plastic pollution may have impacts on sediment dwelling worms

    December 4, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    rs9607_seal_plastic_ewanedwards_theclippertonproject_fpwc_media_use_ok-scr

    A seal trapped in plastic debris. Photo courtesy EwanEdwards/TheClippertonProject.

    Plastic debris a growing environmental problem

    By Summit Voice

    FRISCO — The impact of plastic waste in the world’s oceans runs deeper than previously thought, according to British biologists, who described in a recent study how sediment-churning lugworms could be affected. Those marine worms play a key ecological role as an important source of food for other animals.

    The findings, published in a pair of studies in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, suggest that marine lugworms eat less and their energy levels suffer when ocean sediments are heavily contaminated with microplastics.

    A separate report, from Mark Anthony Browne on work performed at Plymouth University, shows that ingesting microplastic can also reduce the health of lugworms by delivering harmful chemicals, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, to them.

    View original 433 more words


    Proposed oil and gas methane rules: Gov. Hickenlooper makes some headway with the environmental community

    November 29, 2013
    Governor Hickenlooper announcing new methane rules -- Associated Press via the Washington Post

    Governor Hickenlooper announcing new methane rules — Associated Press via the Washington Post

    From The Colorado Statesman (Peter Marcus):

    …the governor — who has experienced an increasingly tense relationship with environmentalists, a core base of his Democratic Party — still has a lot of work ahead of him if he’s to win the trust of the environmental world.

    Much of the controversy rests with Hickenlooper’s support of hydraulic fracturing. The governor, a former geologist, has unequivocally stated his support for so-called “fracking,” despite five local communities having banned or imposed moratoriums on the drilling process. First, Longmont voters banned fracking last year. Then this year, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Boulder joined with five-year moratoriums. Lafayette passed a ban on new oil and gas activities. The bans passed despite big spending by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Proponents of the bans, a largely grassroots uprising, spent about $27,500 in the four municipal elections, as of the last filings before the election. COGA, however, spent about $883,000 to fight the proposed bans…

    Hickenlooper says he is listening. At a news conference on Monday, he said the issue is about striking a balance between the energy needs of the state and the concerns expressed by citizens and communities.

    “What we’ve done is work with the environmental community and oil and gas community to try and find compromises and use common sense to say, ‘How can we make sure we get to the cleanest possible outcomes in terms of air quality?’ Yet at the same time recognize that we have businesses here that employ our citizens and are helping solve the energy challenges that we face as a country,” Hickenlooper said, as he proposed new pollution rules for the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt.

    The commission met on Thursday when it set a public hearing for February 2014. The tentative date is for a three-day hearing from Feb. 19-21. The commission heard about two hours of public comments from a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including industry leaders and environmentalists, as well as concerned citizens, such as mothers worried about the health of their children.

    The thrust of the public comments was on whether the commission should set the proposal for a public hearing. Most of the witnesses agreed that even if the draft isn’t perfect, it should move forward so that the process can evolve.

    When the commission conducts its public hearings in February, the comments will focus more on the rules themselves after stakeholders have had a chance to thoroughly review the recently released proposal.

    Several elected officials testified in support of setting a hearing for the rules, including Democratic Reps. Su Ryden of Aurora, Mike Foote of Lafayette, and Max Tyler of Lakewood, among others…

    Former Sen. Dan Grossman, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, represented the environmental side of the debate.

    “What you see today here is a remarkable coalition of earnest individuals who came together and decided to try and make something work and address air pollution from the oil and gas sector in a meaningful and reasonable way,” explained Grossman.

    Conservation Colorado is also “encouraged” by the proposed rules specifically that it includes methane.

    “The proposed rule is a strong step forward to capture emissions from oil and gas facilities of harmful air pollutants that hurt all Coloradans,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.

    “Oil and gas development is booming in Colorado and the state must move aggressively to protect our climate, public health and communities,” he added. “Given the devastating impact on Coloradans from climate change and increased ozone pollution, there is no margin for error.”[...]

    But not everyone in the environmental and oil and gas worlds is currently on board with the proposals. Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, pointed out that his organization was not included in the stakeholder meetings and did not see the rules until Monday.

    “We’ve expressed our disappointment that it wasn’t a larger, broader stakeholder process,” said Dempsey, who added that his organization is currently speaking with members to decide how to proceed…

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    ‘[Governor Hickenlooper] should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them’ — Dan Randolph

    November 28, 2013
    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    From Colorado Public News (David O. Williams/Dale Rodebaugh) via The Durango Herald:

    “The fracking ban votes reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” Hickenlooper said recently in a prepared statement. The statement came after a tally of final votes showed residents in Broomfield successfully passed a fourth so-called “fracking ban” in Colorado.

    Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette voters passed similar bans by much wider margins earlier this month, but Broomfield’s vote was so close (10,350 to 10,333) that it has triggered an automatic recount.

    Christi Zeller, director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said the votes in Boulder and Lafayette are symbolic. Boulder County has some production, but the city of Boulder’s last gas well was plugged in 1999, she said.

    “The bans are an emotional response,” Zeller said. “A lot of professional agitators are manipulating people’s response.”[...]

    Hickenlooper said mineral rights need to be protected and that the four communities can work with the state’s chief regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to mitigate environmental and health concerns.

    “Local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights,” the governor said. “A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe.”

    But Dan Randolph, director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said that Hickenlooper, as a former gas and oil industry employee, doesn’t get it.

    Randolph said there are legitimate concerns tied to gas and oil production. He cited health, water quality and noise.

    “There is no question that there is an increase of volatile organic compounds in the air during gas and gas development,” Randolph said. “There are and have been serious concerns elsewhere. This is not unique to Colorado.

    “He should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them,” Randolph said. “His credibility on oil and gas issues is very low with the general public.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    John Fleck: Interesting piece on water quality implications of some of the farm bill language

    November 26, 2013

    Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    November 24, 2013
    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water rights and cost issues still must be decided, but a study of the effectiveness of dams in Fountain Creek should be finalized in January. The study’s release was delayed a month because of a federal government shutdown, but the results have been reported for months.

    “There has been no study of costs and benefits,” David Mau, head of the Pueblo office of the U.S. Geological Survey told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. The USGS did the study in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The local share of funds for the $500,000 study was provided through $300,000 paid by Colorado Springs Utilities as part of its Pueblo County 1041 permit conditions for the Southern Delivery System.

    The study looks at a 100-year storm centered over downtown Colorado Springs, and the effectiveness of dams or diversions at various locations along Fountain Creek. The most effective alternatives were a large dam on Fountain Creek or a series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs. Mau said the number of ponds was not as important as the volume of water that could be stored.

    There were some snickers in the room when Mau pointed out that roads and railroad tracks would have to be moved to build a large dam approximately 10 miles from the confluence of Fountain Creek. But it was pointed out that a large flood also could relocate roads, railroad tracks and utility lines, as was the case in Northern Colorado in September. Pueblo County lost the Pinon Bridge in the 1999 flood.

    Mau said the amount of sediment trapped by a dam would amount to 2,500 truckloads, but said smaller ponds also would require extensive maintenance to remain effective.

    Board member Vera Ortegon asked Mau which alternative he would recommend.

    “We look at the science,” Mau said. “I could give you my personal opinion, but I won’t.”

    Meanwhile property owners continue to chip away at the Fryingpn-Arkansas Project debt. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Property owners in nine counties will continue to make a dent in the federal debt for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project next year. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency in charge of repaying the debt, will collect another $6.5 million in property taxes next year, most of which goes toward reducing the debt. The board reviewed the budget Thursday and is expected to pass it on Dec. 5. The district began paying off $129 million in federal loans in 1982 on a 50-year loan. The amount represents the region’s share of the $585 million cost to build the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. About $36 million of the debt will remain at the end of the year, Executive Director Jim Broderick told the board Thursday.

    The district collects 0.944 mills in property taxes in parts of Bent, Chaffee, Crowley, El Paso, Fremont, Kiowa, Otero, Pueblo and Prowers counties. Of that, 0.9 mills goes toward federal repayment and the rest toward operating expenses.

    It also will collect $5.3 million in pass-through revenues from El Paso County to repay the federal government for building the Fountain Valley Conduit.

    The district also collects funds through sale of Fry-Ark water, fees and grants.

    The district’s operating budget is $2.24 million next year, with an additional $1.07 million in capital projects planned.

    The enterprise budget, paid mostly by user fees, totals $2.8 million, which includes $880,000 in capital projects.

    The district is responsible for paying the Bureau of Reclamation to operate and maintain the project. The district also allocates water to cities and farms, and provides legal protection of Fry­Ark water rights.

    More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: November 5 spill caused by pipeline joint failure

    November 23, 2013
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    Jennifer Opila, Radioactive Materials Unit Leader for the CDPHE, explained how the 1988 pumpback system at Cotter functions. Opila said the cause of the Nov. 5 spill was that a joint in the pipeline of the pumpback system broke. She described it as a “catastrophic break,” meaning it was not a “slow and seeping” spill.

    Opila said employees found “water coming out of the ground” just north of well No. 333 and “that’s how they knew the pipe had ruptured.”

    According to Cotter’s Environmental Coordinator/Radiation Safety Officer Jim Cain, the spill was measured within a 12-hour window and based on inspection times and flow, an estimated 4,000 to 9,000 gallons of water was spilled. A water sample was collected and the analysis reported that .03 pounds of uranium and .15 pounds of molybdenum was found, according to Cain.

    Cotter made the required oral report of the spill and provided a requested written report, Opila said, and the pipe was repaired and operable by the next day.

    The pipeline is three feet underground and consists of 3,856 linear feet of six-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe and 3,053 linear feet of four-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe.

    Vice President of Cotter Mill Operations John Hamrick said there have been three leaks “in three different years, all for different reasons.”

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


    Water Quality in and off the press

    November 22, 2013

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    NEW WQ Cover

    CFWE’s updated Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection is HOT off the press. Order your copy today!

    CNN just named their Hero of the Year… and he happens to be, what some have referred to as ‘the rivers’ garbageman’. Congratulations to Chad Pregracke! From the article:

    For nine months out of the year, Pregracke lives on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. They go around the country with a fleet of boats, and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city.

    It’s good to see a water quality warrior getting some major press. And, get this, CFWE’s second edition Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection is hot off the press! We’ve been clear out of stock of our popular Water Quality Guide for about a year, but at long last you can now purchase and view an updated…

    View original 15 more words


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