Energy policy — oil and gas: The Niobrara shale play in northern Colorado may get a close look by the Environmental Protection Agency

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Responding to public outcry about the risks to drinking water fracking might pose, Congress directed the EPA to conduct a study about how fracking affects drinking water. The EPA’s findings are expected to be made public by the end of 2012, with a more detailed report following in 2014. The EPA’s study plan includes an 11-page list of chemicals the agency has found in fracking fluid, including gelling agents, surfactants, biocides, corrosion inhibitors, lubricators, viscosifiers and the fracturing fluid trimethylbenzene, among others. The Niobrara oil play straddles the state line and stretches from northern Weld, Logan and Larimer counties in Colorado to as far north as Torrington, Wyo…

The EPA will look closely at the mechanics of Niobrara shale fracking in Laramie County, Wyo., which borders Weld County, and study water quality changes with time. The agency also will look at how fracking has impacted water quality in Western Colorado’s Piceance and San Juan basins.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Two Rivers hopes to eventually move water to growing cities

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Here’s a in-depth look at drying up agriculture to water suburbs, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“You get kind of nervous when you have people who are on the New York Stock Exchange saying they’re going to put agriculture back into production,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, devoted to retaining farming water rights across a five-county area. “I’m skeptical,” Winner said, “because from the amount of money they’re sticking into this project, it looks like it’s a big agriculture-municipal transfer.”

When pressed, Two Rivers’ [Gary] Barber acknowledged that the $27 million deal was indeed done with an eye toward eventually selling water to suburbs.

The stealthy and not-so-stealthy shifting of control over Colorado water has continued despite economic doldrums and may be gaining momentum. Farmers often are willing participants, cashing in as relative scarcity makes water more valuable.

Among recent deals:

• Pueblo bought the Bessemer agricultural canal.
• Aurora, Thornton, Brighton and Adams County invested in the Fulton Ditch northeast of Denver.
• Cherry Creek and Arapahoe County water authorities, though still facing court scrutiny, have staked claims to water once allocated for farming.

Also, in the Colorado Springs area, the Donala Water and Sanitation District, which bought a 711-acre ranch near Leadville for its water rights, now is pursuing a change-of-use ruling in state court so that farming water could be harnessed for Front Range housing and lawns.

Similarly, satellite cities Fountain and Widefield spent $3.5 million to acquire developer Mund Shaikly’s 480-acre H2O Ranch at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The plan is to sustain an anticipated military housing boom by using mountain creek water that once irrigated hayfields. Fountain will let the creek water flow into the Arkansas River, then trap it in Pueblo Reservoir, said Fountain water engineer Curtis Mitchell. “Certainly we’re not in the land business.”

North of Colorado Springs, Woodmoor’s new 1,900-foot-deep municipal wells appear uncertain enough that suburban leaders are mobilizing to buy water rights from farmers in the Arkansas River Valley and plan to construct a delivery pipeline.

Along the Arkansas River, state records indicate suburbs petitioned courts at least 116 times over the past decade to convert agricultural water for municipal use.

Here’s a report about Crowley County and the after effects of Aurora’s purchase of the Rocky Ford Ditch, from Mr. Finley and The Denver Post. From the article:

Concrete-lined irrigation ditches that once delivered water now are bone-dry. Draining water that once irrigated crops to supply suburban housing, lawns and golf courses makes it impossible for farms and the towns that depend on farming to survive. “Once you move water out, it ain’t coming back to the land,” the 74-year-old Valliant, now an irrigation specialist for Colorado State University’s Cooperative Extension station in nearby Rocky Ford, said recently as he rolled past the weeds and a slumping farmhouse surrounded by garbage.

Built in the 1890s, after the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Colorado Canal were completed, Crowley and its neighbors prospered growing sugar beets, with canning plants, grain elevators, schools, newspapers and even an opera house. One company here broke wild horses and supplied the British army. Residents reveled in a pioneer spirit of transforming a harsh environment — average annual rainfall 12 inches — into a livable town. But farmer debts mounted after a sugar-beet plant closed in 1967. Some farmers eventually gave in as water brokers representing expanding cities approached them offering deals. Today, Crowley ranks among the poorest towns in the poorest county in Colorado. The town population is dwindling — to 162 today from 187 in 2000 — continuing a decline that began when Foxley and others in the 1980s sold off their water.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Nuclear power plant in Pueblo County?

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The promise of jobs, tax collections and economic activity is the lure of a plant. Water requirements and the potential for disaster are a couple of the deterrents. Here’s a report about the closest plant to Pueblo County, the Wolf Creek Generating Station Unit 1, northeast of Wichita, from Peter Strescino writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

Residents around Wolf Creek were universally in favor of the reactor in telephone interviews. Only the state energy co-chairman of the Sierra Club had a negative reaction to the plant, and he said his doubts had little to do with potential environmental problems…

[Jon Hotaling, the county’s economic development director] said 900 people work at the plant, and average jobs pay about $65,000 a year. That works out to about $58 million in wages annually. Workers at the reactor live in a four-county area, he said, and at first fewer than half lived in Coffey County. “But we worked out the housing issues and now at least 60 percent live in the county.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.