Energy policy – oil and gas: Duke University — ‘Hydrofracking Changes Water Wells’

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Here’s the release from Duke University (Timothy Lucas):

A study by Duke University researchers has found high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites. The scientists collected and analyzed water samples from 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York.

“At least some of the homeowners who claim that their wells were contaminated by shale-gas extraction appear to be right,” says Robert B. Jackson, Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change and director of Duke’s Center on Global Change.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground into horizontal gas wells at high pressure to crack open hydrocarbon-rich shale and extract natural gas.

The study found no evidence of contamination from chemical-laden fracking fluids, which are injected into gas wells to help break up shale deposits, or from “produced water,” wastewater that is extracted back out of the wells after the shale has been fractured.

The peer-reviewed study of well-water contamination from shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking appears this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found measurable amounts of methane in 85 percent of the samples, but levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active hydrofracking sites,” says Stephen Osborn, postdoctoral research associate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The contamination was observed primarily in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania.

Water wells farther from the gas wells contained lower levels of methane and had a different isotopic fingerprint.

“Methane is CH4. By using carbon and hydrogen isotope tracers we could distinguish between thermogenic methane, which is formed at high temperatures deep underground and is captured in gas wells during hydrofracking, and biogenic methane, which is produced at shallower depths and lower temperatures,” says Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality. Biogenic methane is not associated with hydrofracking.

“Methane in water wells within a kilometer had an isotopic composition similar to thermogenic methane,” Vengosh says. “Outside this active zone, it was mostly a mixture of the two.”

The scientists confirmed their finding by comparing the dissolved gas chemistry of water samples to the gas chemistry profiles of shale-gas wells in the region, using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “Deep gas has a distinctive chemical signature in its isotopes,” Jackson says. “When we compared the dissolved gas chemistry in well water to methane from local gas wells, the signatures matched.”

Methane is flammable and poses a risk of explosion. In very high concentrations, it can cause asphyxiation. Little research has been conducted on the health effects of drinking methane-contaminated water and methane isn’t regulated as a contaminant in public water systems under the EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

The Duke team collected samples from counties overlying the Marcellus shale formation. Accelerated gas drilling and hydrofracking in the region in recent years has fueled concerns about well-water contamination by methane, produced water and fracking fluids, which contain a proprietary mix of chemicals that companies often don’t disclose.

Shale gas comprises about 15 percent of natural gas produced in the United States today. The Energy Information Administration estimates it will make up almost half of the nation’s production by 2035.

The study was funded by the Nicholas School and Duke’s Center on Global Change. Nathaniel R. Warner, a PhD student of Vengosh’s, was a co-author.

Independent of the PNAS study, Jackson and colleagues at the Center for Global Change, the Nicholas School and Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions have issued a white paper on hydrofracking at It includes recommendations for monitoring and addressing potential environmental and human health risks.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the benefits (jobs, business activity) of the Marcellus shale play in New York along with the drawbacks (greatly increased truck traffic, increased leachate generation, additional odor concerns), from the American Agriculturalist. From the article:

“The Marcellus play has been good for the landfill business,” says Jay Alexander, general manager of the Wayne Township Landfill. But as Larry Shilling, regional vice president of Casella Waste Systems, adds, “The wastes are not without their challenges.”

Both will be speakers during a May 19 web-based seminar on May 19, presented by Penn State Extension. “The Impacts of the Natural Gas Industry on Landfill Operations,” will start at 1 p.m…

The May 19 online Webinar addresses opportunities and concerns. Registration details are on the webinar page of Penn State Extension’s natural-gas website:

Thanks to Loretta Lohman for the link.

More oil and gas coverage coverage here and here.

Gunnison River basin: Dust on snow events equal last year but the mass contained in the dust is much less

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From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

“We’ve had a relatively uneventful dust season,” said Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “Thus far there haven’t been any [dust events] with the significant impact on snowpack that we’ve had in recent years, so that’s the good news. The bad news is the snowpack is accumulating and it should be dropping at this time of the year. We are actually higher to date than we were in 2008, so flooding is now getting to be a concern.”

According to Chris Landry, dust-on-snow expert and director for the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, Colo., the Gunnison Basin has actually seen the same number of dust events this year as last, but there seems to be less dust.
“The difference between this year and last is that the mass of dust contained [in the snowpack] is less. It appears that way, at least. Data samples are still being processed,” Landry said.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — geothermal: Two organizations appeal decision to lease USFS land near Tomichi Dome

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From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

The Forest Service has received two appeals against forest supervisor Charlie Richmond’s February 4 decision to consent to lease 3,756 acres of National Forest Service land near Tomichi Dome for geothermal development. The parcel is one of two areas approved in March for geothermal leasing by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the mineral estate and would manage the sale and development of the leases for both parcels of land…

Public scoping of the potential lease identified a wide range of environmental concerns, including protection for the Gunnison sage grouse, Canada lynx habitat, wetland riparian areas and large game habitat. According to Gunnison District forest ranger John Murphy, there were enough concerns that Forest Service discussion included consideration of not leasing. “There are a lot of restrictions on the lease,” Murphy said. “If somebody decides to operate on National Forest system lands, it will be controlled very tightly.”

Those stipulations include measures such as prohibiting disturbance within four miles of known or yet to be discovered lekking grounds for the Gunnison sage grouse and seasonal limitations on surface disturbance to protect winter game range. But both the Double Heart Ranch and the Center for Native Ecosystems filed appeals against the Forest Service decision to lease. The major points of concern surround the protection of the Gunnison sage grouse.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Orchard City: The Meadowview Pipeline Company to disband, service will be assumed by the town

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

Under the agreement approved by the town board on April 28, the Meadow View neighborhood will disband their private company and become direct, individual water customers of the town. Roy Fleeger, president of the pipeline company board, said, “The agreement is the result of a lot of hard work by everyone. I know that we spent at least a couple of hundred hours researching different aspects. The town was very responsive to all of our concerns, and when we explained our reasoning they agreed with us on almost every point we raised. The discussions were extremely amicable on all sides.”

Under the deal agreed to, the town will install a new pipeline to serve the neighborhood off of the West Side main line, and each of the 42 current tap owners on the Meadow View system. The town will pay half of the estimated $71,792 cost of materials for the new line. The 42 tap owners will pay the other half for materials. They will also pay installation costs, estimated at $66,800.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Children across the nation are expected to team with the organization Our Children’s Trust to sue state governments over inaction on climate change, there will be a march in Denver on Saturday

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Since the baby boomers don’t have the political will to tackle climate change a generation of children are taking on the job of forcing action. Here’s a report from Vanessa Miller writing for the Colorado Daily. From the article:

The lawsuit is part of a coordinated youth effort to sue government leaders or file administrative actions in all 50 states. A nationwide team of legal experts has been assembled through the nonprofit organization Our Children’s Trust to represent the young people in their lawsuits. Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, 11, of Boulder, is a leader of the Colorado-based Earth Guardian group and one of the plaintiffs named in the suit against the state of Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The goal is to “force action on climate change” in all 50 states, translating to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and implementation of reforestation programs, according to the lawsuit.

A gathering of thousands of young people is planned in Denver on Saturday, one of dozens of marches around the world to raise awareness of global warming. “Right now, our governments are not protecting our planet; they are just destroying it,” Xiuhtezcatl said. “I want to make sure my planet is habitable for future generations so we won’t be stuck with this mess.”

Xiuhtezcatl said he’s excited to be part of the march and legal effort, but — above all — he hopes it will make a difference to the adults who are in leadership positions. “I think it’s great that there are lots of other kids in their own state trying to fight for their future,” he said. “But we need everyone to take action — not just the kids.”[…]

The Boulder County lawsuit identifies specific environmental concerns as being tied to global warming and climate change, including reduced water flows, pine beetle destruction, massive wildfires, shortened ski seasons, frequent heat waves and more illness from insect-borne diseases…

If you go:

What: A “mega march” to raise awareness about climate change

When: Noon Saturday

Where: The march will begin at Cuernavaca Park (20th and Platte streets, near REI) in Denver and proceed two miles before ending at Civic Center Park. The event will include speakers, music and entertainment.

From the Colorado Independent (Scott Kersgaard):

A group of Colorado kids filed suit last week against the state of Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, and Colorado Department of Natural Resources as part of a coordinated effort to force action on climate change. Similar suits have been filed in all 50 states and against the federal government. In conjunction with the legal actions, youth marches are being held all over the world this week, including more than 60 in the United States, culminating with Denver’s march, Saturday, May 14.

More climate change coverage here and here.

2011 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB 11-1289 and HB 11-1274

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Hickenlooper also signed into law a bill that requires water users’ approval before water structures can get a historical designation. Under HB1289, before a water structure can be placed on the National Historical Register, holders of water rights associated with the structure must consent. Its sponsors said historical designations can greatly delay needed improvements and maintenance to structures and be detrimental to water users…

Hickenlooper also signed HB1274, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, which provides $14 million in funding for water projects from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It devotes $12 million to the Animas-La Plata project on the Western Slope. The bill provides $500,000 to the Arkansas River Decision Support System to map irrigated acreage, delineate parcels and collect surface and groundwater data.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

The Palmer Land Trust is seeking nominations for conservation awards

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The awards recognize significant achievements in Southern Colorado in four categories: Lifetime achievement, recent land protection achievement, exceptional environmental stewardship and innovative conservation projects or programs…The nomination form and award criteria are available at Nominations are being accepted through June 1.

More conservation coverage here.

Runoff news: Some melt over the weekend but cooler temperatures forecast this week will help delay the runoff

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For the first time this year, water began flowing through the Boustead Tunnel at Turquoise Lake, where the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project brings water into the Arkansas River basin. “What I’m thinking is that the longer runoff waits to begin, the higher the temperatures will be,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s looking a lot like 2008.” The faster runoff would make it more difficult to capture the projected 94,200 acre-feet of water that could be brought over this year, Vaughan explained. In 2008, the yield from a near-record snowpack was diminished by about 10 percent because of the way it melted.

On Sunday and Monday, the Boustead Tunnel was running about 50 cubic feet per second, or 100 acre-feet per day. The tunnel can run 945 cfs, or almost 1,900 acre-feet daily once snow begins to melt…

Imports from other sources also could be limited by space in reservoirs. There is a healthy snowpack, about 130-150 percent in the Leadville area…

Accounts at Twin Lakes, primarily owned by Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West and Aurora, are likely to be topped off. The Homestake Project, a joint venture between Aurora and Colorado Springs, and the Busk-Ivanhoe Project, jointly operated by Pueblo and Aurora, are likely to leave some of their water on the Western Slope because there aren’t many places to put it. Municipal storage accounts are fuller than they have been for years. A two-week extension for storage in the flood-control pool at Lake Pueblo helped in late April, but the level at the lake has been drawn down by agricultural demand in the dry Arkansas Valley in the last two weeks…

Meanwhile, Reclamation has been drawing down Turquoise Lake in anticipation of Fry-Ark imports, making space for 82,000 acre-feet of water. The water also is being moved early to avoid high flows on Lake Creek — which can leach heavy metals into the river — later in the year…

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley are hoping for all the transmountain water they can get, as drought conditions continue. Because cities need less than their full share of Fry-Ark water, about 60,000 acre-feet should be available for use later in the season by valley farmers. The entire eastern part of the state continues to be listed under severe drought, with extreme drought conditions creeping into the southeastern corner of the state near Springfield.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

There’s currently more than a 50 percent chance of the Colorado River flooding at Cameo, and flooding is all but a certainty on part of the Yampa River, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center says. The upside is that runoff into Lake Powell is predicted to be 139 percent of average, possibly meaning even more inflow into that reservoir than during the big runoff years of 1995 and 1997, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District…

The forecast center is predicting a 90 percent chance of the Yampa River reaching an average daily flow of 23,000 cubic feet per second, which is above flood stage, at Deerlodge Park in Moffat County, and odds are 50-50 that the flow could reach 28,000 cfs. It says flooding likewise is all but a certainty on the Green River at Jensen, Utah…

The forecast center says there’s a 50 percent chance of the Colorado River at Cameo topping out at an average daily flow of 28,000 cubic feet per second, and a 75 percent chance of it reaching 24,000 cfs. Flood flow at Cameo is 25,350 cfs. The average annual peak daily flow there is 17,500 cfs.