Colorado counties are reviewing and in some cases developing new rules for oil and gas production and exploration in response to the Niobrara shale boom

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As more leasing and drilling is getting closer to the suburbs county governments whose responsibility includes lands overlying the Niobrara play are looking at updating regulations. Here’s a report from The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe). Click through and read the whole thing for all the detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Arapahoe and Douglas counties, like El Paso, are preparing to adopt oil and gas development rules. “We are fast-tracking rules,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner Fred Weddig. “We felt like we are playing catch-up.”

The trend, however, has provoked concern from state regulators and the industry.”Colorado already has the most comprehensive rules in the nation,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group. “County rules could completely stifle the industry.”

David Neslin, director of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said, “We believe oil and gas development is most effectively and efficiently regulated at the state level.”[…]

The activity in the counties is being driven by the feeling that they are ill-prepared to cope with a drilling boom and that the state regulations don’t address some residents’ worries…

Neslin said state rules enable it to put additional conditions on permits in more developed areas — and counties can participate as a “local designee” in the permitting process…

“There are questions of quality of life,” said Jill Duvall, a homeowner who organized the Elbert County Oil and Gas Interest Group, or ECOGIG. “There are questions about protecting property values. The state rules focus on drilling a well.”[…]

Both Duvall, from Elbert County’s ECOGIG, and a group from southern Larimer County, the Mineral Rights Information Gathering Committee, are seeking meetings with Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The rules in place didn’t have suburbia in mind,” said Fred Mitchell, a committee member. “Those rules don’t address the impact on quarter-acre lots. Nobody envisioned this in their backyard.”

As is often the case in oil and gas the people with the dollar signs in their eyes because they own some mineral rights may be in for an awakening. Wyoming is not seeing production equal to Colorado’s “Jake” well that helped start the current Niobrara boom. Here’s a report from Jeremy Fugleberg writing for The Billings Gazette. From the article:

While many well results in the formation are largely still not public, Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll said the wells drilled so far are only producing a fraction of the totals from a Colorado well that inspired exploration into the Niobrara in Wyoming. “The reason we’re not seeing a lot of drilling activity in the Niobrara is those wells are not coming in as strongly as people thought,” he told the state Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee at its meeting in Cheyenne on Friday.

Bruce Hinchey is president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the state’s oil and gas industry trade group. He said the low production rates are discouraging companies from drilling more wells more quickly in the state’s southeast…

EOG Resources’ Jake 2-01H well in Weld County, Colo., started the Niobrara excitement in 2009 when it produced the equivalent of 1,500 barrels of oil a day. It still produces between 250 to 300 barrels of oil a day, the company said in August. Wyoming’s Niobrara wells start at 400 to 700 barrels of oil a day, slip by half within three months, and slow another half within four to six months, Doll said. “None of these wells are the equivalent of the Jake-type well that everyone got excited about,” he said…

Hinchey told the legislators he and others have always been quick to caution people about the Niobrara’s potential. Some expected it to be like North Dakota’s booming Bakken oil field, or Wyoming’s huge Jonah natural gas field near Pinedale, he said. “It is not that,” he said. “And we’ve been saying that all along.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado River basin: More storage, more growth or a commitment to conservation and preservation?

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The Pueblo Chieftain ran three columns in yesterday’s edition. First up is Chris Woodka’s musings about the river, preservation and growth in the West. Here’s an excerpt:

Back in 1974 [ed. during a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon], my young mind didn’t quite grasp that the pristine river I enjoyed so much was a product of timed releases between Lake Powell and Lake Mead. I did understand enough to know the beautiful canyon walls and mesas were the product of millions of years of relentless, unchecked erosion. Those kind of thoughts were running through my head the other evening as I sat in the Cornerstone Arts Center Celeste Theater in Colorado Springs listening to two legal experts tangle over the worthiness of the Colorado River Compact in a changing world…

The irony of talking about Colorado River issues in a city 80 percent dependent on Colorado River water brought over the Continental Divide did not escape me — you learn to think like this as a water reporter…

One of the speakers, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, took the point of view that more storage is essential to continued enjoyment of the benefits of the Colorado River. Hobbs argued that building more projects along the Colorado River is not only probably, but necessary and desirable. “It’s high-risk water, but it’s going to be there in some years,” Hobbs said. “We can’t just pretend we don’t need more storage and risk drying up all the agricultural land.”

The other speaker, University of Wyoming legal professor Larry MacDonnell, argued that it’s time to start folding up the tents because the Colorado River basin is running out of water. Climate change is going to increase the pressure on the river’s resources. It’s foolish to try to develop any more, he argued. “Is this a sensible use of water?” MacDonnell asked, after listing several projects he considered folly. “In compromise, projects have been built that waste water.”[…]

The states along the Colorado River need to weigh how much more the river can deliver to avoid gobbling up more farm land in the support of growth. The preservation of its awesome beauty should be a major focal point. A frank discussion could lead to surprising conclusions about conservation, growth, land use and, ultimately, the storage of water that makes all that possible.

Meanwhile, Aaron Million’s column talks about developing the water left under the Colorado River Compact and Upper Colorado River Compact for the benefit of Colorado. Here’s his guest column from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Basin has over-delivered this region’s water supplies to the Lower Basin in every 10-year running average. Those waters are allocated to the Upper Basin. Why does it matter?

The Upper Basin has major natural resource concerns directly related to diminished water supplies and future increasing demands. Why not consider the Flaming Gorge Project? As a proponent of the project and the principal architect, I’m not afraid of an in-depth, critical environmental review…

…half the Upper Basin has moved forward to develop the supplies that the historic agreements gave to them. Both New Mexico, arguably up against that state’s compact allocation, and Utah, via the Lake Powell Project, have moved toward developing their respective water resources. Colorado and Wyoming need to do likewise. A new water supply would alleviate a myriad of environmental and socio-economic pressures throughout the region, allow aquifers to replenish, protect and enhance flows for use in agriculture, provide for the huge shortfall projected in municipal supplies and add huge new storage capacity with the addition of Flaming Gorge and other new reservoirs along the route. Preliminary scientific data indicates major water surpluses and supplies are available in the Green River-Flaming Gorge system to help alleviate pressures in water-short areas elsewhere, from Cheyenne to Pueblo. And the project, projected to move about 200,000 acre-feet, would take pressure off of western Colorado watersheds…

The build-out cost for this project is about $3 billion — one third of Western Resource Advocates’ estimate. How do we know its $3 billion and not $9 billion? Because we asked several nationally recognized pipeline and construction firms to give us estimates…

This state needs and deserves a straight-up evaluation of the Flaming Gorge project. The scare tactics of the environmental community are sophomoric, unnecessary and will not serve the interests of this region. Why not allow the project to be fully vetted? It’s currently in the federal environmental review process.

Finally, here’s Western Resource Advocates’ Karn Sheldon weighing in on the project from The Pueblo Chieftain. She writes:

Western Resource Advocates wants to see a water supply that sustains urban, agricultural and environmental needs. We want water that is affordable and reliable for all Coloradans. While The Pueblo Chieftain may disagree with our assessment that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is an implausible illusion (“Strange priorities,” 10/14/11), there are several important facts that should not be confused with opinion:

– The pipeline proposal would annually move 80 billion gallons of water 500 miles up and over the Continental Divide, from the Green River in southwestern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range. State agencies estimate the cost of the plan at $7 to $9 billion, which would make this the most expensive water in Colorado history. To put that into perspective, the most costly recent water project completed in Colorado is Aurora’s “Prairie Waters,” with a price tag of about $700 million.

– According to The Chieftain, “there is growing support for the pipeline in both Wyoming and Colorado.” But all available evidence indicates exactly the opposite. A statewide poll released in September by Trout Unlimited showed that 79 percent of Wyoming residents oppose the pipeline. “It makes perfect sense to me that so many people in Wyoming oppose this project,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who has also said that the plan is “not well thought-out.” Sweetwater County Commission member John Kolb called it “a sham.”

– Million has tried to reclassify his pipeline plan as an energy project in order to find a federal agency that will agree to give him a permit. Million claims that the pipeline would generate 550 to 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power, but by first moving water over the Continental Divide, the pumping stations would consume more energy than they could generate.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Science Daily: ‘Geothermal Mapping Report Confirms Vast Coast-To-Coast Clean Energy Source in U.S.’

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the map of geothermal resources produced by the mapping project. Here’s a report from Science Daily. From the article:

The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in Earth’s crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites — approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards’ 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.

Based on the additional data, primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling, larger local variations can be seen in temperatures at depth, highlighting more detail for potential power sites than was previously evident in the eastern portion of the U.S. For example, eastern West Virginia has been identified as part of a larger Appalachian trend of higher heat flow and temperature.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations. For instance, The Geysers Field north of San Francisco is home to more than a dozen large power plants that have been tapping naturally occurring steam reservoirs to produce electricity for more than 40 years.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) — and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state’s existing (primarily coal-based) power supply…

Areas of particular geothermal interest include the Appalachian trend (Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, to northern Louisiana), the aquifer heated area of South Dakota, and the areas of radioactive basement granites beneath sediments such as those found in northern Illinois and northern Louisiana. The Gulf Coast continues to be outlined as a huge resource area and a promising sedimentary basin for development. The Raton Basin in southeastern Colorado possesses extremely high temperatures and is being evaluated by the State of Colorado along with an area energy company.

Here’s the link to Google’s enhanced geothermal systems website.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here’s the link to the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary.

The San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district plan fees are being collected for the second year in a row and are being escrowed awaiting the Colorado Supreme Court

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Since the plan is still pending in the courts, the fees collected this year have been held in escrow by the sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), which continues to upfront the costs of its first sub-district as well as other pending sub-districts throughout the Valley. The purposes of these sub-districts include repairing the damage from well users to surface water rights, helping the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states and replenishing the Valley’s underground aquifers…

The Valley’s first sub-district, affecting 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners, lies north of the Rio Grande in what is known as the closed basin area of the San Luis Valley. The sub-district lies in three of the Valley’s six counties (Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache.) RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the sub-district plan of management case on September 28. He expected a ruling from the court in two to four months. Groups forming other water management sub-districts throughout the Valley are waiting for the court’s ruling before finalizing their sub-districts. Meanwhile, they are accumulating data required to form their sub-districts…

[Rio Grange Water Conservancy District Manager Steve Vandiver] reported during the water district board’s quarterly meeting this week that so far expenses for the first sub-district have totaled $1.37 million, with expenses on the other five sub-districts totaling about $350,000. One of the expenses for the first sub-district is water acquisition to replace injurious depletions to surface rights. The sub-district by court order must begin replacing those depletions in 2012. The sub-district is acquiring several options on water that can be used for replacement water in 2012 and is looking at several other possibilities, according to Vandiver. He said the sub-district has options on 3,500 acre feet for 2012 with another 1,500 acre feet being held for the sub-district if it is needed. Until the groundwater model runs are completed, the sub-district does not have a total for the amount of replacement water that will be required in 2012, he explained…

Well users who are not part of management sub-districts face the potential under pending state well regulations of having to shut down their wells or develop individual augmentation plans. Robbins said individual plans are no easier to develop than the sub-district plans, and some Valley residents have already begun that process. “If you are going to change water rights from irrigation to replacement, the same sort of responsibilities exist to surface streams,” [RGWCD Attorney David Robbins] said. “The same standards apply … the same obligation applies to make up projected depletions with the replacement supplies.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Brighton sanitary sewer rehabilitation project in the works, it should finish by year end

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From The Brighton Blade:

The project is expected to start on the south side of Bridge Street, near Main Street, and work east. This portion should take about two weeks. The project then moves to the north side of that intersection and moves east. The work should be done by the end of the year. When it’s finished, the city says customers will have a new, rehabbed sewer system. Affected customers will get 24 hours notification of pending work from the contractor, Western Slope Utilities.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

The EPA has issued a permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill tailings cell and evaporation ponds

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Kathrine Warren):

The permit approves the construction of a 40-acre tailings impoundment and a 30-acre evaporation pond facility, which will manage the tailings and wastewater the future mill produces…

The permit came with a number of conditions, but Energy Fuels’ Director of Communications and Legal Affairs Curtis Moore said the conditions are reasonable. “We have no problem complying with them,” Moore said. “In a lot of respects it shows how closely the EPA first analyzed our project and they took the comments very seriously.”

The approval requires Energy Fuels to submit a comprehensive ground and surface water-monitoring plan, which will be subject to additional review. The water plan will be subject to additional EPA and state reviews and approval. The conditions also ensure that the mill is in compliance with the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).

“With the EPA approval, the permitting and environmental risk to our project is now behind us,” Energy Fuels CEO and President said Stephen P. Antony in a press release. “This is significant for Energy Fuels and the domestic uranium industry, as it is the first EPA approval of a conventional mill tailing facility since the NESHAP regulations were revised. Achieving this milestone brings Energy Fuels one big step closer to production of American uranium and vanadium.”

Aside from building permits from Montrose County, Energy Fuels now has just one more government permit pending from the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division for non-radioactive air emissions. If approved, this would be the first uranium/vanadium milling facility built in the United States in 25 years.

More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

This is a major step forward for us,” said Curtis Moore, spokesman for Energy Fuels Corp., which hopes to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill outside of Paradox. “This is one of the major approvals we needed for the Piñon Ridge mill.”

Montrose County two years ago granted Energy Fuels’ special-use permit to site the mill in an area zoned for general agriculture. Earlier this year, the company received its radioactive materials license from the state.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

Thursday’s approval from the EPA gives Energy Fuels permission to build a 30.5-acre tailings cell and up to 40 acres of evaporation ponds. The mill will extract uranium from ore by grinding the rock and mixing it with water. Acid extracts the uranium and vanadium, and the waste rock and water is pumped into a tailings cell. Water that can’t be recycled from the tailings cell is pumped into the evaporation pond, according to the EPA.

More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

[Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore] said the recent court ruling that halted the Department of Energy’s uranium leasing program because not enough analysis of potential environmental impacts was done will not have much impact on Energy Fuel’s project. The company has four mines to supply the mill, all on private or state land. The court ruling affects only leases on federal lands. “We only have seven DOE leases, and we had no immediate plans to do anything on those leases,” Moore said. “Our focus has mainly been on private lands.”

Hilary White with the Sheep Mountain Alliance, one of several environmental groups opposing the mill and the comeback of the uranium industry in general, said she thinks Moore is being too optimistic. “I think the court ruling affects all of the uranium industry tremendously,” White said. “It’s another difficulty they (Energy Fuels) will have to deal with as they try to find investors for the mill.”

If the Piñon Ridge mill is built, it will be the first new mill in the country since the Cold War and will be only the second mill operating in the United States. The other is in southeast Utah.

More nuclear coverage here and here.