The Colorado Geological Survey has developed an online tool to further understanding of the Niobrara shale play

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Here’s the link to the CGS page. Here’s the introduction:

The Niobrara strata in the Denver Basin are currently being developed for oil production using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This development is moving into parts of the Denver Basin where many people depend on groundwater to meet their household needs. Citizens are concerned that this activity may adversely affect their water wells. This calculation tool was developed to help citizens or planners understand the geologic conditions that exist beneath their property.

The tool is designed to help people visualize the spatial relation of hydraulic fracturing in the Niobrara Formation to the important fresh-water aquifers. The tool will show the average depth to the Niobrara Formation at any selected point or address on the map. It will also show the minimum thickness of the shale barrier (Pierre Shale) that separates the Niobrara strata from fresh water aquifers. The tool also provides the depth of the deepest fresh water aquifer at any spot on the map.

The above cross section [ed. Click on the the thumbnail graphic above and to the right] represents what we would encounter if a giant, vertical slice were cut out of the Denver Basin so that we could observe the various layers of rock. Notice that the Niobrara strata are so deep that they are actually below sea level in some parts of the basin.The illustration shows how an oil company would drill a vertical well into the Niobrara strata and then turn the drill bit so that it would drill horizontally in the Niobrara limestone layers. After the horizontal part of the well is drilled (sometimes more than a mile in length), the company pumps liquid and sand out into the horizontal borehole. The pressure of this slurry fractures the limestone so that the oil flows into the well at much higher rates than it normally would without the artificial fracturing.

Controlling where fracturing occurs is important for two reasons. First, if fracturing were to extend into overlying freshwater aquifers it would create a potential pathway for contamination of water supplies. Second, oil production would decrease if fractures extended into non-oil bearing formations.

Fortunately, in the Denver Basin we have a stack of rocks (the Pierre Shale) that separates the Niobrara from shallower aquifers. The properties of the Pierre Shale are ideal for preventing upward migration of fractures or fluids. The Pierre Shale has extremely low permeability and it is very thick (varying from more than a half a mile thick to about a mile and a half thick). These two properties combine to make the possibility of fractures or fluids working their way up through it, essentially nil. The calculation tool will show you how thick this barrier is at any spot in the Denver Basin.

More coverage the Craig Daily Press:

Citizens around the state have been seeking a better understanding of how ground water supplies are protected amid energy development and the geologic conditions that separate ground water from the oil and natural gas deposits in the Niobrara.

The purpose of the tool is to answer the following questions: If a company were to hydraulically fracture the Niobrara formation under a house, how deep would this be occurring? How thick would the shale barrier be between the house’s water well and the Niobrara strata?

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘Rally for the Rivers’ asks EPA to protect the Upper Colorado River from diversions

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Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

More than 100 river advocates holding signs and chanting slogans gathered in front of the Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Denver Thursday to ask federal regulators to protect the Upper Colorado River system from proposed water diversions to the Front Range.

“This is a moment of truth for the state,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, which helped organize the gathering of Denver residents, kayakers, anglers, outdoor recreationists and other river supporters. “We have to do something to save our state’s namesake river from dying.”

Scores of signs at the event underscored that theme, including “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry,” “Protect Our Flows,” and “EPA: Be a Hero.”

The rally is part of an ongoing campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The Denver rally, say organizers, was meant to show EPA and other federal decision-makers that Denver residents care about the state’s outdoor quality of life and the health of rivers.

The Defend the Colorado coalition is asking EPA–which Eberle called a “partner” on river protection–to take additional steps to ensure the health of the river in the face of two proposed water diversions.

Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap Firming Project proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. The current proposed Windy Gap protections from the Bureau of Reclamation fall short of what’s needed to address mounting problems, such as low flows, rising temperatures, spreading algae and smothering sediment.

As Eberle told the lunchtime crowd, a state study released earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have virtually disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir due to past diversions.

“Is this what we want to see happen to our rivers?” Eberle asked.

“NO!” the crowd responded.

Field and Stream magazine editor-at-large Kirk Deeter, a Colorado resident, said he was lucky enough to travel the world in his job but always looks forward to coming home to his home state and home waters. He called the Upper Colorado a ”special place” that deserves protection.

Also speaking was Jon Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks in Denver, who stressed the economic impact of water-based recreation, which he noted contributes “hundreds of millions of dollars” annually to the state’s economy. “I am just one of hundreds of business owners whose livelihoods depend on healthy flows in our rivers,” he said.

According to the Defend the Colorado coalition, additional steps must be taken to protect the rivers, including:

· Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
· Ensuring healthy flushing flows to prevent river habitat from filling in with silt.
· Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
· Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

“The health of the Colorado and Fraser rivers is critical to local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans don’t realize that these rivers are having the life sucked out of them. At some point, they cease to become functioning rivers—and we lose a huge part of what makes our state a great place to live. Our state and federal leaders need to finish the job of protecting these incredible places.”

The group is planning additional rallies and events this spring to highlight the plight of the rivers and demand action from state and federal decision-makers.

The Defend the Colorado coalition includes Colorado Trout Unlimited and a range of stakeholders, including conservation and wildlife groups, landowners, and outdoor recreationists. More than 400 western slope businesses have signed a petition asking state leaders to protect the Upper Colorado.

For more information, go to www.DefendTheColorado.org

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Colorado conservation activists last week gathered outside EPA headquarters in Denver, asking federal regulators to protect the Upper Colorado River system from proposed water diversions to the Front Range.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Steve Maxwell: ‘We’re going to see big companies start making decisions based on the availability of water’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’re going to see a shift in population (migration),” said Steve Maxwell, an investment banker who co-wrote “The Future of Water” with Scott Yates. “We’ll begin to see water issues affecting demographic changes.” That means places with plenty of water, for example Buffalo, N.Y., and Cleveland, may become more desirable than sun belt destinations such as Las Vegas and Tucson. Maxwell’s comments were a wet blanket during the 54th annual convention of the Colorado Water Congress, which for years has been wrestling with the potential for future shortfalls in state water supply…

In his global view, water is increasingly becoming a commodity, like oil and gas, as well as a necessity for human life. Water projects are attracting more private investment and will cost more as time goes by. As an investment banker, Maxwell sees similarities to other commodities for water: It’s critical to the world economy; there is a fixed amount; the demand is increasing. Unlike coal, oil, gas or any other commodity, there is no substitute for water. In addition to finding a supply, there are huge costs looming in maintaining or repairing infrastructure. Private companies are taking over where public water providers leave off, Maxwell said. “We’re going to see big companies start making decisions based on the availability of water,” he said. “And it will impact personal decisions as well.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress 2012 Annual Convention: Colorado’s water planning efforts lag other states

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Other states have plans that identify projects, such as Texas, or programs, as California does. And some states, such as Kansas, use some combination in their plans and guide by policy. All are locally driven, and have some procedure for implementation. In Colorado, water planning historically has been difficult because of mistrust between the Colorado River basin, where most of the water is, and the Front Range, which has most of the population lives — and where future water demands are expected to escalate.

Since 1956, there has been some sort of document in place to guide the state through water controversies, but they essentially boil down to finding out how much Colorado River water is left to develop, Hecox said. “Colorado Water Resources,” published in 1956, was a small document that covered the same issues as the voluminous Statewide Water Supply Initiative, published in 2004 and updated in 2010. The state plans to continue updating it every six years…

“On the West Slope, we want good choices that avoid future crisis,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Conservation District. “We understand the Colorado River is part of meeting future needs, but we need to focus on making good choices.” Kuhn said the consequences of overdeveloping water resources can be seen in all of the state’s other basins and must be avoided on the Colorado River…

Fort Morgan dairy farmer Chris Kraft said agriculture must be protected in any future state plans. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who went before us,” Kraft said. “Everybody has a stake in this game if we’re going to keep moving forward.”

More CWCB coverage here. More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.