Municipal and county officials above the Niobrara shale play are examining their roles in regulating oil and gas exploration and production

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…elected officials are responding by considering drilling moratoriums and new local rules. Residents want good air, water and safety, Commerce City Councilman Rene Bullock said. “What are we going to do to start providing that?” Colorado’s State Land Board hit the brakes on a controversial metro-Denver drilling project after learning that ConocoPhillips is embroiled in a lawsuit for failing to pay the state $152 million for cleanup of leaky underground gas tanks.

As energy companies prepare to tap the vast Niobrara shale formation, this reticence reflects widening anxiety and an uneasy standoff with state regulators as residents question Colorado’s ability to combine environment stewardship with large-scale industrial development.

State regulators, who simultaneously are charged with encouraging oil and gas development, oppose local rules for protecting air, water and serenity. “The state has the experience and the infrastructure to effectively and responsibly regulate oil and gas development,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “A healthy industry is important to our state’s economy, and a mosaic of regulatory approaches across cities and counties is not conducive to clear and predictable rules that mark efficient and effective government.”

Air pollution is a major concern. Here’s a report about past air pollution from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The study based on air sampling from a tower north of Denver estimated wells in the Denver-Julesberg Basin were losing about 4 percent of their methane emissions — twice as high as earlier estimates. The findings raise questions about emissions industrywide, said Greg Frost, a co-author of the study and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado-Boulder…

But since the sampling for the study was done in 2008, a number of steps have been taken to address emissions, state air officials and industry executives said. A mixture of venting emissions, leaks and flashing — fumes that escape as the pressure on the liquid portion of the gas drops — contributed to the problem, the researchers said. “The methane was detected in the atmosphere. The challenge was to understand what happens at each well site,” Frost said. In the last four years Colorado has adopted new drilling rules and air-emission restrictions that deal with many pollution issues, said Will Allison, director of the state Air Pollution Control Division.

More coverage from Scott Rochat writing for the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

The public and three of the city’s advisory boards strongly urged tougher regulation — and a longer moratorium — of oil and gas drilling in Longmont. The support came during Tuesday night’s open house and joint board meeting at the civic center. More than 90 people showed up to have their say, either at the microphone or by showing with stickers which subjects they most strongly backed. Huge collections of stickers on poster boards told the tale: Keep drilling operations a half mile from homes? Yes. Require closed-loop systems? Yes. Toughen regulations even if they may be challenged or pre-empted by the state? Yes, yes, yes.

“I’m really concerned abut the long-term effects on the water supply,” said resident Edna Loehman. “I don’t think they should be doing it in urban areas.”[…]

The 14 members of the city’s water board, parks board, and environmental affairs board didn’t always go as far as the audience, but still wanted more than the city had.

In electronic voting, 86 percent of the advisory board members said they’d support tighter requirements even in areas the state had declared pre-empted; about three-quarters said they’d support either a 500 foot or a 1,000 foot setback. The current setback is 350 feet.

“It seems we have more control over where a gas station goes in town than things like this,” said Douglas Ward of the Board of Environmental Affairs.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

2012 Colorado November election: Ballot initiatives 3 and 45 would challenge prior appropriation and beneficial use

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Here’s an opinion piece about ballot initiatives 3 and 45 from Nancy Agro running in The Durango Herald. From the article:

Article XVI of the Colorado Constitution, enacted in 1876, provides that the waters of the natural streams of the state belong to the people of the state, subject to appropriation for use, and that the right to divert unappropriated water for beneficial use shall never be denied. Priority of appropriation gives the better right as between those using the water with domestic use and irrigation having priority over other uses in times of shortage. These constitutional provisions codify the foundation of Colorado water law that a water right is the private property right of the appropriator, and first in time, is first in right.

The Colorado Supreme Court, acknowledging that the doctrine of prior appropriation existed from the earliest appropriations of water, said, “The climate is dry, the soil, when moistened only by the usual rainfall, is arid and unproductive … artificial irrigation for agriculture is an absolute necessity. Water in the various streams thus acquires a value unknown in moister climates. Instead of being a mere incident to the soil, it rises, when appropriated, to the dignity of a distinct usufructuary estate, or right of property.”

Proposed ballot initiatives 3 and 45 propose to turn these principles upside down by reversing the dominant and servient water estates. These amendments propose, among other things, that the public’s ownership of the waters of the natural streams supersedes property law, that the right of appropriation is servient to the public’s dominant water estate, including the protection of the public’s enjoyment of use of water, and that no water right has priority over the natural stream. If passed, these constitutional amendments will call into question, and potentially undo, long-established decreed appropriative water rights by subordinating those rights in favor of leaving the water in the stream. Vested water-rights diversions could be curtailed by holding unlawful any use of water causing irreparable harm to the public’s water estate, including the public’s enjoyment of water.

The well-settled principles of water appropriation have shaped the social and economic development of the arid West. It has always been the policy of government to encourage the diversion and use of water for agriculture and other beneficial uses. Significant expenditures of time and money have been made to put portions of Colorado’s unproductive land to beneficial use through irrigation. Construction of houses and other improvements and the cultivation of soil which made Colorado’s land more valuable, were undertaken because water-rights appropriations were constitutionally protected. In the words of the Colorado Supreme Court, “Deny the doctrine of priority or superiority of right by priority of appropriation, and a great part of the value of all this property is at once destroyed.”

More 2012 Colorado November election coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline opposition talking point: Outdoor recreation supports 52,000 jobs in Wyoming

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From the Wyoming Business Report (Wyoma Groenenberg):

The group said it has gathered resolutions from West Slope governments opposing the pipeline, which is proposed to transport 80 billion gallons of water annually, which could negatively impact the region’s recreation industry. The coalition plans to lobby Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to drop the project…

Protect the Flows plans to spend the year reminding Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.

Outdoor recreation supports 52,000 jobs in Wyoming, according to the January edition of the Wyoming Business Report. That means that about 1 in 11 Wyoming residents works in that industry. In Colorado, about 107,000 jobs are in outdoor recreation, according to a 2006 economic impact report from the Outdoor Industry Association.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Exploring the myth and lore around hydraulic fracturing — ‘…tests are showing that the fractures usually go only 200 or 300 feet’

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Hydraulic fracturing — sometimes called “fracking” — is a process of pumping a water, sand and chemical mixture into shale formations under high pressure to break up rock and get oil and natural gas flowing more readily, said Dale Larsen, a sales representative for CALFRAC, who spent most of his career since 1978 as a petroleum engineer in fracking…

Some people believe hydraulic fracturing is a new and untested process, but it goes back to 1948, when it was first used in southwest Kansas, Larsen said. People used to think that fracking produced fractures that went for thousands of feet, but tests are showing that the fractures usually go only 200 or 300 feet, he said, and the process does not create earthquakes…

Wells have pipes put in them, and those have a cement casing around them to keep oil or gas from escaping. When the pipes have reached the desired areas, they are perforated with charges and then water, sand and chemicals are pushed into the sandstone to force oil and gas out. However, the part of the pipe which passes through water table is not perforated, and the area where the fractures occur are thousands of feet lower than the water table, Larsen said. Groundwater rarely gets as far down as 1,000 feet…

There is federal regulation of at least one aspect of hydraulic fracturing. When water comes back up the pipe, it must be contained and either purified or disposed of safely, Larsen said. Sometimes that water is filtered and reused, depending on what kinds of minerals may have mixed with it, he said. Other times, it is disposed of in deep wells below the water table, Larsen said.

Meanwhile, Longmont gave folk a look at their proposed oil and gas regulations on Friday. Here’s a report from Scott Rochat writing for the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

If approved, the rules would be the first update of Longmont’s drilling regulations since 2000. Pressure to upgrade the rules began last fall when TOP Operating announced plans for a multi-well site near Union Reservoir.

The updated rules will be reviewed by the city’s planning commission Wednesday. The commission then will decide whether to send them to the City Council for approval.

Longmont has a moratorium on new oil and gas permits through April 17 to allow time for new rules to be adopted.

Drafting the rules has meant walking a fine line for the city. On the one hand, many residents have told city officials they want the toughest regulations possible. On the other hand, state rules and court decisions put certain areas off-limits. Longmont can’t completely ban drilling within city limits, for example, nor can it mandate tougher setback distances — such as the space between a well and an occupied building — than the state allows.

That left the “carrot” approach, according to city planner Brien Schumacher: Put in a recommended set of guidelines that are tougher than the state’s, to be voluntarily agreed to. If a company agrees to all of them, they can have their permit approved by city staff; if they don’t, it has to go through a full planning commission review and possibly an appeal to the City Council.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Carl Musso — ‘…almost all of us know that our food has to be grown, produced, or farmed somewhere before it ever hits the shelves of the supermarket’

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Here’s the latest installment of their Colorado Water 2012 series from The Pueblo Chieftain (Carl Musso):

Every farm needs sunlight, soil and nutrients, seeds and of course water. Without water, there is no agriculture…

Here in Colorado, we can’t rely on it raining to help us grow food, so the irrigation decisions we make are even more important. Irrigation on a farm is a lot more complicated than just running water down a field or turning on a sprinkler. It all starts with that snowpack up in the mountains. After it thaws and the water comes down the river, it gets used by upstream cities. By the time it gets down here, that same water has probably been used for fishing, rafting and boating in the reservoir too. By then, we get our shares and push water out each one of our plants.

Trust me, some of that old equipment along our ditches might look like antiques, but we measure our water down to the thickness of an eyelash.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Arkansas River basin Water Forum: Nominees sought for the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Nominations are open for the 8th annual Bob Appel — Friend of the Arkansas award, presented each year at the Arkansas River basin Water Forum. The forum will be April 25-26 at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville.

The Appel award is designed to honor an individual who has over the years demonstrated commitment to improving the condition of the Arkansas River as it flows from its headwaters near Leadville to the Kansas state line. The award is meant to recognize someone who has helped to promote the best management practices in the usage of water in the Arkansas River basin. Their efforts may include contributions in the general areas of development, preservation, conservation or leadership…

Nominations may be sent to Jean Van Pelt at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District office, 31717 United Ave., Pueblo, CO 81001 or by email to jean@secwcd.com or fax 719-948-0036.
Nominations need to be received by March 9.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Blue Mesa Reservoir may be home to a pre-1922 water bank for Front Range suppliers in case of a Colorado River Compact call

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin and Gunnison Basin roundtables are collaborating on a project to see whether water from pre-1922 water rights in the Gunnison River basin could be banked in Blue Mesa Reservoir as a hedge against a Colorado River Compact call…

A call could affect transmountain diversions like the Colorado-Big Thompson project, Denver Water’s diversions, Twin Lakes and the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project because they rely on post-1922 water rights. There also could be an impact on Western Slope water rights claimed after 1922…

The joint roundtable group plans to meet again on March 19 and report on the progress of the water bank plan at the meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board the following day, [Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] said. There also are questions about whether Blue Mesa Reservoir can be operated for water bank storage, but the state should develop a specific proposal before that can be explored, Broderick said.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is beating the drum for additional storage and water for agriculture

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable decided Wednesday to look at several scenarios for meeting the state’s water needs, balancing the needs of agriculture against projected increases in demand from cities. Ot ther roundtables in the state are going through a similar exercise and will compare notes at a statewide roundtable summit March 1 in Broomfield.

A model developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and CDM engineering plugs in the proportion of existing projects, urban conservation, water development and agricultural dry-up to a gap in water supplies identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. The Interbasin Compact Committee hopes to combine the reports into a framework that looks at how to fill the gap.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has had two major differences with the IBCC process, taking the position that storage has to be a part of any process and that maintaining water for agriculture is as important as finding water for cities. The roundtable also chose to account for how much water could come from rotational fallowing, rather than permanent dry-up of farmland…

At a workshop in December, a few roundtable members came up with three scenarios involving low, middle and high estimates for water supply and demand. Most agreed the middle approach was reasonable. During the discussion, the roundtable also added a model for high demand and low supply, and another for low demand and high supply that most thought was far-fetched. In the low-demand, high-supply scenario, the Arkansas Basin would not suffer as much as the Western Slope and the South Platte basins. “I think the Western Slope uses the tool to reduce to the lowest level the amount of water available from the Colorado River,” said Jeris Danielson. “How many more high-mountain hay meadows can they irrigate?”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch engineering report forecasts the need for an additional 50,000 acre-feet in the valley by 2050

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The conclusion is reached in an engineering report by Heath Kuntz prepared as part of the Super Ditch exchange case filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010.

The exchanges involve up to 58,000 acre-feet of water, 30,000 acres of ground, 82 exchange sites and seven ditch companies. So far, there has been no filing for a change of use of the water. Without a water leasing program like Super Ditch in place, there is the potential to permanently sell more farm water and take away flexibility to use the best farmland to grow crops, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

“Without the Super Ditch, I can see the day when the Ark Valley turns the clock back to the 1950s and we’re reduced to furrow irrigation,” Winner said. “In fact, I think the demand for water might be even higher than this report indicates.”

With the advent of surface-irrigation improvement rules in 2009, more replacement water will be needed as more systems in the valley are converted…

Well plans administered by three major groups now use about 24,500 acre-feet of leased water, and the engineering report projects that would increase to 30,500 acre-feet of water by 2050. In addition, the Arkansas Valley Conduit is expected to be constructed in the next decade, and its water demands will include 3,100 acre-feet from new sources to serve about 40 communities east of Pueblo. “The total projected demands associated with these operations are approximately 53,300 acre-feet per year in 2050,” Kuntz said in the report…

At its January meeting, the Lower Ark board heard from well associations that its lease of water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to help surface irrigators fill replacement needs, is raising the price others have to pay for augmentation water. The Pueblo water board typically sells water to bidders each year when the water is available. The price has been creeping up, as witnessed by the Fort Lyon Canal’s bid of $40 per acre-foot — twice its typical offer — in 2011. But the well groups argue that the $200 per acre-foot in the Lower Ark’s five-year contract takes water out of the pool available to them.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Coyote Gulch has been running on WordPress for three years today — 6,187 posts so far

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Today is the third anniversary of Coyote Gulch on WordPress. 6,187 posts seems like a lot — 5.65 posts a day on average. Thanks to all the readers and to those of you that recommend Coyote Gulch to friends and acquaintances.

Here’s a shout out to all the great journalists that take the time to get water stuff right. It’s not an easy beat to cover. And thanks to all the editors that allow content to be published freely to the Internet. I hope you’ve all figured out a way to make things work financially.

For you readers: If you don’t subscribe to your local daily consider doing so. It’s hard for the papers to make ends meet and they can use the dough. Subscribers also help them attract advertisers.

WordPress is great software so if you’ve been tempted to join the blogosphere go out to wordpress.com and get started. You’ll be posting in a few minutes time.