‘A special one tonight. From Plateau Point’ — National Park Service #coriver

‘In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later’ — Eric Kuhn #codrought #coriver

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Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope.

The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second (cfs), when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs).

Two tripping points activate the agreement: when Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average.

Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way.

The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin.

As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

“This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the CRCA was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

“Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope as well,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

List and map of Colorado water providers — Leonard Rice Engineering

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Update: Leonard Rice sent an updated link May 28, 2015:

http://lre-projects.com/ColoradoWaterEntities/

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a Google Hang-Out with personnel from Leonard Rice Engineering. They introduced me to their interactive GIS mapping application for Colorado water providers. The map is quite a resource if you are involved in water issues in Colorado or if you just love maps.

The application is built on Open Source software including Open Layers, Ubuntu Linux and KML.

Here’s the description of the project from Shane Michael at Leonard Rice:

Leonard Rice Engineers, Inc. is developing a web based tools to share with you water providers and district boundaries in Colorado. This includes a database that can be searched, along with a web-mapping application consisting of base-layers and 6 mapping layers: Water Conservation Districts, Water Conservancy Districts, Irrigation Districts, Water and Sanitation Districts, Water Districts, and Municipal Water Providers. We are continually working to improve the completeness and accuracy of this map and list so that it can be an effective tool for everyone in the Colorado water community to use.

Website Link:
http://www.dataviewer.info/ColoradoWaterEntities/ColoradoWaterEntitiesTable

Youtube Google Hang out link:

Click on the thumbnail graphic for a screen shot with my favorite water provider highlighted. Don’t forget to visit LRE’s map application by clicking on the link above. Shane’s Google Hangout presentation is also linked.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: 80 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam #coriver

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Over the weekend, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River bumped up slightly. We are now sending about 80 cfs down through the canyon. We are collecting about 50 cfs at the Dille Diversion Dam and sending it on to Horsetooth Reservoir.

We are running some Colorado-Big Thompson Project water through the canyon while some routine maintenance is being conducted on the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal. When the work wraps up in a couple of weeks, we will begin moving water back through the canal rather than running it down the canyon.

To learn more about Lake Estes and Olympus Dam, please visit our website. Data on this website is updated every night at midnight.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations: Reclamation starts filling the reservoir for 2013 #coriver

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today, April 1, 2013, we have officially started to fill Green Mountain Reservoir. Last year, the start of fill was declared about one week earlier than this year.

Currently, we are releasing around 55 cfs to the Lower Blue River. The reservoir water level elevation is about 7891 feet–roughly 50 feet down from completely full, or 39% of its total content capacity. The water level should now steadily begin to rise.

To track Green Mountain water levels and releases, please visit our website. It is updated every night at midnight.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here and here.

Forecast news: Mountain snow down to 7,000 – 8,000 feet #codrought #cowx

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A closed low over east-central Utah this morning will drop southeastward reaching northwest NM by this evening. This system will continue to bring valley rain showers and mountain snow showers through early this evening, before shower activity diminishes. Isolated thunderstorms with gusty winds and brief heavy precipitation are also possible once again today. Snow levels will range from 7000 to 8000 feet with moderate snow accumulations over the higher peaks. A ridge of high pressure builds back in Wednesday into Thursday for warmer and drier conditions.

From Brian Bledsoe:

Pretty pessimistic on drought relief for Southern Colorado until early next week. ECMWF shows some decent moisture, and it may very well come as snow. Still way too early to get excited, but there will be a storm in the Western Plains to track early next week.

Drought/snowpack news: Low snowpack = less acreage planted #codrought

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From the Denver iJournal (J.D. Thomas):

“Normally, we plant 1.4 million acres of corn, but it’s reasonable to think we’ll plant 1.2 or 1.3 million acres this year,” Waskom said. “It’s rare that we drop 10 percent in acreage, but we know that water supplies are going to be down for both surface water and subsurface water.

“This is going to be hard year for farming in Colorado — that’s something we can safely say.”

Northeastern Colorado may be see some of the biggest farming cutbacks, as the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District looks at a 50 percent quota for Colorado-Big Thompson water, though there are hopes that may be raised.

“I can’t speak for the board, but they are at the 50 percent mark now,” said Northern spokesman Brian Werner. A normal quota for C-BT is about 70 percent, as the district usually seeks to conserve some water when supplies are good and release more water during drier conditions…

Colorado snowpack did see some improvement in March, normally the snowiest month of the year, rising to 78 percent of average statewide on March 28. The South Platte basin in northeastern Colorado was at 71 percent and the Colorado basin, which supplies water for the C-BT project, at 80 percent.

Making things more difficult in northeastern Colorado is the fact that Fort Collins and Greeley have been leasing more C-BT water to replace their water rights on the Poudre River. Both cities expect difficultly using those rights during runoff because of ash and sediment from the High Park Fire burn area.

That has left many agricultural producers high and dry, as they depend on cities leasing some of their C-BT water, which just isn’t going to happen this year…

This year, farmers may seek to plant many of their acres in spring grains, such as barley or oats, or wait to plant wheat in the fall, Waskom said. Hay crops will still be planted, though without irrigation there will be fewer cuttings and prices will remain high.

Spring storms, of course, can dramatically change both the agricultural outlook and the snowpack, though it is extremely unlikely that Colorado will reach a normal snowpack this year, said State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

“There are still two months where you can have more precipitation than evaporation,” he said. And this March was a lot wetter and cooler than last year, when the early hot and dry conditions set off what climatologists termed a “flash drought” across the Midwest and the nation’s Corn Belt.

The Corn Belt appears to have recovered from that drought, Waskom said, which means that Colorado’s corn producers could face both smaller crops and lower prices. But one crop definitely helped by the last storm in March here was winter wheat, which is harvested in early summer.

“It did give us moisture for spring crops, and much-needed moisture for planting,” Waskom said. And there are always some Colorado farmers willing to take a risk on getting enough rainfall to grow their crops, which is commonly known as “dryland farming.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):

“We’re doing a little bit better than last year, but we’re still less than normal,” said Grand Junction National Weather Service Meteorologist Chris Cuoco…

More rain fell in the Grand Valley this March compared to March 2012. March typically is the Grand Valley’s wettest month, but little more than one-third of an inch, or 0.35 inch, of rain fell last month. Normal rainfall is almost an inch, or 0.89 inch. In 2012, March saw 0.20 inch of rain. Year-to-date precipitation for 2013 is 1.35 inches of rain. Last year, from January through March, the Grand Valley logged a paltry 1.2 inches of rain.

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

In perhaps the surest sign of spring, water is flowing through the Government Highline Canal across the northern edge of the Grand Valley. Already, though, water managers across western Colorado are taking measures to make the most of what water they can and acknowledge that lean, dry times aren’t far off.

And this week might see domestic water suppliers in the Grand Valley begin to prepare their customers for expensive water and restrictions on lawn watering and other non-essential uses of water. “The end of March is going to be tale of the tape, or at least the tale of snow-ruler,” said Dave Reinertsen, chairman of the Drought Response Information Project. Reinertsen also is the assistant manager of the Clifton Water District, which relies on the Colorado River to serve its nearly 14,000 residential and commercial customers.

Low snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin already has brought into play one of the key parts of an agreement governing the management of the Colorado River. The Shoshone Generating Station in Glenwood Canyon is calling water down from the high country as though the station were operating at full tilt, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The station, however, will draw only 750 cubic feet per second of water from the river, enough to spin one of its two turbines. That allows upstream users to set aside some water they would otherwise have to let flow by to allow for electricity generation in the second Shoshone turbine, Treese said. “We are in a drought situation, so we agreed to exercise the Shoshone relaxation agreement,” which is part of an overall agreement between Denver Water and several Western Slope water agencies and governments outlining the management of the river from its headwaters in the Never Summer Range to the Utah state line.

Relatively cool temperatures as March neared its end appeared to have left the first line of the state’s water supply in slightly better shape than was the case in 2012, when hot, dry winds swept away much of the moisture tucked into the high peaks. Runoff “is not coming down yet, and that’s OK right now,” Treese said. A slower melt will provide a greater opportunity to store water in reservoirs, which still aren’t expected to fill this spring. Upstream water users have only a limited time to take advantage of the Shoshone relaxation agreement because it lasts only through May 20.

Irrigators in the Gunnison River Basin also are moving to take advantage of what water they can, said Steve Fletcher, general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. The association’s quandary pretty much sums up the difficulties irrigators are facing across western Colorado. “Taylor Reservoir is our storage,” Fletcher said. “Last year it was 100 percent and there was a second fill. This year it’s at 80 percent and there won’t be a second fill.”

Irrigators are lumping together their water, making the most of some pre-irrigation practices for their corn crops and taking other measures, Fletcher said. “Everybody pretty much understands where we’re at,” he said. Many customers have been notified that they will get only 50 percent of the water they usually receive, said Fletcher, who has worked for the association for 30 years. So far, 2013 looks like early 2003, which also followed a drought year. “We started at 50 percent then,” until we got some key storms, he said.

Grand Valley water managers will get together Tuesday to consider recommendations to their governing boards about whether to impose drought restrictions, Reinertsen said in an email, which he closed with, “Here’s to a VERY WET weekend,” then drily added, “(Probably not going to happen.)” Sure enough, Grand Junction saw high temperatures around 70 degrees over the weekend — and no precipitation.

Meanwhile, Loveland may join the list of Front Range cities opting in for watering restrictions. Here’s a report from Tom Hacker writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Loveland Water and Power so far is standing pat on a long history of allowing unrestricted water use by its customers. But that likely will change as spring marches toward summer. “We have proposed a short-term response for an event that is worse than a 100-year drought,” said Greg Dewey, Loveland’s water resources engineer.

Loveland water managers hold in their back pockets a program of mandatory restrictions, beginning with three-day-weekly lawn watering, that are less stringent than those imposed by other cities. While the trigger point will come with Northern Water’s quota announcement, action may take another month or more. Dewey said the restrictions would take effect if the city’s water deficit — the gap between supply and customer demand — exceeds 10 percent…

“A 50 percent (Northern Water) quota would put us at about a 14 percent deficit,” he said. But it’s likely that the restriction would not take effect until Loveland city councilors view the program, and that won’t happen until May 14.

Adams County is still struggling with implementing stormwater fees

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From The Denver Post (Yesenia Robles):

Adams County has temporarily converted its controversial new stormwater fee to a flat rate and will convene a citizens advisory panel in response to a rush of opposition and threats of litigation. Property owners who have already paid their bills will receive a refund, the Adams County commissioners said Monday. “By capping the fee and inviting the public to participate in the evaluation process, we are confident we can arrive at a fair and equitable solution,” commissioner Eva Henry said in a released statement.

The task force of 16 to 24 people — depending on interest — is to begin meeting by May 20 and deliver recommendations to the commissioners by Oct. 1. The board hopes to have representatives from eight areas within unincorporated Adams County, as well as one citizen from each town and city. Residents of towns and cities don’t pay the stormwater fee — enacted to cover the cost of drainage improvements countywide — but they theoretically would have to help cover the shortfalls in the county budget if there was no fee…

The flat rate will decrease the budget to about $2.2 million for 2013, from the $5.1 million originally estimated.

The following are the temporary caps that the commissioners have agreed to:

• $83 for residential
• $746 for commercial properties
• $446 for exempt properties
• $886 for industrial properties
• $131 for agricultural properties
• $886 for state-assessed properties
• $68 for mine properties

More stormwater coverage here and here.

Parachute Creek spill may be the result of more than one leak #coriver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A continuing investigation is suggesting more than one leak that possibly occurred in the past as sources of liquid hydrocarbon contamination near Parachute Creek northwest of Parachute.

That’s according to Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman, in a daily emailed update Monday to reporters on a situation being investigated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That investigation continues to concentrate on a valve set for a 4-inch-diameter natural gas liquids line owned by Williams. “The investigation to date has not identified an active source; the situation suggests to COGCC investigators the possibility there may have been historic releases in the vicinity of the valve set and the recovery trench that occurred over a period of time. That is … (a) focus of COGCC’s efforts,” Hartman said.

The recovery trench was dug to protect the nearby creek and help allow for removal of the fluids. Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said Monday, “Growing information that we have is pointing to more than one source.”

The 4-inch-diameter pipeline that the valve set serves originates at Williams’ gas plant east of Parachute Creek and goes beneath the creek to tanks on the other side. The plant removes liquids such as ethane and propane from the gas. The valve set last week became the focus of an investigation that began March 8 when Williams discovered contamination in the pipeline corridor, which holds several lines. Williams was doing location work as it prepares to build a second plant on the same site to remove a greater amount of natural gas liquids.

A historic rather than ongoing leak or leaks would coincide with what remediation crews encountered. Large initial amounts of an unidentified liquid hydrocarbon were removed for several days from the corridor just east of the creek. But the flows then tapered off and the total amount recovered stopped increasing after reaching about 6,000 gallons.

High levels of benzene, a carcinogen, have been found in shallow groundwater just 30 feet from the creek, but tests so far show no sign of contamination in the creek, authorities say.

Gray said Williams today will be using a mechanical probe that can detect benzene and other volatile organic compounds associated with oil and gas development in groundwater and soils. That will help it more quickly delineate the extent of contamination and get a clearer picture of what’s going on, she said.

Williams also has installed more groundwater monitoring wells, and established a fourth monitoring site along the creek, she said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

On a July day in 2010, paraffin and an oily sheen showed up in a groundwater seep from a wall of a Rifle-area gravel pit that’s owned by Dan and Doug Grant and sits near the Colorado River. The source? A produced-water pipeline associated with oil and gas development. The pipeline had a faulty weld, and the Grants say the energy developer responsible for the line, Antero Resources, has never been able to show documentation that it was tested as required before being put into service. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission “basically relies on contractors and the oil boys to come in and test it. They just didn’t do it,” Dan Grant said.

Just what is required in terms of safety regulations pertaining to oil and gas pipelines, and the adequacy of enforcement, are likely to undergo new scrutiny in light of the discovery this month of a leak near Parachute. Some 6,000 gallons of a still-undetermined liquid hydrocarbon were recovered near Parachute Creek in a pipeline corridor four miles northwest of the town.

Williams found the contamination while doing pipeline location work in association with another natural gas processing plant it plans to build on the same property as its current Parachute Creek Gas Plant. An investigation continues into the possible source of the leak but has been focusing on a valve box for a 4-inch-diameter natural gas liquids line leaving the plant. Officials say any number of agencies could be tasked with regulating the infrastructure around the leak, but until the leak source is identified, it remains unclear which entity is actually in charge. The leak has contaminated groundwater, and high levels of carcinogenic benzene have been found in groundwater just 30 feet from Parachute Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River. Authorities say the creek doesn’t appear to have been contaminated.

Bob Arrington, a retired engineer who lives in nearby Battlement Mesa and is a citizen activist on oil and gas issues, said pipelines don’t get much attention from the commission, which focuses more on regulating drilling and well pad activities. Entities at local, state and federal levels have some hand in pipeline regulations, and gray areas arise regarding regulation and enforcement, he said. “That is a big area of controversy for a lot of people because the pipelines are just as important” as other aspects of oil and gas regulations, he said.

The commission has pipeline regulations that apply to what it calls flow lines. State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said those rules apply to oil and gas lines leading from wells directly to a processing facility or to what are called gathering lines. He said they also apply to production water lines. The rules do things such as dictate piping materials that must be used and require pressure-testing before use and once per year. Commission Director Matt Lepore said he expects the agency to give its pipeline regulations new scrutiny to see if changes could help prevent an incident like the one up Parachute Creek. “Any time there is an event like this we need to look at how it came to be, why did this happen, how did it happen, and in light of that look at our regulations, and we will do that,” he said.

Gathering line gray area

New discussions about pipeline regulations could also turn to the issue of gathering line regulations, particularly as they apply to rural areas. Those lines transport oil and gas from production areas to processing facilities.

Nationwide, pipeline safety is regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, covering aspects such as construction, testing, inspection and maintenance. However, its regulations currently apply to only about 10 percent of the 200,000 miles of natural gas gathering lines nationwide, and about 4,000 of the 30,000 to 40,000 hazardous liquids gathering lines, according to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report. The safety administration doesn’t regulate natural gas gathering lines in areas with fewer than 10 buildings per mile intended for human occupancy within 220 yards of a line — what are called Class 1 areas.

Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice’s Northeastern U.S. office, questions what she calls a “kind of a cost-benefit analysis” by the government of risk in rural areas. “Frankly, the people who live in the low-populated areas, their lives are as important to them as populated areas,” she said.

The pipeline safety administration regulates hazardous liquids gathering pipelines in the case of ones that are in communities, cross waterways used for commercial navigation, or are in rural areas that come within a quarter-mile of environmentally sensitive areas. The administration has arrangements with states including Colorado to oversee various pipelines. Goldberg said those arrangements rarely result in requirements more stringent than federal requirements.

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust watchdog group, said some gathering lines “are pretty much unregulated by anybody, which always strikes people as amazing.”

The administration has a regulatory agreement with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, but only for safety involving intrastate natural gas lines, said utilities spokesman Terry Bote. And generally that jurisdiction is only for distribution lines to utility customers. “Typically gathering is not part of our safety oversight,” he said, although he said he thinks there are some circumstances where it might be. He was unable to elaborate on that last week.

The oil and gas commission actually rescinded some rules it had applied to gathering lines as part of its regulatory overhaul of 2008. According to an explanatory document, it said that was because of new federal Department of Transportation rules leading to duplication and conflict between commission and utilities rules. It said it decided to rescind its rules until the utilities commission delineates the pipelines under its jurisdiction. “Gathering lines, if they are not regulated by the local government, then they kind of fall through the cracks” said Tresi Houpt, a former Garfield County commissioner who also was a state oil and gas commissioner at the time of the rules rewrite. Garfield County has passed pipeline rules that Houpt said were partly a response to concern over lack of gathering line rules, although she thinks they didn’t go far enough. They deal with things such as revegetation, siting lines and minimizing visual impacts. But the county once temporarily halted work on another Antero Resources pipeline project because of concerns over large rocks in the pipeline trench that could cause leaks.

Josh Joswick, with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in southwest Colorado, said he brought up shortcomings in safety regulations for gathering pipelines during the oil and gas commission’s discussions last year. “That’s as far as it went. They were not interested in dealing with that, although they acknowledged that it is something that needs to be addressed,” he said.

The Government Accountability Office report notes that there are far fewer fatalities associated with pipelines than with transport by truck and rail. And traditionally, it added, gathering pipelines are smaller than other lines — 2 to 12 inches in diameter — and operate at relatively low pressures of 5 to 800 pounds per square inch. But it said larger, higher-pressure gathering lines are cropping up in association with the nation’s growing development of shale gas. Local energy companies have begun doing some shale drilling.

Local companies’ regimens

WPX Energy, which has some 4,400 natural gas wells in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, has about 375 gas flow and gathering lines and about 150 miles of water transportation lines, from 2 to 20 inches in diameter, company spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said. Few of the pipelines in WPX’s system are regulated by the federal Department of Transportation, Alvillar said.

But she added, “Any anomalies with the gas lines would be apparent to the two people who watch each well every day via our telemetry system. In addition, there are safety systems in place at the pad processing equipment which would close the well under certain conditions. We pressure test the pipelines on a regular schedule. There is also cathodic protection placed on the lines, which involves a current which reduces corrosion. “WPX has a very large stake in assuring that there are no gas leaks, as the company is paid on what it delivers to the processing plant.”

Water lines undergo preventative measures such as being physically checked when in use, she indicated. “At WPX, we treat all of our lines as flowlines and our testing of all of our lines goes above and beyond what the COGCC prescribes. In fact, if you want to separate out the gathering lines, they are tested to 10 percent above what maximum operating pressure is on the line on a regular schedule.”

Williams transports and processes gas rather than producing it. Most of its gas lines in Colorado consist of transmission rather than gathering lines, putting them under heightened regulation. Williams spokesman Tom Droege said federal and state regulations require pipeline operators to conduct periodic pipeline corridor patrols, which Williams does by plane, vehicle and on foot. “In addition to visual methods, leak detection equipment is commonly used in some types of patrols,” he said.

Goldberg, of Earthjustice, said inspections, something typically not required in most states in Class 1 areas, are important because they can detect things such as dead vegetation that can be associated with a methane leak. Besides the climate impacts of possible leaks (methane is a potent greenhouse gas) leaking methane poses an explosion hazard and can get in water at places such as stream crossings, she said. That methane can contain benzene and other hazardous substances. A liquid pipeline leak can cause extensive soil or water contamination if it goes unnoticed for a long time, she said.

Energy companies rely on pressure flow monitoring as one means of detecting leaks. When the Parachute leak was first detected, companies cited a lack of pressure drops in indicating pipelines didn’t appear to be leaking. But a study conducted for the pipeline safety administration said it’s acknowledged that such systems “will catch, at best, large ruptures.”

Other pipeline players

Other entities have a hand in pipeline regulation. For example, the city of Rifle has authority in the watershed area supplying its municipal supply, which includes Beaver Creek south of town. City Manager John Hier said engineers review pipeline applications in the watershed and can recommend requirements addressing construction and other matters, such as creek crossings. Those same engineers then do inspections during construction, he said. “They put some pretty stringent requirements on them when they cross places like Beaver Creek,” Hier said.

The Bureau of Land Management imposes pipeline conditions that can vary depending on the project, and are addressed through environmental assessments, said agency spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. Petroleum engineers and other BLM staff do inspections to ensure requirements are followed. She said the agency works with safety administration on all pipeline right-of-way projects.

Recently, energy companies proposed two Garfield County lines crossing beneath the Colorado River, a drinking water source for downstream communities in Colorado and beyond. According to the environmental analysis and approval decision for one of them, the entire 30-inch-diameter line, which also would cross several tributaries to the river, would be subject to safety administration testing requirements.

While questions may linger over gathering line regulations, both Houpt and Hartman said the oil and gas commission has jurisdiction over exploration and production waste and spills, which can include material released from gathering lines. However, Hartman said the natural gas liquids line near Parachute isn’t a gathering line.

That line runs from the gas plant and below the creek to tanks on the other side. It’s actually regulated by another agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Sara Delgado, another Williams spokeswoman. That’s apparently because it’s part of the plant operation.

From the tanks, the liquids are transported to Williams’ Willow Creek gas plant in Rio Blanco County, where they are combined with that plant’s liquids for transportation out of state. Where the pipeline exits the Parachute tanks, it is regulated by the safety administration, she said.

Hartman said the question of jurisdiction can’t be answered definitively until the leak source is determined. Depending on what’s learned, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment may have an oversight role, working with the gas commission to continue addressing the situation. The health and environment department already has been involved in the investigation.

Reactive versus proactive?

Arrington, of Battlement Mesa, said that “most regulatory action comes when there’s a pipeline accident,” which is a reactionary approach. He said more pipeline inspectors are needed, and regulators rely too much on companies to monitor their lines.

Antero received a gas commission notice of alleged violation in connection with the 2010 leak, which contaminated gravel pit settling ponds the Grants drew from for crop irrigation. Doug Grant said they used that water for a year after the pipeline was put in and probably started leaking, not knowing the water might be tainted. According to an Antero spill report for the case, the produced water involved typically contains 400 to 800 parts per million of oil. Dan Grant said benzene levels in some contaminated water measured 20,000 parts per billion, compared to the state standard of 5 ppb or less. Antero eventually removed contaminated soil, and the site is being monitored. The commission hasn’t formally found Antero in violation, but Hartman said the matter “is under ongoing enforcement.”

The Grants are frustrated by rules that could limit any fine against Antero to $10,000 per violation except in certain circumstances. Current state legislation proposes raising the agency’s fines. The Grants’ situation makes them wonder what other leaks might be lurking around the region. Garfield County has about 10,000 active wells. “There’s so many pipelines out there,” Dan Grant said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.