Oil, gas commission approves injection well near Platteville despite protest — The Greeley Tribune

Deep injection well
Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

Platteville rancher Roy Wardell was asking questions long before an earthquake shook the ground around Greeley. The oil and gas wastewater injection well proposed near his ranch would be the sixth in the immediate proximity to his small operation. It only made sense that adding another high pressure well in a line of other high pressure wells would tempt fate. Then came May 31. An earthquake rattled Greeley for a second or two, and his fears were confirmed.

“This is a concentration of wells that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Weld County,” Wardell told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Greeley on Monday. “My concern is you cannot confidently say there’s not a seismic risk. It flies in the face of logic.”

He was asking that an injection well near his ranch proposed by High Plains Disposal be denied, given its proximity to other injection wells. Injection wells have been linked to earthquakes across the country. The majority of them operate for years without incident, while a few others don’t.

Oil and gas well wastewater is injected into deep underground wells into porous formations. Seismic activity occurs when water slips through geologic structures, allowing movement. The process of injection is considered more environmentally friendly than the process a decade ago of dumping used well water into pools at the well site.

All injection wells in Colorado undergo testing for a variety of concerns, including seismic activity. At present, there are 28 injection wells in the county, with another 20 in the permitting process.

The operator of the Greeley well, out by the Greeley-Weld County airport, is under investigation for potential violations after researchers, in a 20-day period in which NGL was required to stop injecting water, isolated the well as the cause of the earthquake and about a dozen smaller ones since. That well is 18 miles north of the proposed well near Wardell’s ranch.

In a hearing before the COGCC, state officials and representatives of High Plains Disposal discussed their plans to ensure safety, including placing seismic monitoring equipment at the well to act as an early-warning system of any induced activity. They said the Greeley well had different circumstances than the one High Plains had proposed, including drilling into a different formation.

Commission members stated while the concern is there, they felt comfortable with approving the well.

“If I were a landowner, I’d have the same concerns that there is a possibility for seismic activity,” said Commissioner Bill Hawkins. “All the technical testimony given today indicates it is not likely, and there really isn’t any reason we can see other than the fact that a well 20 miles away had seismic activity. Certainly seismic activity is of concern to the public and a large part of the county, and it’s a concern to the commission. If there is any activity we would definitely stop, (it is) injections.”

Commissioner Mike King agreed, stating that if there is any seismic activity associated with the well, they would respond just as they did with the Greeley well, and shut off injections immediately.

“Things change,” said King, also the director of the state Department of Natural Resources. “We found out in other wells there were some factors that weren’t as clear … (and it) caused us to take a 20-day timeout, to see what we missed, what things needed to change. … I’m comfortable, although in the last month, I’ve become less comfortable in general. I’m OK with being a little more on edge until we get more information.”

Wardell knew he was fighting a losing battle.

“I feel heard,” he said after the meeting.

More oil and gas coverage here.

USGS: Streamflow Increasing in Eastern #MissouriRiver Basin, Decreasing Elsewhere

Missouri River Basin
Missouri River Basin

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Parker Norton/Marisa Lubeck):

Video footage of an interview with lead USGS scientist Parker Norton is available online.

Streamflow in the eastern portions of the Missouri River watershed has increased over the past 52 years, whereas other parts have seen downward trends.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently studied data from 227 streamgages in the Missouri River watershed that had continuous records for 1960 through 2011. The scientists found that almost half of the streamgages showed either an upward or downward trend in mean annual flow since 1960, while the rest showed no trend.

The study is relevant on a large scale because the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, with a watershed that includes mountainous to prairie topography in all or parts of 10 states and small parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

“The Missouri River and its tributaries are valuable for agriculture, energy, recreation and municipal water supplies,” said USGS hydrologist Parker Norton. “Understanding streamflow throughout the watershed can help guide management of these critical water resources.”

According to the study, streamflow has increased in the eastern part of the watershed, including eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Annual flows have decreased in the western headwaters area of the Missouri River in Montana and Wyoming, and in the southern part of the basin associated with the Kansas River watershed.

Climate changes that affect how and where moisture is delivered to the continent may be causing some of these trends in the Missouri River Basin. Although the USGS scientists did not conduct a complete analysis of the causes, they noted that increased streamflow over broad regions occurred despite the increasing use of water. Decreased streamflow in some areas could also be related to climate change factors, or to groundwater pumping.

The USGS report can be accessed online.

More Missouri River Basin coverage here.

EPA — Know the facts: Floodplains are not regulated #ditchthemyth

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 1,000 cfs in Black Canyon

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced from 2000 cfs to 1900 cfs on Monday, July 28th at 10:00 AM. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. The weather forecast calls for rain in the basin over the next few days and the river forecast shows flows continuing to increase during this time.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the flow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1000 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 900 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

“It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing” — Dennis Davidson #COWaterPlan


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Agricultural interests are expressing concerns that the draft Colorado River Basin plan that will be part of a broader statewide water plan is lacking in explaining the importance of water needs for farming and ranching in the region, and especially the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There are over 30,000 acres of land irrigated in the Roaring Fork River [watershed], with over 1,100 active irrigation diversions and over 800 diversions of water out of the main rivers and other smaller tributaries,” the Mount Sopris Conservation District board states in a recent letter to Colorado Basin Roundtable Chairman Jim Pokrandt. “Most of these are for use on agriculture lands to produce hay and pasture.”

Yet, in reviewing the latest revisions to the draft basin plan that were released earlier this month, much of the agricultural input that has been provided during the planning effort is “notably absent,” especially as it relates to the Roaring Fork Valley, the district’s letter states.

Preservation of agriculture is one of the six key themes included in the basin plan, which is still being revised and will continue to be for the better part of the next nine months.

“It did open some eyes that agriculture is listed as being important in the [larger] basin, but not in the Roaring Fork,” rancher Jeff Nieslanik, who chairs the Mount Sopris District board, said at the Monday meeting of the basin roundtable in Glenwood Springs.

“We are in decreasing ag, but it is still going,” he said, adding the importance of food production within the Roaring Fork watershed should be better spelled out in the plan.

That should include some mention of specific projects that are being done to repair and bring efficiencies to agriculture irrigation infrastructure in the region, he said.

Agriculture water use was the focus of the regular monthly meeting of the basin roundtable, as it works to refine the basin plan and make sure Colorado River interests are reflected in the state plan that is due out next year.

“Ag is going to have a target on its back, because it does own a lot of the older water rights in the state,” said roundtable member Kim Albertson, who has ranching interests in Garfield, Eagle and Mesa counties.

That includes not only farm-to-market operations, but “production agriculture,” which exports a large percentage of its product outside the state, he said.

Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of water use in the state, meaning farmers and ranchers are coming under pressure to bring better efficiencies to their irrigation practices. But a significant portion of that water use is “non-consumptive,” meaning much of the water eventually makes its way back into the river system after it is used to irrigate crops. That should somehow be quantified in the basin plan, said several of those attending the Monday meeting who represented various agricultural interests.

When it comes to preserving agriculture within the water plan, it’s not just about protecting farms and ranches, it’s about food, said Dennis Davidson, irrigation water management specialist for the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and Southside USDA conservation districts.

“As consumers we’re all as guilty of using this water as anyone,” Davidson said. “It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing.”

Another concern being expressed in the statewide effort to draft a water plan is the practice of “buy-and-dry,” where ag lands and their accompanying water rights are bought up by nonagricultural interests, such as for residential or energy development, and taken out of production.

While ag lands on the eastern plains are a big target for metro area water interests, the same market pressures exist on the Western Slope, pointed out Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, which works with agricultural land owners to place conservation easements on their land to protect it from non-ag-related development.

“We do need to balance out those market forces, when we’re trying to sustain agriculture and you have entities trying to buy [their water],” she said. “Either they are going to buy it, or we need to buy it.”

Louis Meyer of SGM Engineers, which is in charge of writing the basin plan, said the Colorado Basin is not alone in its struggle with how to preserve agricultural interests without infringing on private property rights.

He said his team will review the input received from agricultural users as the plan is revised. “But you have to be specific” when it comes to mention of projects and their relation to the goals of the basin plan, he added.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.