#ClimateChange: The world’s clouds are in different places than they were 30 years ago — The Denver Post

Cloud photo via Wikipedia
Cloud photo via Wikipedia

From The Washington Post via The Denver Post:

In a new study published in Nature on Monday, scientists say they have for the first time thoroughly documented one of the most profound planetary changes yet to be caused by a warming climate: The distribution of clouds all across the Earth has shifted, they say.

And moreover, it has shifted in such a way – by expanding subtropical dry zones, located between around 20 and 30 degrees latitude in both hemispheres, and by raising cloud tops – as to make global warming worse…

That these things would happen in theory, based on our understanding of the physics of the atmosphere, has long been expected. The physical reasons for the expectation get complicated fast, involving factors such as the atmospheric “Rossby radius of deformation,” and how the Earth’s rotation bends the path of winds – the so-called Coriolis force, Norris explains. But all of this has long been an expectation based on runs of sophisticated climate simulations that embed within their coding the fundamental equations that govern the behavior of the atmosphere.

However, the study painstakingly pieced together images from weather satellites between the years 1983 and 2009 – correcting for the numerous known quirks of these satellites that have also made their measurements of atmospheric temperatures a messy affair – to line up pre-existing theory with observations.

“We’re seeing what the climate models think the pattern of cloud change would be,” Norris said.

Here’s how the paper summarizes the changes, region by region: “cloud amount and albedo [i.e., reflectivity] increased over the northwest Indian Ocean, the northwest and southwest tropical Pacific Ocean, and north of the Equator in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Cloud amount and albedo decreased over mid-latitude oceans in both hemispheres (especially over the North Atlantic), over the southeast Indian Ocean, and in a northwest-to-southeast line stretching across the central tropical South Pacific.”

#AnimasRiver: Navajo Nation Endorses Superfund Cleanup Of Colorado Mines — CBS Denver

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From the Associated Press via CBS Denver:

The Navajo Nation has formally endorsed a Superfund cleanup of southwestern Colorado mines, including one that released millions of gallons of wastewater into a river on Navajo land.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is considering a Superfund designation for the Gold King Mine and other sites, released the letter Monday…

A Superfund designation could release millions of dollars for a cleanup. The EPA says a decision could come as early as this fall.

Cement Creek aerial photo -- Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

@USBR Releases Finding of No Significant Impact for Pueblo Hydropower Project

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Patience Hurley):

The Bureau of Reclamation has completed the environmental study process and released the necessary documents for the Pueblo Hydropower Project to move forward.

“Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) were completed to address a request from Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Board of Water Works of Pueblo, and Colorado Springs Utilities to develop hydropower at the federally-owned Pueblo Dam,” said Signe Snortland, Area Manager for Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office.

The next step for Reclamation is to enter into a contract called a Lease of Power Privilege. This contract authorizes the use of federal lands, facilities, and Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to construct, operate, and maintain a 7 megawatt hydropower facility at the Pueblo Dam. The project utilizes a “run of river” design that harnesses water releases from Pueblo Dam to generate power and provide a clean, renewable source of energy.

“A hydropower plant and associated facilities will be constructed at the base of Pueblo Dam, utilize the dam’s north outlet works, and immediately return flows to the Arkansas River downstream of the dam,” said Snortland.

About 1.4 miles of new power and fiber-optic lines will also be constructed to connect the hydropower plant to the existing Black Hills Energy’s Pueblo Reservoir Substation. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2016 with power generation anticipated in 2018.

The EA and FONSI are available online at: http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/pueblo_hydropower.html

For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the EA/FONSI, please contact Terence Stroh at 970-962-4369 or TStroh@usbr.gov.

Pollution control systems added to Rico Argentine mine — The Cortez Journal

St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 - view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.
St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 – view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The long-closed site is on about 80 acres just north of Rico. Its leaking St. Louis Tunnel and pond treatment system sit beside the Dolores River, which provides agricultural and municipal water for 27,000 people in two downstream counties, several towns and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

But unlike Gold King Mine, the Rico Argentine Mine has had significant pollution-control systems in place. And more control systems are planned, said Paul Peronard, the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup coordinator at the mine.

“Here, we have a great understanding of the mineworks and have controls and monitoring in place, so we know where the pressure is,” Peronard said during a June 29 tour. “Based on that, the risk is pretty low.”

The mine is being reclaimed by Atlantic Richfield Co. under a 2011 Superfund order from the EPA. The reclamation program has four major components: new relief wells, more advanced water treatment, real-time monitoring, and a new waste disposal site.

How crews work to prevent a blowoutConstruction and drilling have begun on two new relief wells that will help drain the tunnel and prevent a blowout.

Mine and EPA officials estimate there is 1.7 million to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up in the mine. The contaminated water has high concentrations of manganese, zinc, copper, arsenic and cadmium.

The Rico Argentine mine’s workings come together to continuously drain through the collapsed St. Louis tunnel at a base flow of 400-600 gallons per minute, spiking to 1,000 gallons per minute in the spring.

But in the past few years, officials have noticed that the pressure behind the collapsed tunnel has been increasing each spring, which they attribute to silt, which has constricted the flow of the drainage.

Monitoring devices in the mine tunnel give operators real-time data on the elevation of the of backed-up water and the built-up pressure. Currently, the water level in the tunnel is at 8,860 feet elevation from sea level. A level considered dangerous is 8,871 feet.

A siphon in the tunnel has been pulling water out and piping it to the treatment facility. But officials fear that is not enough, so two new horizontal relief wells are being drilled into the tunnel to pump backed-up water to the treatment facility. The new wells and pumps are scheduled to be operational by the end of summer.

“We are currently getting water out of there, but let’s not miss the point of preventing a blowout, so we’re installing big relief wells as a redundant safety factor. If it backs up to a level we don’t want, we can pump it out more efficiently,” Peronard said.

Water-treatment system is scaled upA pilot water-treatment system that uses biological controls is working better than expected and is being scaled up to treat higher volumes of mine drainage year-round.

The Enhanced Wetland Demonstration Treatment System is one of two in the nation and is the only one at such a high elevation.

Water from the mine flows through a series of treatment cells with bio-reactor substrates of sawdust and organic material that use bacteria to break down heavy metals.

The treated mine water then flows through a series of 11 settling ponds before being released into the Dolores River.

“The water treatment plant is designed to handle the variable flows and water temperatures year-round,” Peronard said.

The biological system is preferred over the previous lime treatment system, he said, because the spent substrate matrix only has to be replaced every 5-15 years. It also can operate during winter without on-site management in the avalanche-prone area…

“The water here needs to be treated forever, so we want to make the costs as low as possible to give the plant longevity and not be a huge money pit,” Peronard said.

A double-lined, solid waste disposal site has been built at the site to permanently store mine wastes from the abandoned lime-treatment system as well as the toxic sludge that is removed from settling ponds. The pit can hold 60,000 cubic yards of waste, and can be expanded to store up to 365,000 cubic yards of waste.

Systems monitored in real timeCritical systems are wired to be monitored in real time, and there are live cameras throughout the plant. Mine managers and the EPA are notified remotely about the water level and pressure behind the collapsed tunnel, and on flow rates from the mine into the water treatment facility.

“We get real-time readings that ping us on the conditions,” Peronard said. “It’s an impressive system that continuously tracks and monitors operations.”

If a problem threatens the Dolores River, an automated notification system alerts county and emergency managers, irrigation managers, sheriff departments and irrigators.

And the historic and current monitoring data is, or soon will be, posted on the EPA website.

“If the public wanted to know the elevation of water behind the tunnel, they can look it up,” Peronard said.

New dam considered as a backupAs an additional precaution against a blowout, the EPA and Atlantic Richfield are considering building a dam just beyond the St. Louis adit that would be capable of capturing up to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up inside the mine.

“If you did have a catastrophic blowout, the dam would knock everything down right there,” Peronard said.

The plans for the dam are in place, and the EPA will make the decision by the end of the summer on whether it is necessary.

Atlantic Richfield is paying for “99 percent” of the costs of the mitigation and reclamation project at the mine, the EPA said, but total costs were not reported. Eventually, a long-term operator will be contracted to maintain the system, and oversight will be handed off to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The tour gave area water managers confidence that the old mine is being controlled.

“It gives me peace of mind that the are doing a good job with the treatment of water and are planning for larger flows,” said Randy McGuire, water-plant manager for the downstream town of Dolores.

“The redundancies designed into the system raises my confidence level,” said Todd Parisi, emergency operations coordinator for Dolores County.

For documents on the mine cleanup and treatment facility at the Rico-Argentine mine go to https://www.epaosc.org/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=7459

Pueblo Whitewater Park gaining popularity with river surfers — The Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo whitewater park via http://www.uncovercolorado.com
Pueblo whitewater park via http://www.uncovercolorado.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Larry Lopez):

In May 2005, Pueblo Whitewater Park — a half-mile section of the Arkansas between the Fourth Street and Union Avenue bridges — was unveiled. The park featured eight drops primarily for kayakers.

It didn’t take long, though, to discover that the river park’s third and fourth waves were ideal for surfing -— be aboard a boogie board, surfboard or paddle boating — and an old ocean sport was born in landlocked Pueblo…

[Bob Walker] also began spreading the word on social media via Facebook and surfers came, traveling from Denver, Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs and other areas around the state to ride Pueblo’s waves.

Walker now teams with the Colorado Association of River Surfers to host a surfing contest in conjunction with International Surfing Day observed each June.

Gogarty finds river surfing “much more fun,”

“In the ocean you spend a lot of time paddling for hours. Catching a wave is challenging and then you usually ride for a few seconds,” he said.

“In the river, the wave is not going anywhere, it’s always there. You get to ride as long as you can. It can last minutes.”

The river waves range 2-3 feet in height.

The Pueblo course is rated No. 1 in Colorado and among the top 10 across the U.S., Gogarty boasts.

Arkansas River Farms denies it has plans to move water to cities — The Pueblo Chieftain

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An attorney for Arkansas River Farms told the Fort Lyon Canal board Monday that the partnership’s plans do not include selling water to Front Range communities.

“That’s not what this program does,” attorney Steve Sims said, referring to suggestions in a recent Chieftain editorial that the $50 million purchase of farms on the Fort Lyon Canal were a first step toward permanent dry-up.

Sims explained afterward that the plan to shift some of the water into well augmentation plans and dry up other acres is a way to make the farms more valuable in the future.

“It’s really just moving into corporate farming,” Sims said.

Karl Nyquist, who talked in 2011 about moving Lamar Canal water to the Front Range, issued a statement to the board that his company, C&A, has invested in the area for 20 years and is now working with the Syracuse Dairy in Kansas to supply forage from 10,000 acres of farm ground.

He also said his new partners, Resource Land Holdings, are interested in investing another $15$20 million in developing the Fort Lyon land and working with other farmers to create more valuable dairy or vegetable farms.

Not everyone was convinced.

“I think there’s going to be a demon in the shadows,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who was among about 75 people, mostly shareholders, who attended the hearing. “Nyquist said he was going to move the water off the farmland, and this is just a parallel path. A leopard can change the color of his spots, but he’s still a leopard.”

The Lower Ark will wait until a water court case is filed to formalize its objections to the ARF plan, Winner added.

Arkansas River Farms asked the Fort Lyon board to initiate bylaw changes and approve an operating agreement to change the timing of irrigation as part of a plan that would dry up 6,400 acres in order to improve irrigation on 6,200 acres clustered near Las Animas.

The board plans at least another day of hearings to answer more questions.

Fort Lyon shareholders were invited to attend the daylong public meeting at St. Mary’s School, and to question the engineers and partners in the Arkansas River Farms about the perceived effects. The partnership requested the meeting at last year’s annual meeting as a way to iron out canal company issues before a case is filed in water court to change 7,500 shares of the 17,413 shares ARF owns from agricultural to well augmentation.

The board’s concern is whether the plan leaves enough water in shared laterals to properly serve remaining shareholders and how canal drains, the way water is returned to the Arkansas River, would be affected.

“I’m scared to death of what will happen on the drains, where they could do anything they want,” said Don McBee, who farms near Lamar.

The amounts of water ARF suggests for mediation for laterals are not measurable and longterm impacts on water quality 10 years down the road are unknown, McBee said.

“If they get an agreement, what will the next guy to buy these farms get away with?” he asked.

Study: Methane In Colorado Water Isn’t Always From Oil Wells — CBS Denver

Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin
Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via CBS Denver:

Fewer than 5 percent of the region’s water wells that were checked for methane pollution had been tainted by oil and gas leaks, according to a study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

About 18 percent had methane that came from coal seams that underlie the area, the researchers said.

The other wells either had methane that couldn’t be definitively traced or had no detectable methane at all…

“I think it’s important for people to realize that being able to light your tap water on fire in many cases is a natural occurrence,” said Owen Sherwood, lead author of the study and a research associate at the University of Colorado.

“However, accidents do happen, leaks do happen,” he said.

The study looked only at the Denver-Julesburg Basin, an energy-rich formation in northeastern Colorado. The findings don’t necessarily apply to other formations because of differences in geology, drilling history and regulation, Sherwood said.

The $12 million study was funded by the National Science Foundation and got no money from the energy industry, Sherwood said.

Sherwood and five other researchers reviewed public records from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s energy regulator, from 1988 to 2014.

The records showed that 924 individual water wells were tested for methane after residents complained about pollution. Of those wells, 593 had detectable levels of methane, including 169 with methane that could be traced to coal beds and 42 with methane that could be traced to oil and gas production.

Researchers can distinguish between the two because they have distinct chemical footprints, Sherwood said. Methane from oil and gas production is also mixed with ethane, propane and butane, he said.

If the study couldn’t determine the source of the methane, it was usually because regulators hadn’t finished their investigation at the time the researchers retrieved the data in 2014, or because the case was so old that the available technology couldn’t identify the source.

Regardless of the source, the methane gets into water wells by first infiltrating an aquifer, a natural underground water reservoir, Sherwood said. It’s then drawn up into the well.

Researchers were able to trace groundwater methane pollution to a leak in a specific oil or gas well in 11 instances. In each case, the culprit was the surface casing — the lining inside the upper part of the well bore — in an older petroleum well drilled under now-obsolete rules, Sherwood said.

In all 11 instances, the well casing was too shallow by current standards for new wells. Six of those wells also had leaks in the casings.

The current rules, adopted in the mid-1990s, require the surface casing to extend 50 feet below the deepest aquifer in some areas. In the Denver-Julesburg Basin, that can be as deep as 1,200 feet, Sherwood said.

In none of those 11 instances could the leak be attributed to hydraulic fracturing, Sherwood said. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, injects water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to break open underground formations and release oil and gas.

In 2010, drilling companies began high-volume fracking, injecting the fluids perhaps 20 times at different locations in the same well, compared with three or four times under previous practice, Sherwood said.

But the number of documented incidents of water wells polluted by methane from oil and gas production each year didn’t change, he said.

“It’s relatively rare, a rate of about two cases a year” since 2000, Sherwood said.

Rob Jackson, an earth sciences professor at Stanford University who wasn’t involved in the research, said he thinks the study is sound, although he said a potential weakness is whether water sampling techniques were consistent over the years covered.

“I still like what they’ve done,” he said. The study highlights the importance of oil and gas well casing, he said.

From InsideClimateNews.org (Neela Banerjee):

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, is the latest to pinpoint the sources and pathways of methane reported in residential drinking water near drilling sites, a concern to many communities as the fracking boom has spread across the country.

Environmental activists have asserted that fracking opens fissures underground along which methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, migrates from fossil fuel reservoirs into aquifers. Industry has maintained that residents’ water already contained methane before oil and gas activity began.

The Colorado study builds on several others published in the last few years, examining water from Texas to Pennsylvania. They all indicate methane can bleed from oil and gas wells if the metal casings inside the wellbore are not cemented completely or sealed deep enough underground.

“The bottom line here is that industry has denied any stray gas contamination: that whenever we have methane in a well, it always preexisting,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University, who read the paper but was not involved in the study. “The merit of this is that it’s a different oil and gas basin, a different approach, and it’s saying that stray gas could happen.”


All 11 wells with barrier failure were drilled before 1993 and did not undergo high-volume fracking and horizontal drilling. Further, they were not subject to new regulations adopted by Colorado in 1993 that set more stringent standards for cement casings inside new oil and gas wells.

Colorado’s adoption of tougher well-construction standards does not reflect national practices, however. Because Congress banned national regulation of fracking under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, standards for water and air protection around oil and gas sites vary by state.

There are also no laws governing the kind of cement that should be used. The cement used to hold the casings in place has to be “competent,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar at Stanford University and retired scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency. Petroleum engineers who work for the drilling company test the cement in a well and determine whether the seal is durable. But not every well is tested.

Industry has resisted efforts to standardize testing of the cement bond in fracked wells. The Bureau of Land Management’s draft fracking rules, recently struck down by a federal appeals court, call for testing the cement in fracked wells. The oil and gas industry has argued that it would be prohibitively expensive, estimating that would cost 20 times greater than the federal government has estimated.

Ensuring the integrity of the wellbore casing and cement job “isn’t a technical issue but a financial issue,” DiGiulio said. “The petroleum industry knows this technology but it’s not done on every single well, and that gets down to cost.”

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado:

The rate of groundwater contamination due to natural gas leakage from oil and gas wells has remained largely unchanged in northeastern Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin since 2001, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study based on public records and historical data.

The results also suggest that microbially-generated methane, rather than high-volume hydraulic fracturing, is the primary source of dissolved methane present in the area’s groundwater. Old and faulty oil and gas wells contribute a smaller percentage, with the risk of groundwater contamination due to a leak estimated to be between 0.12 percent of all the water wells in the region to 4.5 percent of the water wells that were tested.

Oil and gas development — particularly the introduction of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracking — has generated public concern in Colorado over potential groundwater contamination due to the possibility of leakage from oil and gas wells. When present, natural gas can turn drinking water flammable, a safety hazard observed in numerous historical cases.

The researchers sifted through over 25 years of publically-available historical information in order to determine the sources and occurrence rate of methane and other gases in groundwater. All of the data were sourced exclusively from open records maintained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a regulatory division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The study was funded entirely by the National Science Foundation’s AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network, which is based in Boulder, Colorado.

“The ability to do this kind of far-reaching impact study using public domain data is key,” said Owen Sherwood, a research associate with the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at CU Boulder and lead author of the new research. “This study highlights the immense value of a large, continuously updated and publically accessible geochemical database maintained by a regulatory agency.”

In data dating back as far as 1988, dissolved methane was discovered in 523 of the 924 water wells sampled, a rate of about 64 percent. However, based on a geochemical analysis, the researchers determined that 95.5 percent of that methane was generated by naturally-occurring microbial processes, a result of proximity to shallow coal seams criss-crossing northeastern Colorado.

Aside from the microbial methane, oil and gas wells have been found to leak methane and other natural gases such as propane and butane due to faulty or unsuitably shallow surface casings. Older gas wells built as far back as the 1970s were typically cased to a depth of approximately 300 feet, leaving the state’s deepest water aquifers unprotected from potential gas leaks. Updated regulatory standards have since required that new wells be cased far deeper and a number of older wells are currently being repaired.

Between 2001 and 2014 (the last year of complete data), dissolved gas that could be directly linked to deep oil- and gas-bearing formations affected 42 water wells in 32 separate incident cases, a rate of about two cases per year. That rate did not change after the introduction of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state in 2010. Eleven of those cases could be linked to older, vertical wells drilled before 1993. The remaining 21 cases were either settled privately with the landowner, or remain unresolved due to lack of data.

“This study incorporates a tremendous amount of hard data, but also considers individual case narratives so that we can see what happened in each particular instance of natural gas contamination,” said Joseph Ryan, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at CU Boulder and a co-author of the new study. “It’s important to remember the human impact of this issue across the state.”

The new research is believed to be the most comprehensive study to date on the prevalence and sources of groundwater methane in Colorado using only public data. Previous studies have sampled fewer oil and gas sites and/or relied on data provided by industry stakeholders.

Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg
Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg