The coal-bed methane gas boom that dotted northeast Wyoming with rigs and workers in the 2000s and left a legacy of bankruptcies and orphaned wells will also have lingering impacts on groundwater for up to 144 years, according to a new study by the Wyoming State Geological Survey.
Some sandstone aquifers in the Powder River Basin have declined by more than 100 feet due to the industry’s preferred method of pumping large volumes of water from coal seams to release the microbial-formed coal-bed methane gas, according the study, “Groundwater Level Recovery in the Sandstones of the Lower Tertiary Aquifer System of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming.”
The industry has pumped about 1 million acre-feet of water from coal seams since 2001 and discharged it onto the surface, partially depleting coal aquifers as well as associated sandstone aquifers. That’s enough water to fill Alcova Reservoir to maximum capacity more than five times.
“The calculated times of recovery, which vary from 20-144 years with a mean value of 52 years, probably represent best-case estimates because the calculations assume that environmental and hydrological conditions will largely remain unchanged from those of the last decade,” the study states.
“Furthermore,” the study continues, “slowing recovery rates commonly observed in some coal seam aquifers may impede the return to predevelopment water levels in the proximal sandstones.”
The most severely drawn down aquifers are within 20 miles of the Powder River, both north and south of Interstate 90, study co-author Karl Taboga said. That’s also the area where much of the remaining active coal-bed methane wells are located. While the geographic coverage of the monitoring wells used to measure water tables is limited, it’s believed the industry’s impact to aquifers elsewhere in the Powder River Basin is less severe.
“It appears to be localized,” Taboga said. “In a couple of cases, a little farther east in the Powder River, you may have a site that has a significant groundwater decline, but five or six miles away you have another site where you’re not seeing a significant decline.”
Ongoing groundwater monitoring in the Powder River Basin provides “a unique opportunity to study long-term groundwater changes,” State Geologist and WSGA Director Erin Campbell said in a press statement. “Understanding how subsurface systems relate to groundwater recovery allow us to best plan future development.”
But there are perhaps even more critical lessons to learn, according to longtime critics of the industry’s dewatering practice.
“The big question is: Will we learn the lesson that we live in a high desert and pumping and dumping and wasting water is the height of greed and ignorance?” the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s former Executive Director Jill Morrison said.
Landowner group: The state was warned
The massive dewatering of groundwater resources has been a point of contention since the beginning of the coal-bed methane gas play in the Powder River Basin in the mid-1990s. In some cases, it sapped water from wells used for livestock and drinking water for homes. While the practice of discharging the water on the surface provided new stock watering ponds for ranchers, it also flooded critical grazing areas and loaded the surface with salts, wreaking havoc on native grasses.
The Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council pressured the state to minimize pumping groundwater and discharging it on the surface. Instead, it urged the state to insist on forcing operators to reinject the water “in a staged fashion.”
But the state didn’t take any actions to limit groundwater pumping and surface discharge until 2007 as the development began to decline.
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“These aquifers took eons to establish and [coal-bed methane] development has significantly dewatered them in less than two decades,” Morrison said Wednesday, adding that she is “not at all surprised” by the report’s findings. “You can’t pump this gigantic volume of water out of aquifers that took eons to be created, and then expect that it’s going to regenerate.”
The diminished aquifers and long-term recovery rates represent potentially higher costs for rural landowners and agricultural operations to access groundwater, as well as municipalities that might rely on groundwater resources in the future, Morrison said.
Many in the Powder River Basin have already felt those types of impacts, Morrison added.
“The state said industry is responsible and they just have to drill you another water well that’s deeper,” Morrison said. “But that didn’t solve the problem because that [deeper] water isn’t as good, it costs more to pump and they didn’t pay for the extra electricity charges.”
For years, hydrologists have speculated at the potential rate that both coal and sandstone aquifers might replenish. Early estimates included a rate of 1 inch per year, Morrison said. The new WSGS study estimates a faster rate and notes that recovery rates will vary widely depending on geology.
“Typically, groundwater levels in the affected sandstone aquifers briefly rise by several feet for a few months after [coal-bed methane gas] production ceases,” according to the study. “But this rapid recovery frequently decreases to one foot or less annually after a year or two.”
Recharge and climate change
Climate change may also play a significant role in the rate of aquifer recovery in the Powder River Basin.
The WSGS study notes that its estimated recovery rates “represent best-case estimates because the calculations assume that environmental and hydrological conditions will largely remain unchanged from those of the last decade.”
But Wyoming’s precipitation and snowmelt dynamics are quickly changing due to human-caused climate change, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. While much of Wyoming could see more overall precipitation, less of it will come in the form of snow that drives annual springtime melt.
However, since 2000, the Powder and Tongue River Basins have experienced their longest and deepest droughts compared to the last 100 years, based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index, University of Wyoming Department of Geology and Geophysics professor J.J. Shinker said.
“The increase in temperatures coincides with prolonged and deepening regional drought conditions and the trend of increasing temperatures (globally and regionally) is likely to continue well into the projected recovery timeframe,” Shinker told WyoFile via email.
Wyoming’s evolving climate conditions make it extremely difficult to predict aquifer recharge cycles, Shinker said.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
From Wyoming Public Radio (Maggie Mullen):
Two years ago, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a climate emergency. They did so in a report that said scientists have “a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.'”
Now, they say things look even worse.
On Wednesday, an updated version of the report was published in the journal BioScience, and included an additional 2,800 scientists’ signatures.
The study evaluated 31 variables, like ocean changes and energy use. It found that over half are at new all-time record lows or highs.
For example, in April 2021, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million—the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded. Glaciers are losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did just 15 years ago, a rate that is much faster than previously believed.
And for the first time, the world’s ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) passed four billion, which represents much more mass than all humans and wild mammals combined.
The findings were shocking to lead author William Ripple of Oregon State University…
With so many variables moving in the wrong direction, the paper calls for big, transformative changes. That includes eliminating fossil fuels and switching to mostly plant-based diets.
The group plans to update its findings on a regular basis.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
From The Sky-Hi News (McKenna Harford):
Water pollution concerns have prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue separate notices to two developers in Grand County.
In Kremmling, Blue Valley Ranch received notice dated April 13 for allegedly failing to submit monitor data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019. For that violation, Blue Valley Ranch faces a $3,000 fine.
At the Grand Park development in Fraser, a state representative inspected the Elk Creek Condos, the Meadows and a storage facility in early April and found the facilities were discharging “sediment-laden stormwater” into Elk Creek and the Fraser River.
In the report, the inspector noted there were no control measures around multiple locations at the Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows that allowed stormwater discharges or increased the potential for them…
Altogether, regulators found three sites they believed were operating in violation of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, its regulations or a discharge permit.
In addition, based on inspections in September 2019 and August 2020, Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows were found to have incomplete stormwater management plans, multiple stormwater control measure concerns and incomplete inspection records. The storage facility on Old Victory Road is alleged to not have a discharge permit.
The notices alleged that “Grand Park Development failed to implement, select, design, install, and maintain control measures in accordance with good engineering, hydrologic, and pollution control practices to minimize the discharge of pollutants from all potential pollutant sources.”
The state also issued a notice of violation for the Mill Avenue apartments for starting construction without a discharge permit, but Lipscomb said state officials did so by mistake. The project had a permit under the Grand Park name before it was updated later with the Byers Peak Properties, according to permit documents provided by Grand Park.
Lipscomb said he expects that all of the notices will be addressed without consequence. Grand Park has 30 days from April 20, when the notices were issued, to respond to each alleged violation. A response has already been sent regarding the Mill Apartments.
If the state rejects the developer’s responses, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could impose up to $10,000 per day in penalties. The state could also require Grand Park to hire a consultant to ensure compliance.
The notices state that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with additional violations and required further actions.
CDPHE also issued a notice of violation to Blue Valley Ranch for failing to submit monitoring data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019, and the ranch is required to begin submitting the monitoring data for the treatment plant.
The notice received by Blue Valley Ranch adds that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with further violations and required actions.
Like Grand Park, Blue Valley Ranch has 30 days to respond. Blue Valley Ranch representatives did not return the newspapers’ requests for comment.
From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):
Over the last few years, residents of the western Colorado town of Paonia, the longtime headquarters of High Country News, have planted yard signs, skipped ultimate frisbee to attend public meetings, and embarrassed themselves and each other during a karaoke-themed fundraiser — all in the name of preventing oil and gas development in their watershed. Despite their efforts, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service approved major fracking projects, in 2015 and 2017, just above this small community, where agritourism and a renewable energy training facility are growing as coal jobs fade.
What public pushback didn’t stop, a federal court in Denver has temporarily halted. In late March, Colorado U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock ruled the agencies failed to fully consider climate and wildlife impacts in approving the projects, and ordered them to rework their environmental reviews. It is the latest in a string of decisions regarding federal environmental planning for oil and gas development and leasing on public lands. Another judge also recently rejected oil and gas leases in Wyoming, citing an inadequate analysis of how they would harm the climate; together, the rulings have blocked development approved by both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Environmentalists see the decisions as major victories and an opportunity to slow down the “energy dominance” agenda of the Trump administration. At the same time, they’re aware that courts alone can’t prevent the administration from increasing leasing and drilling on public lands. But in the details of the decisions, and in growing public awareness and activism around climate action, they see a chance to slow or stop oil and gas development on public land.
The courts are merely delaying, rather than actually preventing fossil fuel development over climate concerns. That’s because the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) governs process, not outcomes. The law requires disclosure, “but NEPA doesn’t have the kind of teeth to force agencies to act on climate change,” said Clare Lakewood, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Practically speaking, (BLM) will do the analysis the court directed,” and likely continue with the fracking project in western Colorado, said Laura King, a lawyer for the Western Environmental Law Center. Steven Hall, the BLM Colorado communications director, said the agency will work with the groups that sued to address the issues identified by the court.
While it would be foolhardy to expect the Trump administration to change its plans based on a climate analysis, just a few years ago the Interior Department appeared to be taking climate change more seriously. In 2016, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a moratorium on federal coal auctions and initiated an environmental review of the entire federal coal-leasing program. Though that review was never completed — and the moratorium was overturned in short order by Trump’s then-secretary, Ryan Zinke — the data collected during it were published late last year in a report by the U.S. Geological Survey. That report shows that the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels from federal lands is responsible for approximately one-fourth of the carbon dioxide emissions produced in the United States.
The report not only showed that federal lands are a major contributor to climate change, it also demonstrated that tools exist to track and estimate how they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Now, federal judges are keen to see those tools employed to inform agency decision-making. In a ruling that is delaying 303,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that by omitting analysis of the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, the BLM failed to abide by environmental laws. He also wrote, “BLM could decline to sell the oil and gas leases at issue here if the environmental impact of those leases — including use of the oil and gas produced — would not be in the public’s long-term interest.”
The judge’s assertion is critical for activists who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The Interior Secretary is directed by law to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales. But if the BLM has the power to decline to issue the leases based on their ultimate contribution to climate change, that could pave the way for future administrations to phase-out or even eliminate fossil fuel leasing on public lands. “We think the agencies have complete discretion,” to issue a moratorium on new federal fossil fuel leasing, said Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.
Climate action is not coming from the current partisan Congress, an Interior Department led by former industry lobbyists, or a president who blames wind turbines for cancer while praising the beauty of coal. But recent court decisions are giving future administrations a legal footing to phase out fossil fuel development on public lands, and bolstering environmental activists like the karaoke-singers in Paonia by posing an important question: Is fossil fuel development a sensible way to manage public land for future generations?
Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, WA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The New York Times (Kendra Pierre-Louis):
Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil as people around the world not only buy more cars but also drive them farther than in the past — more than offsetting any gains from the spread of electric vehicles.
“We’ve seen oil use go up five years in a row,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and an author of one of two studies published Wednesday. “That’s really surprising.”
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.
Click through and read the whole article from The New York Times (Auden Schendler and Andrew P. Jones). Here’s an excerpt:
Mr. Schendler is a climate activist and businessman. Mr. Jones creates climate simulations for the nonprofit Climate Interactive.
On Monday, the world’s leading climate scientists are expected to release a report on how to protect civilization by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Given the rise already in the global temperature average, this critical goal is 50 percent more stringent than the current target of 2 degrees Celsius, which many scientists were already skeptical we could meet. So we’re going to have to really want it, and even then it will be tough.
The world would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster than has ever been achieved, and do it everywhere, for 50 years. Northern European countries reduced emissions about 4 to 5 percent per year in the 1970s. We’d need reductions of 6 to 9 percent. Every year, in every country, for half a century.
We’d need to spread the world’s best climate practices globally — like electric cars in Norway, energy efficiency in California, land protection in Costa Rica, solar and wind power in China, vegetarianism in India, bicycle use in the Netherlands.
We’d face opposition the whole way. To have a prayer of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we would need to leave most of the remaining coal, oil and gas underground, compelling the Exxon Mobils and Saudi Aramcos to forgo anticipated revenues of over $33 trillion over the next 25 years.
From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):
Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’
The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.
The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.
The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.
Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]
The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.
“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”
Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”
The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.
Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”
From Inside Climate News (Sabrina Shankman):
The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science.
The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presents some of the most compelling evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks…
The authors estimated, conservatively, that methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. That doesn’t count leaks from local delivery lines, another widespread problem.
This much leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, the authors found.
Another way to put it: This rate of leaking methane is just as bad for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.
From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:
A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.
Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?
I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.
I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.
Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next ve years.
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within nancial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.
In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.
This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering bene ts and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities are using to undermine solar energy across America and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.
• The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
• The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
• The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonpro ts. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing exorts.
• The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
• The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.
At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.
• In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
• Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have success- fully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating in influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
• In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
• In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
• In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that e ectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators e ectively reinstated net metering in 2017.
As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to a ect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less a affordable.
State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry in influence, and reject policies such as
• Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
• Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
• Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
• Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
• Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
• Considering the bene ts of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
• Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
• Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
• Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
• Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
• Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
• Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.
Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide
U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.
Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.
“I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.
Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.
The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.
But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.
“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”
That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”
The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.
In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.
Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.
A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.
To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.
He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”
From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):
The U.S. produces about 900 billion gallons of wastewater per year from oil and gas development, such as hydraulic fracturing. Some of the reuses proposed for this water include irrigation or discharging into surface water, but the chemical content and potential health implications of this water are still largely question marks to the scientific community. Currently, this wastewater is disposed of, either through evaporation, into pits or through underground injection.
But according to recent research out of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the question at this point isn’t even about what is in the water or if it is safe. It’s about coming up with the methods necessary for science to even tackle those questions.
Karl Oetjen, Mines doctoral candidate and one of the lead authors on the paper, published in August in “Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry,” said there’s no adequate way to measure the chemical makeup of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. All of the current methods used to test the quality of water — such as surface water, ground water and even wastewater from other sources — don’t take into account the high saline content of the water or the numerous chemicals in it. These methods weren’t intended to test water so complex, he said. And since there’s a high level of variability in the water resurfacing from each well, it’s difficult for researchers to even pinpoint what they should be testing.
“If you’re worried about introducing this water to places where it could interact with the environment or human health, it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous or not dangerous because we simply don’t know,” Oetjen said.
He describes the process of looking for certain contaminants in surface water as looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you’re looking for contaminants in oil and gas wastewater, you’re looking for a needle somewhere in a million haystacks.
Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today led 11 colleagues in introducing the Pollution Transparency Act to standardize the metric used by federal agencies to measure the cost of climate pollution. This counters a directive from the Trump administration to agencies to ignore existing metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty-and an attempt made yesterday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the revised BLM methane rule to change his department’s metric without any prior consultation or transparency.
Cosponsors of the Pollution Transparency Act include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
“We cannot stand by idly as the Trump administration blatantly disregards broad scientific consensus and economics,” Bennet said. “This irresponsible ploy to upend years of progress is playing fast and loose with the health of our nation’s children. Although we cannot avoid all of the effects of climate change, we can create market certainty about how much those effects harm our children and our economy. This legislation would ensure the federal government runs a transparent process-grounded in science, with public and industry input-to quantify those effects.”
A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA-4).
“The next generation will have a better opportunity for a healthy economic and environmental future with the implementation of this bill,” McEachin said. “There are clear and undeniable costs of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in our economy: the cost of poor air quality in our neighborhoods, the loss of a day’s work when taking an asthmatic child to the doctor, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and sea-level rise – we have had enough. We need to ensure that the federal government is accurate and consistent in calculating the price of greenhouse gases when issuing regulatory and substantial procurement decisions. We can best address the root-cause of climate change by taking an intellectually honest and evidence-based approach to quantify its impact. This method will allow us to build a more resilient infrastructure and leave a better Earth for our children and our children’s children.”
Background on the Pollution Transparency Act:
Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has been required to consider the economic damages that result from climate pollution in the rulemaking process. This metric was developed through a rigorous process, using the best available economics and science and revised when necessary. In March, the Trump administration directed federal agencies to ignore the existing metric and instead select their own metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty.
The Pollution Transparency Act would codify a scientifically-developed value for the cost of climate pollution across all federal agencies. The requirement to consider this cost already exists; this legislation would simply streamline the regulatory process by standardizing the metric and re-establishing a process to revise it through a public process. Ultimately, it would create greater market and regulatory certainty by ensuring federal decisions are transparent, standardized, and grounded in facts.
A Fact Sheet can be found HERE. A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.
Statements in support of the legislation:
“Quantifying the true cost of GHGs helps tell the full story so that we can make more informed policy decisions. This bill move us in an appropriate direction so that we can better review how GHGs impact Colorado communities.” – Larry Wolk, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment
“I applaud Senator Bennet’s leadership in bringing forward the Pollution Transparency Act to ensure full and accurate consideration of the cost of carbon pollution in decision-making. Ignoring proven science and clear economic risk will not make climate change disappear. Only consistent and transparent accounting for the impacts of climate change can prevent waste of taxpayer funds on subsidies for shaky infrastructure and obsolete technologies.” – Mary D. Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (Full letter of support can be found HERE)
“The social cost of carbon is a linchpin of national climate policy, providing a guidepost to balance the costs of climate change to our economy today with the damages that have started to arrive and are projected to grow. This bill ensures that this critical guidepost continues to be robust and grounded in the latest available science and economics, while providing certainty to businesses eager to have a consistent regulatory process.” – Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago
“It is critically important for policymakers to account for the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions in their policy decisions. These costs should be quantified using the best available science and economics, in order to inform decisions that affect public wellbeing.” – Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus and Director of the Institute of Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law
“Proper evaluation of the benefits and costs of regulations that affect emissions of greenhouse gases requires that the federal government use the best available estimate of the damages that such emissions cause. This bill would guarantee that this happens. It is consistent with a recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. We, the undersigned, strongly support the Pollution Transparency Act.”
– Maureen L. Cropper, Distinguished University Professor of Economics, University of Maryland
– Robert Litterman, Former Head of Risk Management, Goldman Sachs
– William Pizer, Susan B. King Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
– Richard Schmalensee, Professor of Management and Economics, Emeritus, MIT, Member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1989-1991
– Glen Hubbard, Dean of Columbia School of Business, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush
From The High Country News (Elizabeth Shogren):
A federal appeals court today dealt a setback to the Trump administration’s broad effort to rollback environmental regulations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s 90-day delay on an Obama administration rule that requires the oil and gas industry to find and clean up leaks that send methane into the air.
The decision reinstates the methane rule but will not end its peril. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt last month proposed delaying the rule for two years while his agency goes through the process of permanently rewriting the rule.
Under the EPA’s Methane rule, the industry had until June 3 to detect leaks on new and modified wells and then 30 days to fix them. Then industry has to detect and repair leaks four times a year.
In general, the Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to go through a full rule-making process to rescind a rule. That means they have to draft a proposed rule and take public comment before writing a final one. That takes many months. With this and other rules, the Trump administration has tried to temporarily delay them while going through the longer process of erasing them.
“(The) EPA was basically trying to do an end-run around that,” says David Doniger, a lawyer for Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked on the case. “The agency wanted to do anything in its power to keep industry from having to comply.”
In response to questions about how the court’s ruling will impact industry’s requirements under this rule and the agency’s strategy to rollback this and other rules, the EPA press office offered only a brief statement: “We are reviewing the opinion and examining our options.”
From The Hill (Timothy Cama):
The Trump administration cannot delay an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting methane pollution from oil and natural gas drilling, a federal court ruled Monday.
In an early court loss for President Trump’s aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the EPA didn’t meet the requirements for a two-year stay of the Obama administration’s methane rule.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to delay enforcement of the provision was based on arguments that when the Obama administration wrote the rule, it violated procedures by not allowing stakeholders to comment on some parts of what became the final regulation. The agency used that reasoning to formally reconsider the rule and to pause enforcement.
But the court said the argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
“The administrative record thus makes clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on all four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and indeed, that in several instances the agency incorporated those comments directly into the final rule,” two of the judges on the three-judge panel wrote.
“Because it was thus not ‘impracticable’ for industry groups to have raised such objections during the notice and comment period [the Clean Air Act] did not require reconsideration and did not authorize the stay.”
Environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund had sued the EPA after its delay, asking for quick emergency action from the court on the matter.
Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
The State of Colorado today joined 13 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking implementation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules to reduce methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants produced from oil and gas facilities. The State asked the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to join plaintiffs and other intervenors in a recently filed lawsuit challenging the decision of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to stay the effect of these rules. Colorado is participating in this lawsuit to help assure comprehensive federal regulation of methane emissions, as authorized by the EPA in 2016.
Colorado has a vested interest in the federal government regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas industry across all 50 states. Colorado led the way in 2014 by becoming the first state in the country to regulate methane leaks. These regulations were developed in concert with the oil and gas industry. As a result, this type of regulation is a win-win: it improves the environment and helps reduce leakage and lost revenue in the production and transportation of oil and gas. The EPA used Colorado’s regulations as a template for the federal approach to this issue. Without these rules, Colorado’s methane levels will increase due to pollution from neighboring states, which is why federal regulation is so important.
In today’s action, Colorado urged the Court to require the EPA to implement these important regulations.
View the motion here.
From Public Books (Laura Pritchett):
I recently found myself 1,500 feet above ground, traveling at 180 mph. When I wiped away the breath-mist from the window, I could see the American West in the chill of November: snowy mountain ranges, high alpine, high desert, waves of blue mountains, the shocking red rocks of Utah, the undulations of landscape as it bore out its transformation from range to basin and back again. If I peered closer, the details revealed themselves: the way snow had blown itself into watersheds, the paths I’d hiked winding up mountains, the glint on the curves of some of the nation’s best cutthroat trout streams.
I also saw the unbeautiful: spiderwebs of fracking roads, missing mountainsides, uranium mines, orange ponds for storing tailings and dust, stands of felled trees, the white puffs and yellow haze from coal-fired power plants.
My ticket to this view was a program called “Flight Across America,” which gives college-age and early professional folks the chance to see the West from the air. It’s a program of EcoFlight, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for environmental issues from the air. Ecoflight was started by Bruce Gordon (good friend to the late John Denver, another pilot-conservationist) 13 years ago; since then, EcoFlight has flown politicians, conservation groups, media, scientists, and celebrities.
In three small Cessnas, we took off from little airports in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico: Grand Junction, Farmington, Cortez, Durango, Moab, Walden. We crammed into these 1970s-era planes with recording gear and notebooks and cameras, with hats and gloves, with headsets for communicating both within the plane and to the other planes, and with curiosity.
Below, we saw Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming; saw the Navajo nation, site of the most polluting coal-fired power plant in the United States; saw the West’s many rivers and diversions; saw the Roan Plateau of western Colorado, a major drilling site. We flew over the proposed Hermosa Wilderness Area in southern Colorado; we camped in freezing temperatures at the Hovenweep National Monument near the ruins of the ancestral Pueblo; we hiked in the heat of Moab and in a blizzard at the Maroon Bells. We also met with an array of experts representing Colorado’s politicians, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists, and photographers.
The amount of information we absorbed from our pilots and guest speakers was immense. But perhaps the most important discovery—for those of us who hadn’t flown like this before—was the simple but essential confirmation that the landscape is a whole. Despite the state lines, designations, management agencies, political jurisdictions, and roads, the planet Earth is the planet Earth, a continuous entity. As the snowy peaks morphed into plateaus and into high desert, it was clear that the natural world does not segment or cut herself up at all…
Every day, we witnessed yet more instances of ecological and political interconnectedness; each night, the students would gather around and discuss the questions these examples raised: How can we see the West as a whole, and act accordingly? And how does one action influence others? Indeed, was this very trip culpable in some way? Was using up fuel to see these areas worth it? When I posed that question to Bruce Gordon, the program founder, he said, “That’s always a tough question, but we do our best to offset our carbon footprint as much as possible through various carbon savings in other areas. We work diligently to minimize flight times. We ensure that on each and every mission the value added of empowering our passenger participants and the subsequent outreach is worth the cost in adding to a carbon footprint. We aren’t against oil and gas, but we feel it can and should be done properly, and there are some places it just shouldn’t be done.
Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:
“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”
Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.
He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.
From The Greeley Tribune (Tracy Hume):
Most of the produced water coming out of exploration and production operations in Weld County ends up being disposed of in one of 39 injection wells in the county. The produced water is injected back into the earth, thousands of feet deep, never to be used again.
Water quality expert Gary Beers thinks that’s a waste, and he is on the front lines of a growing movement to examine the economic and environmental benefits of treating and re-using produced water from oil and gas operations. Beers’ company, Industrial Water Permitting and Recycling Consultants, LLC, helps operators navigate Colorado’s complex regulatory environment and permitting processes to find better uses for produced water than just throwing it away.
“I was born and raised in southern Arizona, where water is very scarce,” Beers said, “I guess that planted the seed of being very concerned about not wasting water.”
Beers’ interest in water led him to pursue several degrees in the field, including a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of Arizona and a doctorate in aquatic ecology from Utah State University. He established his consulting firm after a long career in the water quality field, including stints with the Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver and nearly 10 years in the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. His extensive experience on the regulatory side helps him to help operators identify and navigate the obstacles that impede beneficial use of produced water.
One of those obstacles is the public perception of produced water as “contaminated.” According to Beers, a lot of people “don’t understand that E&P (exploration and production) waste is just a category that’s used to identify any type of waste material generated while they’re drilling and producing oil and gas.
“But just because it is labeled ‘E&P waste’ doesn’t mean the water is polluted or anything; it just says that’s where it came from,” Beers said, “You can have E&P waste that’s very clean, or you can have E&P waste that’s contaminated. There is a lot of variability.”
Produced water comes in two main types, each with distinctive characteristics that have implications for beneficial use. The first type of water to return from a well, called “flowback,” is the water used to facilitate the initial drilling process, and may include traces of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. The second type, “formation water,” is the water that is part of the original geological formation and is brought to the surface in the course of oil and gas production.
“Most of the produced water people talk about is the long-term formation water that’s brought up as the well is producing oil and gas,” Beers said. “The quality of the initial flowback water can change, because of the different chemicals used in drilling and other factors, but the quality of the formation water is pretty consistent, depending upon the original geological formation.”
Some operators in the DJ Basin have taken steps to treat and re-use produced water, including flowback water, for hydraulic fracturing. Flowback water may include chemical additives and total dissolved solids, but it typically includes fewer salts than formation water, making it easier to treat for industry re-use.
Concord Produced Water Services is a produced water treatment provider that Beers has worked with in the DJ Basin. Among the services Concord offers is mobile recycling units, which can be taken out into the field to treat flowback and produced water for re-use.
Re-use of produced water within industry operations is, in some ways, the most straightforward beneficial use to implement. When operators re-use produced water within their own organizations, it minimizes the number of regulatory hoops that have to be negotiated. Furthermore, the public typically supports industry re-use of produced water because it reduces the industry’s impact on public water supplies.
“There’s a lot of controversy around the issue of using fresh water supplies, such as surface water or shallow ground water, for hydraulic fracturing,” Beers said. “The use of public water to supply the oil and gas industry is a continuing issue in Weld County.”
The possibilities of treatment and re-use could make it possible for the industry to decrease its reliance on municipal water sources.
“There have been significant efforts to ramp up re-use practices in Weld County,” Beers said, pointing out that “in theory, the demand for water for hydraulic fracturing in Weld County could be met by recycling all the produced water five times over.”
Another possibility for beneficial use of produced water is dust suppression. Many rural communities with high numbers of dirt roads use significant amounts of water to mitigate dust and maintain roads. Some communities have begun exploring the idea of using produced water, particularly formation water, for this purpose.
“The deeper formations were laid down when the land was almost totally dominated by oceans,” Beers explained, “so produced water from these marine sediments typically has a high concentration of salts.” Interestingly, the composition of these briny produced waters is similar to the composition of common commercial magnesium chloride solutions municipalities use for dust control on unpaved roads. Beers sees an opportunity there.
“Many counties in Colorado spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for commercial magnesium chloride solutions,” Beers said, despite the fact that the produced water coming out of the oil fields might serve the same purpose.
However, this particular beneficial use is quite a bit trickier to implement. The beneficial use of produced water is overseen by a complex network of regulatory agencies including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and county permitting processes. Which regulations and permitting processes apply is contingent upon variables such as the produced water source; the composition of the water; whether the water has been treated, how it has been treated, and by whom; and the proposed use.
Beers finds irony in the fact that despite the similarities in composition between commercial magnesium chloride products and produced water (brine), there are virtually no regulatory hurdles to using a commercial magnesium chloride solution for dust suppression, but there are numerous regulatory hurdles to using produced water for the same purpose, because it is classified as industrial waste.
“Let’s say you’re going to buy ‘Compound X’ for dust suppression,” Beers said. “The company is required to disclose what chemicals they put in their solution. If you look at that, they’ll say so much magnesium chloride, etc. Then they’ll say ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ ingredients and they won’t disclose what they are. So you don’t know.
“But if you were going to use produced water,” Beers said, “you would have to get state approval to do that. You would have to analyze hundreds of compounds and disclose what each of those were. So if you were going to buy the magnesium chloride solution from a commercial guy, he would say, ‘Well, it only has salt in it and a bunch of stuff which I can’t tell you.’ And then you look at the produced water and say, ‘Look at all of the things they found in it!’ Whether those components are harmful or not.
“Nine times out of ten the buyer will say, ‘I’m not going to get that produced water because it’s got all these weird things in it.’ But I’ve done some side-by-side testing and there are a lot of materials in the commercial products that they should tell you about, but they don’t, because they don’t have to,” Beers said.
The bottom line is, “it’s an uneven playing field, because recycled products, like produced water, have regulatory baggage and they have to disclose everything, unlike commercial products,” he said.
Beers sees the possibility of change on the horizon.
The industry is starting to acknowledge the economic benefits of water re-use. Treating and re-using water in the field cuts down on the cost of purchasing water and transporting it to the site. Treating produced water and using it for dust suppression, or similar beneficial uses, even holds the potential of turning an industry expense, such as disposal of produced water, into a revenue stream, such as selling treated produced water to municipalities.
Stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies, are also beginning to discuss streamlining permitting processes to make it easier to recycle produced water and use it for beneficial purposes. In January of this year, the Colorado Energy Office and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University convened 65 stakeholders from the Grand Junction community to talk about re-use projects on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Beers said he believes that with enough education, the public, too, will begin to see the benefits of treating and using produced water.
“A lot of people are looking at beneficial uses for produced water,” Beers said, “it’s just a matter of having a few on-the-ground projects to show people that it does work and that it can be done.”
More oil and gas coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
An oil company’s claim for underground water near Gardner in Huerfano County was rejected last month by the state.
Shell Oil argued produced water from planned drilling is non-tributary, meaning it could be claimed for other uses. Produced water refers to excess water that nearly always accompanies oil and gas drilling operations.
But the Colorado Division of Water Resources said Shell failed to prove its case, in an initial report. Shell has until Aug. 22 to appeal the finding.
Shell’s consultant, AMEC, failed to consider local geologic factors that connect as well as separate the deep Niobrara shale formation with the natural stream system, according to a decision written by Ralf Topper and Matthew Sares of the hydrogeological services section of the division.
Shell’s application was opposed by Citizens for Huerfano County, a group of about 450 local residents and 600 total members that advocates for clean water and air.
“We’re contending that the water is connected because of the vertical dikes in the particular geology of the area,” said Jeff Briggs, president of the citizens group.
Shell made the claims for water underlying three 25,000-acre tracts known as the Seibert, State and Fortune federal units. It plans to drill 7,000 feet deep with horizontal fracturing at a depth of 5,000 feet.
That plan troubles area residents because of past contamination from drilling, Briggs said.
“We feel the state Legislature and executive branch have tried to facilitate as much oil and gas exploration as possible,” Briggs said. “I think what we are saying is that the decision by all levels of government and the oil and gas industry to go all in on fracking was economic and political and not scientific or medical.”
However the Huerfano County decision might not have statewide implications because it applies to specific geologic conditions found in the Spanish Peaks area.
A nontributary designation has advantages for a driller, because containing produced water for either direct use, treatment or deep injection would not require finding other sources to augment stream depletions
More coalbed methane coverage here.
From Lexology (Daniel C. Wennogle):
In 2010 a group of water rights holders in Colorado raised a constitutional challenge to certain rules promulgated by the Colorado State Engineer’s Office regarding the designation of certain ground water resources as “nontributary.” The particular groundwater resources were located, in part on an Indian reservation, and the State Engineer’s determination was a part of an effort to promulgate rules regarding the permitting and regulation of oil and gas wells that extract groundwater in Colorado.**
The rule in dispute, referred to as the “Fruitland Rule,” was part of a set of “Final Rules” promulgated by the State Engineer under its authority granted by HB 09-1303, codified at C.R.S. § § 37-90137, 37-90-138(2), and 37-92- 308(11) (C.R.S. 2009). The Fruitland Rule related to underground water in a geologic formation called the Fruitland Formation, which extends into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Final Rules, which included the Fruitland Rule, contained a provision stating:
These rules and regulations shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over nontributary ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as recognized in Pub. L. No 98-290, § 3, 98 Stat. 201 (1984).
The Plaintiffs argued that the above-quoted provision in the Final Rules effectively divested the State Engineer from having jurisdiction to, among other things, designate water as nontributary in its rulemaking process. The trial court had agreed with this position, and stated that the State Engineer did not prove its authority. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the State Engineer’s authority came from HB 09-1303, which “authorized the State Engineer to promulgate the Final Rules to delineate nontributory groundwater extracted in oil and gas production throughout the state” of Colorado.
The Court of Appeals held that nothing about the above- quoted statement in the Final Rules did or could divest the State Engineer of this authority.
The Court of Appeals noted that its decision would not prevent a constitutional challenge to the Fruitland Rule based upon discriminatory application, if facts warranted.
From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):
…La Plata County sheep and cattle rancher J. Paul Brown addressed a crowd of about 40 people at Christina’s Grill & Bar on Saturday morning to announce his plans to retake the House seat he lost by two percentage points in 2012 to Durango attorney Mike McLachlan. He called the district, which includes La Plata, Archuleta, Hinsdale, Ouray and a portion of Gunnison counties, one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of great importance to the state and nation.
“We are the pull of all of Colorado,” he said. “Tourism, mining, gas and oil, hospitals. It’s a wonderful district.”
While Brown, a Republican, said he is not yet ready to propose specific legislation, he did say he had a long list of issues and possible bills…
“Water is an issue here, and it always will be,” he said. “The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it.”
Brown mentioned water-storage initiatives to keep water on the Western Slope and in the state.
“Six hundred thousand acre feet of water just went to Kansas and Nebraska,” he said. “That’s our water – we just don’t have any way to keep it.”[…]
La Plata County Planning Commissioner and beef rancher Wayne Buck supports Brown’s ideology. He called Brown a politician of moral fiber and character.
“He’s honest, and Lord knows we need honest politicians in Denver and in Washington, D.C.,” Buck said.
From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):</p.
Steve House, a healthcare consultant from Brighton, will announce his candidacy for governor Monday in Adams County…
House is now among five Republicans vying to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have all announced their candidacies for governor.
More 2014 Colorado Election coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
For most of two days, Brett Corsentino sat quietly listening to theoretical discussions about the relationship of oil and gas drilling to water. For him, however, there is a much more direct and personal link. Toward the end of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, he spoke up about how he believes gas drilling has brought tainted water from under the ground and to the surface, where it ruined his land. He also feels he has hit a brick wall trying to get the state to make things right. “The reason I go to meetings like this is so someone might listen to me,” Corsentino said.
Instead, he got into a public argument with Peter Gintautas, an environmental protection specialist from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “We have a difference of opinion over whether remediation on my land has failed,” Corsentino said. “Not a single representative from COGCC has come out to verify that remediation has taken place.”
“The agency has taken its final action, and offered other courses of action if you disagreed with staff,” Gintautas replied.
For Corsentino, it was another in a long string of disappointments. A fourth-generation dairy farmer, he milks about 400 head of cattle and employs 14 at his dairy east of Walsenburg. Over nearly a decade, beginning in 1998, Petroglyph Energy pumped about 100,000 acre-feet of highly saline water into the Cucharas River while exploring for gas. The company agreed to some remediation by supplying gypsum to reduce salinity, but Corsentino still is dealing with the damage. “They say it will take time and a lot of water to reverse the damage. I don’t have either,” Corsentino said, while giving a windshield tour of the 300 acres of fields that lie fallow.
A reservoir above the fields is dry, partly because of a three-year drought, but also — Corsentino believes — because the gas drillers took so much water out of the aquifer. He also blames poor water quality for low resistance to tuberculosis, which infected his entire herd a few years ago. He is now building a new herd. “This problem continues and I just want to know what a person is supposed to do,” Corsentino said.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Two tables side-by-side outside the meeting room at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week told the story. One table featured an array of handouts touting the benefits of produced water, monitoring programs by Norwest on behalf of Pioneer Natural Resources and pleas for science-based watershed protection. The other counteracted the display next door with informational handouts from groups that highlighted the dangers of fracking, warned about health concerns from produced water and expressed alarm at how much water could be used.
Inside the meeting room, proponents and opponents of gas drilling shared the stage. “There are issues of water quality and quantity,” said Alan Curtis, a partner in the White-Jankowski law firm, who highlighted the dangers of oil and gas drilling. Locally, those include wells that had exploded, caught fire or have caused pollution. The current practices of oil companies involve using large amounts of dangerous chemicals that companies try to downplay by talking about percentages, he said. White-Jankowski, in the 2009 Vance v. Wolfe case, obtained a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state engineer to administer oil and gas wells in the same way that water wells are regulated.
From other presentations, it became clear that state regulation is fragmented when it comes to water and gas drilling. In one session, staff members of the Division of Water Resources and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were unable to answer some questions from local concerned citizens, because they involved the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission instead.
Industry spokeswoman Sarah Landry sought to dispel “myths” about fracking, saying hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells goes back to 1947. She said the chemicals used in the process are the same type as found in most households. While some opponents say there are hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals in use, less than a dozen might be employed at any given drilling operation, she explained.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
The damage to farm ground caused by water released from gas wells has been lasting while state protection has proven elusive for Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino. “I can’t raise feed and I can’t hold anyone accountable. The bottom line is that the state agencies failed to protect me,” Corsentino said. “It’s all about the money these gas companies have. There’s no way to pierce the corporate veil.”
Corsentino farms is in the Cucharas River basin, which is north of the Apishapa and Purgatoire river basins where oil and gas exploration is most active in Southern Colorado. Pioneer Energy and XTO Energy are active in the lower watersheds. They are engaged in studies to show the water quality is sufficient in some cases for release into streams. Some landowners in the Apishapa and Purgatoire watersheds have asked the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to allow CBM releases.
But Corsentino said he was blind-sided by releases from Petroglyph Energy that began in the Cucharas basin in the late 1990s. He claims the water was high in salts and barium, which broke down the soil on his farm. “I used that water and put it on my fields, but didn’t know about (the releases) until 2006,” he said.
The productivity of his soil fell to one-third of its former level, and one-time soil amendments were paid for by Petroglyph. But the state never followed up with testing, and the Oil and Gas Commission said he had proven damage. “It was a joke. Sucks to be me,” Corsentino said.
His warning to other landowners is clear. “There have been four generations of my family here since my greatgrandfather came over from Sicily in 1905. It’s a hard life. We’ve taken care of the ground and it’s taken care of us,” Corsentino said. “We’ve gone through a reorganization, and I’ve lost the equity. At this point, I just want to be able to raise feed for my animals.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Some Las Animas County farmers and ranchers in the Apishapa River basin are concerned that releases of water from oil and gas drilling could render cropland useless. They want water tested — and even treated — before it is released into the river system, saying the danger of increased salinity outweighs any benefit of more water during a drought. “Our main concern is that what happened in Huerfano County doesn’t happen to our soil,” said Gary Waller, who holds senior water rights for fields he irrigates near Aguilar. “We want to be proactive and make sure we do not get contaminated.”
Ken Valentine, whose family irrigates further up in the basin, said a spring above one of its fields was potentially contaminated by a release from coal-bed methane drilling last year. He is also alarmed that CBM water is routinely sprayed on gravel roads throughout the area. “The water should be treated before it’s released into the watershed, either at the company’s expense or those people who are using it for things like livestock ponds,” Valentine said.
They want to avoid the types of troubles Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino experienced when Petroglyph Energy dumped CBM water into the Cucharas River in the late 1990s. Water high in salinity and barium ruined his farm ground. “I was harvesting 18-21 tons of corn silage per acre before, and it dropped to six tons after,” Corsentino said. “They ruined my way of life, and the state agencies turned a mute ear to my complaints.”
While the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission required Petroglyph to stop dumping water in 2006 and to help Corsentino try to restore farmland, it ruled in 2011 that Petroglyph no longer had any liability. All say the state should be insisting the water produced by Pioneer Natural Gas in the Apishapa River basin is either of equal quality to surface water, and reinjected into deep wells if it fails to meet standards.
While some in the area contend the water is suitable for livestock and wildlife, the farmers fear it will contaminate their fields — particularly during a drought when there is less natural surface water to dilute the effects. “If the water is good, it should be utilized,” Waller said. “But if it’s not, it will get into the groundwater and onto our place eventually.”
Meanwhile, oil and gas producers in the Purgatorie River watershed have asked the state to relax standards for discharged water. Here’s a report from Steve Block writing for The Trinidad Times. Here’s an excerpt:
A leader of a regional environmental protection group said she’s deeply concerned about the possible lowering of water quality standards in the Purgatoire River Watershed, and asked the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners to write a letter to the Colorado Water Quality Commission, protesting the potential change.
Paula Ozzello of the Southern Colorado Environmental Council (SCEC) spoke at Tuesday’s board work session about the potential dangers of the reduction in water quality standards.
Ozzello, chairperson of SCEC, said XTO Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources have proposed to the commission a reduction in water quality standards for the Lower Arkansas River Basin, specifically the Purgatoire River Watershed and the Apishapa Watershed. She said the XTO and Pioneer proposal would reduce the surface water quality standard, by increasing the allowable level of boron in water used for agricultural purposes from its present level of 0.75 milligrams (mg) per million to a new, and higher, standard of 5.0 mg per million.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):
The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.
The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.
Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West
The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.
Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.
The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.
To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.
More Colorado River District coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Frank Ameduri):
“The real issue here with water is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” Carl Steidtmann said. “The problem is our government entities are deeply in debt.”
Steidtmann, a Steamboat Springs resident who is chief economist for Deloitte, was the lunchtime speaker during the 2012 Summer Water and Energy Conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort on Wednesday. The three-day conference goes through Friday and is put on by the Colorado Water Congress. There are 240 people registered for the conference, and attendees include local politicians, state legislators and representatives from water conservancy districts, water departments and municipalities across the state.
Steidtmann’s keynote Wednesday was titled “The Regional Impact of the National Economy: Letting Go of the Status Quo for Water and Energy.”[…]
Steidtmann, who consults with Fortune 500 companies, said water is becoming an increasingly important issue for energy companies because of its increasing scarcity. To illustrate this point, he showed a map forecasting water availability in 2025. “The western part of the U.S. becomes one of those areas of critical water shortages,” Steidtmann said.
In an era of a contracting government where more money is being spent to pay off debt, Steidtmann said infrastructure projects are the ones that are easy to delay. “The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging,” he said.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
“Environmentalism is a luxury good,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Services. “Richer countries are more environmentally conscious.” In his view, poorer nations are more focused on the need to survive, and have a greater impact on the environment as populations grow. It takes money to protect the environment, he said. Energy development has been the greatest factor in the divide between rich and poor nations, but in the future, the availability of food and water will also have economic consequences, he said.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
“We need to make sure the most water goes to the hottest fires,” said Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He was among state officials who discussed water project funding last week at the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. There is an estimated $5 billion backlog in about 1,000 community water projects across the state.
Mineral severance or federal lease fund revenues are a major source of funds for Colorado water projects to provide drinking water or treat wastewater. Since 2008, the state has looked toward those cash funds to make up shortfalls in other budget areas, particularly health care, education and prisons.
About $250 million over four years in funds that would have gone to local impact grants through DOLA have been diverted. That money would have leveraged three times as much in other grants or loans, Brown said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has seen $163 million of construction funds diverted during the same period, while making about $80 million in loans to water projects.
More infrastructure coverage here.
Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s the description of the event (Meg Meyer):
The 2012 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference will include water and energy interests once again as we combine forces and explore areas of common interest. The theme of the conference is The Balance of Power. We will spin the concept several different ways as we look at the balance of political power, the balance of governance, and the balance of energy and water sources.
Immediately preceding the CWC Summer Conference, the Colorado Coal and Power Generation group will hold an all-day event at the Holiday Inn in Craig on Tuesday, August 14th which will include a golf tournament and evening barbeque.
In addition, the Interim Water Resources Review Committee will meet in Steamboat, Tuesday afternoon, for their first substantive meeting to prepare for the 2013 legislative session.
The CWC Summer Conference will be held August 15th through August17th at the Sheraton in Steamboat Springs.
We will have three workshops on Wednesday morning covering topics of drought and current weather conditions, public trust, and endangered species. We will try something a little different this year with the conference kicking off with a luncheon on Wednesday. General Sessions will follow on Wednesday afternoon. An evening open public forum will held on Wednesday at 7:30 pm (attendance is optional for water and energy professionals).
We will have networking breakfasts on Thursday or Friday – a light continental breakfast will be served, but no formal speaker. The hotel restaurant or other local venues are available for those that prefer a heartier breakfast. General Sessions will be held on Thursday from 9:00 to 12:00. On Thursday afternoon, we will offer a couple of tours or you may want to use this time to catch up on other business. The POND Committee is also planning outdoor activities. We will have a reception on Thursday evening at 5:00. The Friday morning format will be similar to Thursday and the conference will conclude with a box lunch.
Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:
Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.
We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.
The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.
The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.
That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.
More Colorado River basin coverage here.
From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Albuquerque Journal. From the article:
The judge last week upheld rules by the state engineer that allowed some oil and gas wells in the state to be exempt from getting water well permits for their operations, but he also said the rules shouldn’t apply within the Southern Ute reservation because it is unclear who has jurisdiction over water…
Despite the ruling last week upholding the rules, [Colorado First Assistant Attorney General John Cyran] told The Durango Herald (http://bit.ly/qrNKDV) the state was considering whether to ask the judge for a clarification of part of the ruling that said the state engineer’s rules should not apply within the Southern Ute reservation. “I don’t think there was any problem with us passing that rule because I do think we have authority there,” Cyran said.
Here’s an in-depth look at Thursday’s decision by Water Court Division One Judge James Hartmann, from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. Their headline asks the question, “Did gas industry win water ruling?” From the article:
Judge James Hartmann of the water court in Greeley ruled in favor of State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who adopted rules in 2010 that allowed his office to avoid detailed regulation of the water use by many of the 40,000 gas and oil wells in Colorado. However, he threw out the portion of the rules that covers the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, where most of the region’s gas drilling occurs…
Until the Vance ruling, the industry and state regulators had treated the water as a waste product that did not need to be regulated under Colorado’s complicated set of water laws.
Fearing a deluge of 40,000 well permit applications, the Legislature gave the state engineer the authority to decide which gas wells are so deep they will not hurt other people’s water rights, and which ones need stricter scrutiny, including plans to replace the water they use.
The Vances, Fitzgeralds and many others sued again, but on Thursday, the judge upheld most of the rules Wolfe adopted. “For the most part, I think it was a good ruling for the state,” said First Assistant Attorney General John Cyran, who defended the state engineer’s office in the lawsuit.
But the plaintiffs also are happy about the ruling because of one paragraph near the end. In that paragraph, the judge declared the rules apply only to the use of water in gas and oil drilling, and they can’t be used in court to win a water right for the industry. “That is the main event, believe it or not,” said Sarah Klahn, a lawyer for the plaintiffs…
However, Hartmann’s ruling leaves much of Southwest Colorado in a legal limbo.
Although the judge upheld the state engineer’s rules statewide, he ruled that they should not apply within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation because it is unclear who has jurisdiction over water. Lawyers for the state and the tribe said they are considering appealing that portion of Hartmann’s ruling or at least asking him for clarification. “We were surprised by the decision,” said Adam Reeves, a lawyer for the Southern Ute tribe. “We’re evaluating our next step.”
Here’s the link to Coyote Gulch when the original ruling was announced. Scroll down to the end of the page for the article.
From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via Loveland Reporter-Herald:
…the rules’ challengers are cheering because the ruling Thursday also said those determinations don’t have any legal effects outside of decisions on water well permits…
The San Juan Citizens Alliance and others had challenged the rules [ed. for non-tributary wells], which were adopted after a court decision on water pumped out during coalbed methane drilling. That decision said the water wasn’t just a waste product. Therefore companies for 40,000 existing wells that withdraw water during drilling potentially had to get water well permits or file plans for replacing the water if senior water rights holders were affected.
From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:
The Durango Herald reports BP America Production Co. and others had sought claims to nontributary groundwater, which isn’t considered connected to surface streams. Water Judge Gregory Lyman said last month that state law gives landowners the right to such water under their property, so companies need landowners’ consent first.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
House Bill 1286 tells the courts to give deference to state water regulators, who adopted maps last year to show when gas and oil wells need to be given greater scrutiny to make sure they don’t injure the water rights of nearby landowners. Farmers and ranchers have sued the state over the rules, saying they are a giveaway to the gas industry. HB 1286 passed 35-0, and the bill is now on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.
Click here for Joe Hanel’s analysis of the bill from The Durango Herald.
More coverage from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
Under HB1286, Water Court would be the last line of appeal for decisions by the state engineer. The bill arose in response to a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that found oil and gas wells are subject to the tributary water permitting process. Supporters of the bill have said it would streamline the permitting and appeal processes. In a committee hearing, an opponent objected that it represents legislative side-stepping of the high court. Next, the bill will be heard by a Senate committee.
More HB 11-1286 coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-0 to adopt HB1286, sponsored by Reps. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and John Becker, R-Fort Morgan. The bill aims to streamline the decision-making process on water permits. A 2009 Colorado Supreme Court decision found that water used in coal-bed methane natural gas extraction is subject to the requirements of tributary water permitting. The ruling granted Water Courts authority over permitting conflicts and appeals…
Nontributary water can be exempt from permitting, Following the court’s ruling, the state engineer developed rules to govern permitting within the framework of the court’s decision, and developed a map that reflects extraction operations subject to permitting under it. Among them were some wells in the Raton Basin near Trinidad. Under HB1286, the state engineer’s rules would be acknowledged in statute, appeals of permit decisions would be routed through the rule-making process instead of through Water Court and further appeals of those decisions to a Water Court would require a higher standard of proof to overturn earlier rulings in the chain of appeals.
The chief opponent of the bill to testify Monday was lawyer Philip Lopez of the firm White & Jankowski, which represents the plaintiffs who were victorious in the 2009 case. He characterized the bill as an attempt to legislate around judicial decisions, argued the ruling has not led to the shutdown of any gas wells and said the state engineer’s map confers by default a water right to the oil and gas industry that other water users must follow process to attain.
More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:
House Bill 1286 raises the legal standard the ranchers will need to prove to win their lawsuits against State Engineer Dick Wolfe. Last year, Wolfe drew maps that showed which gas and oil wells needed to get water permits and which ones could drill without going to court to fight about who owns the water…
The Vance and Fitzgerald families took Wolfe’s office to court several years ago for not protecting their water rights from gas wells, and they won at the state Supreme Court in 2009. The ruling shocked the gas industry, and legislators worried all 40,000 gas and oil wells in the state would need to get water permits. So they gave Wolfe’s office the power to draw maps that show where gas wells interact with surface water. Gas wells outside the zone do not need to replace the water they use because the water is assumed to be so deep underground that it will have no effect on surface streams.
But the Vance and Fitzgerald families sued again, along with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project and the city of Sterling. Several lawsuits are active, and the main one is working its way through the water court in Greeley…
Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, urged legislators to pass the bill. Wolfe’s office is in King’s department, and King cited the extensive work the engineer’s office did to draw the maps. “What we’re asking is an affirmation of that to remove all doubt,” King said. “This is critical that we resolve this issue and that it doesn’t get litigated and then appealed to the Supreme Court, and we have a two-year window of uncertainty that would not be good for oil and gas production in Colorado.”
From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) annual report to the Water Quality Control Commission and Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment stated that the 2,055,900,000 gallons (6,309.3 acre feet) of produced water extracted by CBM wells in Las Animas County comprised 89 percent of the region’s produced water in the first half of 2010. The produced water amounts were reported in terms of barrels, with each of the 48,950,000 barrels extracted in Las Animas County equivalent to 42 gallons. A total of 55 million barrels of produced water were extracted by CBM operations in southeastern Colorado during the first half of last year. “There’s still numbers coming in for 2010,” COGCC Environmental Manager Debbie Baldwin said. “Those final numbers (for a 2010 produced water total) haven’t been published yet.”[…]
The most recent produced water figures are a drastic decline from previous years. The fiscal year (FY) 2009-2008 report showed 462,4746,197.4 gallons of produced water generated from Las Animas County wells, and the FY 2007-2008 reported 6,454,568,642.3 gallons of produced water in the area, though that amount was from a combined Las Animas and Huerfano counties calculation. The FY 2006-2007 report showed 7,127,366,514 gallons of produced water from CBM wells in Las Animas and Huerfano counties…
“Approximately 70 billion cubic feet of gas was produced in this region (southeastern Colorado) during the first six months of 2010, with 84 percent of the gas produced from the 2,906 CBM wells in Las Animas County,” the COGCC report stated. “Approximately 212 drilling permits were issued for oil and gas wells in southeastern Colorado in 2010. Approximately 82 percent of the 212 were issued in four counties (41 percent in Las Animas, 23 percent in Lincoln, 11 percent in Fremont, and 8 percent in Cheyenne).”
From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):
Las Animas County’s four largest gas companies — Pioneer Natural Resources, El Paso E&P Company, XTO Energy and Red River Ranch Holdings — have implemented SWSPs in order to continue gas production in the about 3,068 CBM wells operating within the central Raton Basin. Industry activities in the area discharge from CBM wells a combined total of about 10 million gallons of produced water per day. The SWSPs were approved by the State Engineer’s Office through March 31, 2011 and are nearing the end of their first approved year of implementation. The SWSPs call for replacement water to come from, “a lease with the City of Trinidad to supply up to 50 acre-feet of fully consumable water from the city’s storage account in Trinidad Reservoir.”[…]
A summer 2009 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court in the Vance v. Simpson case determined that the groundwater produced during CBM drilling production, previously considered a waste by-product, was of “beneficial use,” and thus had to undergo permitting and comply with Colorado groundwater laws. The state then passed an authorization for the State Engineer’s Office to approve alternates such as SWSPs in place of augmentation plans. That authorization for alternates extends from March 31, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2012 in order to provide energy companies in Colorado with extra time to integrate CBM wells that withdraw waters considered tributary and that impact “over-appropriated” streams into the state water court’s adjudication process.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told The Times Independent that the Division had turned down initial requests by the companies to utilize the non-tributary water component of the CBM produced water as a replacement source. “The concern that we have is the native tributary water supply that water rights along the Purgatoire (River) depend upon are not diminished by the withdrawal of groundwater,” Witte said. “The initial proposal was that, of the water that they withdraw from the coal beds, they determined that a portion is tributary and a portion is non-tributary, and they thought that they would simply rely on the non-tributary water as a replacement for the stream depletions that were calculated.
Two Rivers Water Company, a company focused on acquiring and developing water, farming and alternative energy in southern Colorado, and Petroglyph Energy, Inc., an Idaho corporation, announced today they have entered into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding to complete a feasibility study for the treatment of produced water originating from coal bed methane production in Huerfano County, Colorado.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Before last year, the state did not administer water produced by coal-bed methane wells. The water in question is groundwater commonly found along the seams of coal from which methane gas is extracted. In the Arkansas River basin, there are hundreds of wells located in Las Animas and Huerfano counties. There are also large coal-bed methane fields in the San Juan and Picance basins in Western Colorado, as well as at smaller sites around the state…
The state Legislature subsequently passed a law, 09-HB1303, that affirmed the Supreme Court decision that removal of water for coal-bed methane is a beneficial use. The law also directed State Engineer Dick Wolfe to develop rules for oil and gas wells. “So, what does it mean? It means the state could issue permits, and it could mean a big curtailment,” [Kevin Rein, assistant state engineer] said. Nontributary groundwater is not affected by the decision or the law, however. The state does not administer nontributary groundwater — that which is pumped from wells that would not have a 1 percent depletion on surface flows over 100 years. Earlier state laws, 73-SB213 and 85-SB5, give certain rights to landowners or oil and gas drillers to nontributary water. Because gas wells often are thousands of feet deep, as opposed to hundreds of feet for most domestic or irrigation wells, many could be nontributary, Rein explained…
In coal-bed methane production, the removal of water itself is considered a beneficial use, so all require a permit if the groundwater is deemed tributary. In other oil and gas production, the state still regards only water used for purposes such as dust suppression or fracturing geologic formations as beneficial. So far, about 5,000 coal-bed methane wells have obtained permits, and some companies have begun filing for water rights in Water Court or substitute water supply plans from the Division of Water Resources.
From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):
A presentation at the town council meeting on the water monitoring had been arranged, Pioneer’s Senior Public Relations Advisor, Karen Brown, told the meeting’s attendees, “So you all could hear more about what it is we do to protect the water that is coming off of the discharges CBM production…the intent (of the presentation) is to open the discussion, provide some information about how Pioneer is approaching this, that we want to approach it from a scientific perspective and have documentation to prove that, in fact, water is, in fact, within its permit limits.”
Pioneer has been discharging around the Apishapa River since 2005, though none of its four outfalls are on the Apishapa River’s mainstem. Pioneer is currently discharging at a rate of 1.8 acre-feet of water, or 600,000 gallons, per day. Pioneer has about 2,450 wells in the basin. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit it has applied for, according to Pioneer’s senior energy environmental advisor, Gerald Jacob, would allow for a maximum surface discharge amount of 999,999 gallons per day.
The discharge permitting process begins with the preparation of a draft permit, of which are considered possible impacts of the proposed discharge levels, measured against the water quality standards as adopted by the Water Quality Control Commission. The standards consider variables like effluent limits based on in-stream water quality, the quality and types of expected effluents coming from the discharge facility and as well as impacts on the stream at extreme low-flow periods…
The three monitoring stations deployed on the Apishapa River — at Lisonbee, Eichler and Nations — were placed and are monitored by the Norwest Corporation, a environmental consulting firm specializing in hydrology. Norwest’s stations monitor in 15-minute intervals water levels and salinity at their deployment points, as well as conducting flow measurements and water quality sampling every two weeks. Processed data and the resultant charts are uploaded to the website, apishapawatershed.org, after several weeks, though each station also contains a direct display that updates every minute. “I really encourage you to use the website, and if you’re concerned and you want to keep track of stuff…we post all the lab data results, we’re comparing it to what we’re finding in the stream…it’s a really useful tool,” Hyrdrologist Angela Welch of Norwest said. “We really are trying to help you guys out by protecting your assets, which is your stream.”
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
The case, Vance v. Wolfe, earned plaintiffs Bill and Elizabeth Vance a spot in the history of Colorado water law. The fellow plaintiffs, Jim and Theresa Fitzgerald, of Bayfield, celebrated the ruling as a protection of their water rights and the springs they worked for decades to restore to health. But the Legislature’s bill led to a chain of events that has everyone back in court this summer to fight out three new lawsuits…
The Legislature did two things: It gave the engineer’s office until Aug. 1 this year to process the permits, and it allowed State Engineer Dick Wolfe to make rules that exclude gas wells drilled into deep formations from the need to obtain water permits. Wolfe held hearings last year and early this year and eventually decided that many wells in the San Juan Basin don’t need permits. In general, the wells farther north, closest to where the coal formations climb to the surface, still need water permits.
Sarah Klahn, a water lawyer for the Vance and Fitzgerald families, said the rules threaten to undo the significant victory of the Vance case. Klahn and fellow lawyer Alan Curtis filed two new lawsuits against Wolfe for adopting the rules. The first one will be heard in Greeley this year. It claims the state engineer illegally adopted the rules without notifying landowners that their water might be at risk. “The real people who stand to be injured on the ground because of this stuff did not get notice,” Curtis said.
Their first legal notification that something was up was the huge water-rights application to state Water Court by gas companies that landowners got in the mail this year, he said. They are not alone in the fight this time. Other plaintiffs include heavyweights like the Denver Board of Water Commissioners, the cities of Boulder, Centennial and Sterling, and several other water users.
The second lawsuit, filed in Durango, challenges the map that Wolfe used to decide which wells to regulate. Gas companies paid for the expert who drew the map, and it leaves out wells that should face scrutiny from water regulators, Klahn and Curtis say.
A third lawsuit takes the fight to all of Southwest Colorado. In February, the state engineer amended the rules to include other geological formations, including the shales found in Montezuma, Dolores and western La Plata counties. The rules determined that groundwater in the Paradox formation – which covers a wide swath of Southwest Colorado – is nontributary, meaning gas companies will not have to prepare expensive plans to replace the water they use in their wells. The area has not been drilled for gas yet, but the rocks hold a potentially large amount of shale gas, so it could become an important drilling area in the future. Durango water lawyer Amy Huff filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of several local landowners to challenge the rules over the Paradox formation and other geologic layers. Huff said the state engineer has not done enough to prove that gas companies can take water out of the rock formations without harming surface streams…
An Aspen group, Public Counsel of the Rockies, paid the plaintiffs’ legal fees in the Vance-Fitzgerald lawsuit. In March, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation made a $300,000 grant to Public Counsel of the Rockies to continue the coal-bed methane work, according to the Hewlett Foundation. Public Counsel of the Rockies’ tax forms describe the Vance lawsuit as a test case to bring water regulation to gas wells
From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):
The proposed SWSP was outlined in a July 22 letter to the companies from the Division of Water Resources. The letter notes that, as of December 2009, about 2,600 CBM wells in the Raton and Vermejo formations were considered to have an impact on tributary waters in the Raton Basin. A total of about 3,068 CBM wells operate within the Central Raton Basin…
The letter gives the average pumping rate of all active CBM wells in the affected areas in 2008 to have been about 2.95 gallons per minute (gpm). “For production through 2008, 95 percent of the pumping rates were below 12.6 gpm per well,” it states. “Estimated water production from potential new tributary CBM wells was determined…(e)ach new well perforated in the Raton Basin was assigned a pumping rate of approximately 12 gpm (6 gpm for the Upper Raton Formation and 6 gpm for the lower Raton Formation.” Depletion amounts were calculated using MODFLOW, an industry standard numeric groundwater flow modeling code also used by the U.S. Geological Survey. A 2008 study of the impact of area CBM wells on the Purgatoire River, commissioned by Pioneer and XTO, had found…
Monthly depletions in the affected area for the SWSP’s effective period of April 2010 to March 2011 were estimated as 0.105 acre-feet of water. Depletions caused by CBM pumping prior to 2008 combined with the estimated depletions, figured as a maximum estimated production of tributary water through the plan’s validity endpoint of March 31, 2011, are projected at 4.126 acre-feet. The SWSP, as approved by the SEO, calls for replacement water to come from, “a lease with the City of Trinidad to supply up to 50 acre-feet of fully consumable water from the city’s storage account in Trinidad Reservoir.”[…]
Karen Brown, Pioneer’s senior public relations adviser, told the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 17 meeting that Pioneer was considering at least five different methods to measure water produced from its wells, including those purchased over the past 15 years from, “numerous operators who, at the time the wells were drilled, did not foresee such a change in regulations that would give the (SEO) jurisdiction over the CBM water production.” She added that Pioneer did already take flow measurements at its wells, discharge points and injection wells, and that it should have completed in the next 30-60 days the tests on the five aforementioned methods to determine which it would utilize to meet the SEO’s water measuring requirements. “Our job is really to ensure that the accuracy of these methods meets the (SEO’s) standards,” she said. Brown also said that more than 700 of Pioneer’s CBM wells produced less than 1 gpm of water. “It’s hard to really gauge that kind of flow,” she said. “Obviously, we want to really assess all of the different options because any one of these things will pose significant costs to the company.”
Additionally, Pioneer, XTO Energy and Red River Ranches hired earlier this year the environmental engineering and consulting company, Tetra Tech, to install and monitor on the Purgatoire River and its tributaries a system of water data monitoring stations. The system, in place for the next two year, includes nine continuous monitoring stations and 25 monthly monitoring stations to collect data on such things as flow levels, temperature, pH and chloride levels, sodium absorption levels and the water’s electrical conductivity levels.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
The case involves a challenge by Southwest Colorado ranchers and several other landowners to the water rules for gas and oil wells that the state engineer adopted early this year. Sarah Klahn, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said the rules should be overturned because many affected landowners never received legal notice that the state was about to pass rules that affect their groundwater. “Industry wants to say, here are the rules. We’re done. We win,” Klahn said in a hearing Friday. “It’s only fair that the landowners have the same opportunity to participate in this. We think the only way that’s going to happen is if it’s in Durango.”
If the case had gone to Durango, it would have been heard by Judge Gregory Lyman, who ruled against gas companies in the water rights case that set these events in motion. But lawyers for the state engineer’s office and gas companies argued that the case should be heard in Greeley, which is much closer to Denver – the seat of government and headquarters for many gas companies. “This case should be heard here, where the agency is located,” said First Assistant Attorney General John Cyran. “It is a matter of statewide importance.”[…]
The first lawsuit challenges the legal procedure the state engineer used to pass the rules. It was moved to Greeley on Friday.
The second lawsuit challenges the map the engineer adopted for Southwest Colorado to show where the industry has to take extra steps to replace the water it uses. Lawyers on both sides agreed Friday to put that lawsuit on hold until the first one is decided.
Separately, gas companies have filed 11 different applications for water rights in Durango’s water court. As part of those cases, the industry sent out notices by mail to hundreds of landowners earlier this year. Several landowners – as well as the city of Durango, the U.S. Forest Service and others – filed statements of opposition. Lyman will decide later whether to grant the water rights.
From the Associated Press via the Grand Junction Free Press:
Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 165 extending the deadline. State Engineer Dick Wolfe has said he needs the bill to keep his office from being overwhelmed with paperwork.
SB 165 also gives companies limited permission to use produced water from their gas wells.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Pioneer Natural Resources filed its application last month under new state rules brought on by a Supreme Court decision and legislation last year. The company operates nearly 3,000 wells in Las Animas County, mostly above Trinidad Lake in the Purgatoire River Basin.
Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District, said the district is close to reaching a stipulation on how many of those wells are tributary to the watershed. He has not seen the filing for the augmentation plan and could not comment.
In January, Pioneer filed a plan with the state Division of Water Resources claiming that about 1,800 of its wells are tributary. It also says that 1,170 of its wells produce nontributary water. Another 108 wells not yet drilled are also covered in the court filing. The filing describes how replacement water, or augmentation flows, would be discharged at numerous points throughout the watershed, accounting for both flowing and perennial streams. The application asks for storage rights at various points to use produced water from nontributary wells to augment flows. The application specifically avoids claiming salvaged water from tributary flows, based on previous court decisions.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
The state engineer adopted rules this year to exclude many gas wells from added regulation. In Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Basin, only wells close to the basin’s edge will need plans for replacing water they use. In most cases, the state engineer ruled that the gas wells are too deep to affect streams and springs that ranchers use. But opponents, led by the Vances’ and Fitzgeralds’ lawyers, fought the rules. They said the state engineer relied too heavily on a map developed by the gas industry. They sued the state engineer Monday, seeking to overturn both the statewide rule and the map specific to the San Juan Basin. “We wish they’d done it right, but they didn’t,” said Alan Curtis, a lawyer with the firm…
Jim Martin, director of the Department of Natural Resources, was not aware of the lawsuit Tuesday, but he has said the state engineer’s office is trying to be fair to everyone without bringing the gas industry to a halt…
Also Tuesday at the Legislature, a House committee unanimously passed a bill to extend deadlines for gas companies to apply for water permits. Right now, gas companies are under a March 31 deadline to apply for thousands of water permits, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Vance ruling and a bill the Legislature passed last year. [Senate Bill 10-165: Adjust Oil and Gas Regulation] (pdf) extends the deadline to Aug. 1. Anything less would overwhelm the engineer’s office, Martin said…
Curtis and other opponents say a section of the bill could mess up Colorado water law by granting gas companies the right to use the water their wells produce. A water well permit is different from a water right. Well permits allow limited pumping from aquifers under a person’s land. The state engineer grants them. Only judges can grant a water right, which can allow water to be used, bought, sold and perhaps moved around the state. The Denver Water Department and several members of the Colorado Water Congress are worried about the bill’s future effects, said Sara Duncan of Denver Water. She led a Water Congress group that tried to reach an agreement about the bill. The group agreed to extend the deadline to apply for permits, but it split on saying what gas companies can do with the water they produce. Gas and oil companies joined Martin’s Department of Natural Resources to support the bill. It allows companies to use water they produce through their gas wells for things like dust control or mixing cement. This will cut down on fresh water use and truck traffic in the gas patch, Martin said.
The Legislature has never directly tackled the question of who owns produced water or how it can be used. Several members of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that the Legislature will have to make a decision in a future year. “At some point in the future, we’re going to have to recognize the value that is in produced water,” said Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh.
From the Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):
[Senate Bill 10-165] (pdf) passed the Senate Agriculture Committee 6-0 on Wednesday. Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, voted yes… SB165 extends the [March 31 deadline to file a substitute water supply plan] until August, because the state engineer’s office was facing a flood of paperwork.
Meanwhile the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s construction fund avoided being dried up completely as the legislature moves to pass a budget bill. Here’s a report from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:
A year ago, the Colorado Water Conservation Board had two of the richest bank accounts in the state government. But after the recession arrived, the Legislature took $107 million from the accounts. Today the balance stands at about $19 million, and the Legislature’s budget writers had plans to take that, too…
But Gov. Bill Ritter’s Department of Natural Resources rebelled, and a bipartisan group of representatives joined to defeat the effort on a 39-22 vote…
The spat was a sideshow to the major work the House did Wednesday – cutting hundreds of millions out of this year’s budget. Wednesday’s bills bring the total cuts to about $2 billion. And there’s more to come. In March, the Legislature will take up the 2010-11 budget, which needs an added $1 billion in cuts. For the most part, Wednesday’s work formalized cuts that Gov. Bill Ritter proposed last year. The savings come from eight unpaid days off for state workers and cuts in payments to Medicaid doctors and caretakers of disabled people. The plan also takes $64 million in gas and oil taxes that had been earmarked for local governments.
More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.
From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):
About 60 area residents plus gas production company and Colorado Division of Water Resources representatives turned out Tuesday evening at Bayfield High School for a presentation on all the water that’s pumped out of coalbed methane wells to get the gas to flow. The meeting was prompted by new state rules for coalbed methane well water deemed to be “non-tributary,” and by massive company filings in District 7 Water Court for rights to water – both tributary and non-tributary – that they are pumping out of coalbed methane wells…
“In the past, if there was no beneficial use, no water well permit or augmentation plan was required,” [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] said. “The change is in what’s considered beneficial use.” The other big distinction is whether the water is tributary to a stream. If it is, an augmentation plan may be needed to protect senior water rights from stream depletion.
Attorney John Cyran from the State Attorney General’s Office Water Rights Division said that as a result of the Vance decision, Fruitland formation coalbed methane wells need water well permits. “We have authority to issue permits or to stop any withdrawal if there’s injury to senior rights,” he said. “We still don’t think we should have to issue permits. If you issue permits, they are water rights.”
Cyran continued, “The Vance Supreme Court ruling means produced water is an appropriation for beneficial use, and they need well permits. If they are tributary, they have to replace any water that’s out of priority with augmentation. It means we have to issue thousands of permits. And we have to make sure there’s no injury to senior rights.” With many Fruitland coal wells, the connection with surface streams (mainly at the formation outcrop) is so distant that potential depletion “isn’t enough to worry about,” he said. “We have to administer the tributary wells and figure out which aren’t tributary. It’s a lot of them.”
The State Engineer’s recently released rules governing non-tributary coalbed methane wells include a map designating non-tributary areas, almost all south of Highway 160, and much of it south of the Ute Line.
The rules state that they “shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over non-tributory ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation…”[…]
Wolfe described the 1973 and 1985 laws dealing with non-tributary groundwater rights. The 1973 law gave exclusive right to the surface owner. The 1985 law allows “incidental withdrawal of non-tributary water in mining operations,” only the amount necessary to produce the oil or gas, and only while oil or gas production is happening. A man asked about recent production company letters to landowners referring to an absolute water right. Wolfe said the term absolute refers to water production from existing wells while conditional right refers to potential future wells. Sarah Klahn, the palintiffs’ attorney in the Vance suit, said a primary legal issue yet to be determined is, “Can you get the right to non-tributary water if you don’t own the surface?” Cyran clarified that the Engineer’s Office issues water well permits, while water rights must go through Water Court…
Ron Burkett, whose family owns one of the county’s largest private properties with many gas wells on it, asked where the augmentation water will come from. From Vallecito or from ditch company rights, Assistant State Engineer Kevin Rein said. “There’s a real strict court process for that.”[…]
As for the flood of company Water Court filings [by energy firms], he said, “You can’t claim water you won’t actually use. No speculative claims.” It can’t injure senior rights, and it has to be administered in priority…
Wolfe advised a couple augmentation plans have just been filed, and March 31 is the deadline for producers to file augmentation plans for all existing tributary coalbed methane wells. These can be blanket applications by individual operators or groups of operators. They have to identify every coalbed methane well in the plan and the source of replacement water, he said. Anyone wanting to file statements of opposition to the company filings for water rights or augmentation plans must satisfy criteria to have standing with the court, Cyran said. “You need some kind of water right to have standing.” Owners of water wells that don’t have an adjudicated water right – which is different from a water well permit – have to the end of this month to apply for that and gain standing, he said, adding, “It’s not that hard to file a water right application.” However, Bayfield attorney Marian Tone pointed out to the Times that it costs $224 per water well to file a rights application, plus $158 to file a statement of opposition. “They say it’s no big deal, but it is.”
More coverage from Katie Burford writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:
“The oil and gas industry is only seeking the water rights associated with oil and gas production,” said Bruce Gantner, a ConocoPhillips environmental consultant who is handling comments about the company’s application. Others filing applications in the area include BP, the Southern Ute Tribe and Chevron.
But some observers of the process called it a “water grab” and question the legal framework for the gas companies’ claims. “I think that the applications are overreaching, and they’re very broad, and they’re probably speculative, as well,” said Amy Huff, a water attorney who recently presented at a public meeting about the subject…
Gas companies firmly assert that water to which they are seeking rights is deep underground and has no effect on water people use for drinking or irrigating. “This water is not of a drinking-water quality,” Gantner, with ConocoPhillips, said. Zeller argued that domestic wells run a couple hundred feet deep or less while gas wells are about 3,500 feet or deeper.