@ColoradoStateU researcher studying use of ‘produced water’ on crops and livestock — Sterling Journal-Advocate

producedwaterllcgraphic

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Farmers and ranchers who work in close proximity to oil and gas production, especially if that extraction involves fracking, need to be aware of the effects of that process on their operations, according to a presentation made Tuesday morning during the Eastern Colorado Crop Production Conference in Fort Morgan.

While the boom in hydrologic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” began a decade ago, researchers are just now asking serious questions about the impact of fracking fluids on crops, livestock and people. Molly McLaughlin, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University, told the 80-plus attendees at the Fort Morgan conference that she hopes her research will answer some of those questions.

The most surprising revelation from McLaughlin’s presentation is that some “produced water” from oil and gas wells is actually used to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The researcher explained that there are two kinds of fluids involved in fracking. The first is the fracturing fluid that is forced into the drilled well to widen fractures in the bore hole. The fluid consists mainly of water but also contains chemicals to reduce friction of fluids against the well casing, biocides to kill bacteria that may grow in the warm, wet environment, and “proppants” that hold the fractures open so oil and gas can flow into them to be extracted. McLoughlin said wells in eastern Colorado use an average of about 3 million gallons of water per well during the fracturing process, mixed with about 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

The other fluid is the produced water, or fluid that flows back out of the well during the extraction of oil and gas. McLoughlin said most of the fracturing fluids are expelled from the well in the first few years of production, but that water will flow out for the life of the well, or about 30 years in most cases. During later years, most of the water is what was already in the geologic formation that contains the oil or gas being pumped out. She pointed out that this is not water from aquifers that supply water for human consumption. As oil and gas production decreases, she said, water production increases.

Most of the exposure to fracking fluids and produced water happens during spills, McLoughlin said, and virtually all spills must be reported to state authorities. She said contamination can come from spilled chemicals getting into surface water, such as nearby lakes and streams, or by leaching through soil into shallow aquifers.

McLoughlin said most of the chemicals used in fracking will degrade fairly rapidly if they are spilled into soil, but that combinations of chemicals degrade at different rates. She said the presence of salts in the produced water can retard degradation by six months or more. Her research is aimed at determining the degradation rates of various chemical combinations, and the effects those combinations have on soil, crops, livestock, and people.

Wastewater from oil and gas wells is treated, McLoughlin said, by skimming pollutants off of the top of holding ponds, by heating the wastewater, or by adding neutralizing chemicals. She said increasingly, treated water is being used to irrigate some crops and water some livestock.

McLaughlin showed research being done at the University of California at Davis that uses produced water to irrigate switch grass for biofuels or cotton for textiles.

An online article from the California Environmental Protection Agency states that produced water from oil and gas wells there is treated and then blended with other water to irrigate crops in the arid inland areas of the state. The CEPA closely monitors that water, the article said, and the state’s Food Safety Expert Panel monitors the crops grown with that water.

McLoughlin concluded her presentation by saying that much more research needs to be done on potential impacts of oil and gas wastewater on food production.

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. - Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

From MarketPlace.org (Scott Tong and Tom Scheck):

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

Future of Denver’s South Park watershed up in air, BLM planners need another 5 years — The Denver Post

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

For more than two years, BLM officials who manage much of South Park have been developing a plan to balance conservation with economic activities including oil and gas drilling that can degrade the environment. The work begun in 2014 was aimed at setting out where companies could drill, where wildlife would prevail, and where houses could be built to maximize protection of delicate ecosystems across South Park, an inter-mountain valley southwest of Denver…

At a public meeting this month, no draft was available.

“Planning and public involvement does take a considerable amount of time,” Hall said. “It’s not going to be completed in the next two months, certainly.”

[…]

Current target date: 2021.

BLM officials at first refused but eventually agreed to hash out a master plan after controversial leases were issued to oil and gas companies to drill for oil and gas adjacent to reservoirs that hold drinking water for residents of metro Denver. The South Platte River — northeastern Colorado’s main waterway, essential for cities and agriculture — forms in South Park.

A broader BLM plan guiding land use across eastern Colorado, which will incorporate South Park oil and gas leasing, also is in the works. A current regional plan is more than 20 years old.

BLM Colorado director Ruth Welch said grassroots sentiments of South Park residents drove the planning in progress. “I know they are anxious,” Welch said…

Among those keen to implement protection are the three Park County commissioners, all Republicans, who have pressed for federal foresight to ensure appropriate development.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, has pushed better landscape-scale planning to guide smarter land use and balance competing interests.

“There are benefits to this type of planning and, as we saw from the major opposition to the thoughtless attempts to lease lands in this area, which set off a lot of the community concerns, those benefits include directing leasing and development to the right places,” Wilderness Society spokeswoman Anastasia Greene said.

Setting out rules in advance for where oil and gas wells could be drilled “just makes more sense,” Greene said.

Interior Secretary Nixes Drilling Leases on #RoanPlateau, #ThompsonDivide — Westword #keepitintheground

From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

In the twilight of the Obama administration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came to Denver yesterday to announce the adoption of long-range plans to protect the Roan Plateau and the Thompson Divide — two spectacularly scenic and environmentally fragile areas on the Western Slope — from oil and gas drilling. The deals have been years in the works, and despite the uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump’s energy policies, won’t be easily undone by a simple regime change.

The compromise announced by Jewell, which involves canceling 25 drilling leases in the Thompson Divide and resolving litigation over energy development on the Roan Plateau, ends efforts to exploit oil and gas resources in areas teeming with wildlife and rare plant species. As we reported in “Raiding the Roan” way back in 2004, energy companies have been salivating over the prospect of tapping into the Roan’s rich gas reserves since the early days of the George W. Bush administration.

In 2008, shortly before Bush left office, the Bureau of Land Management, over strong protests from much of Colorado’s congressional delegation, opened up areas on top of the plateau to gas leases. The BLM’s plan projected up to 1,500 wells over the next twenty years, but other sources estimated that as many as 4,000 wells could be drilled. Hunters, outfitters, tourism interests and environmental activists feared that the impacts of so much industrial activity, including new roads and clearing vast areas for well pads, would be devastating to wildlife habitat.

Legal and administrative challenges to the BLM’s plan — notably, litigation brought by Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation and others, represented by Earthjustice and Western Resource Advocates — kept the leases tied up in court for years. A settlement agreement, first announced in 2014, canceled numerous leases and designated key areas of the plateau as off-limits to development. The Thompson Divide battle has also raged for years, as locals challenged leases in precious watersheds and roadless areas.

“This resolution strikes the right balance by protecting one of Colorado’s most spectacular places and important watersheds, and ensuring that any future development is done responsibly and held to high standards,” said Secretary Jewell yesterday, as a beaming Governor John Hickenlooper looked on.

Given the slow pace of environmental review and other bureaucratic processes within the BLM, it’s doubtful the deal that was finally hammered out can be undone by another shift toward the drill-baby-drill mantra in the White House. Economic forces have also lessened the push to drill on remote public lands in recent years; a glut of natural gas from widespread fracking, tapping into reserves previously considered inaccessible, has kept prices low and eased the demand for new drill rigs. These days only 35 percent of leased public lands are actually producing at any given time; with so many leases sitting idle, who needs more?

NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

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.

Gov. Matt Mead: Clean Power Plan Case Heard Before the U.S. Court of Appeals

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Wyoming and 26 other states, industry groups and others presented arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday in opposition to the Clean Power Plan. The states argued the proposed rule goes far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Wyoming would be particularly impacted as the rule requires the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 44%.

“Federal regulatory agencies continue to push the boundaries of their legal authority. This results in unreasonable and onerous burdens on industry, businesses, individuals and states,” said Governor Matt Mead. “The Clean Power Plan is just such a situation. I am pleased the Court stopped the implementation of the rule pending a decision in this case.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit denied a petition from states to halt implementation of the rule while litigation was pending. The petition was then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court which ultimately granted the stay and stopped implementation of the rule. The petition argued the EPA did not have the proper authority, the Clean Power Plan would take authority away from states to regulate in-state power generation and transmission and the final rule was substantially different from its draft version, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

@ColoradoWater annual seminar recap

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

If Colorado’s state water plan is to keep the headwaters state in control of its lifeblood, the plan will require a new spring of cash to replace one that is running dry, officials said Friday.

Where the money will come from — and ideas run from mill levies to sales taxes to tap fees to usage fees — isn’t clear, state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The state’s severance tax was anticipated to be a major source of revenue for the water plan, which was drafted to encourage water conservation as well as pay for water storage.

Severance taxes, however, have shrunk as oil and gas revenues have fallen in the face of dropping prices and as coal production has slipped.

The plan has twin goals of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water while also storing an equal amount by 2030, when the state would otherwise come 560,000 acre-feet short of the expected demands of residents and businesses…

Coram said he floated the idea of charging 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water on delivery to homes and businesses, to get people talking.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know doing nothing is not going to get things done,” Coram said.

Early projections called for the state severance tax to account for $3 billion, but that reservoir of cash is unlikely to refill soon, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the water plan and is charged with carrying it out.

It could take two to four years to determine how best to fund the plan, Coram said.

“We’re moving forward as aggressively as possible to implement this plan,” Eklund said.

Among the water plan priorities for the coming year are establishing a repayment guarantee fund with $50 million as needed to underwrite water projects; $10 million for the water supply reserve fund; $10 million for programming for the water plan and $5 million for the watershed restoration program.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Summerlin):

The common denominator among speakers at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday was that stakeholders have an uphill battle to protect the river. The effects of climate change coupled with demand outpacing supply are continuing to leave water rights holders in a pickle — draining every drop of water before the Colorado reaches its mouth.

The Colorado River Basin is in its 16th year of drought, which ultimately hampers water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation and the basin’s ecology.

Jeff Lukas, an research integration specialist with Western Water Assessment, outlined the growing impacts of climate change on the Upper Colorado River Basin, comparing the basin’s temperatures, precipitation and runoff during other periods of record heat. Some of the key climate change risks for Colorado are reduced annual runoff, earlier runoff, degraded water quality, greater water demand and more frequent droughts, according to Lukas.

Many people are seeing a decrease in runoff for a given amount of precipitation, which Lukas links to warmer temperatures.

About 75 percent of precipitation goes back into the atmosphere, and the bulk of streamflow happens during a narrow window of time, about 80 percent occurring between April and July, he said. Rising temperatures indicate that this trend of decreased streamflow will continue.

Record warm years earlier in the 20th century were also very dry, but now the basin is seeing record heat in wet years as well, said Lukas. And the Colorado River Basin is more sensitive to warming than other basins.

Warming also leads to earlier snowmelt and runoff, less snow accumulation and declines in runoff, said Lukas.

Lukas expects rising temperatures to result in increased water consumption and stress on the water supply and rights holders.

Other speakers representing the Colorado River District, farmers and lower basin entities that manage river water distribution presented various efforts to combat anticipated shortfalls.

Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking, Water, Climate Change in Colorado River Basin #keepitintheground

Here’s the release from The Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):

Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking, Water, Climate Change in Colorado River Basin

The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel them to update invalid, outdated Endangered Species Act consultations on the impacts of climate change and expanded fracking in western Colorado on the Colorado River system and its four endangered fish. The challenge seeks to halt all new oil and gas leasing and development on federal public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin of Colorado — including the White River and Grand Junction field offices — pending updated consultations.

Fracking near the White River in Utah, located immediately downstream of the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office that is subject to today’s notice. Photo by Taylor McKinnon / EcoFlight.
Fracking near the White River in Utah, located immediately downstream of the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office that is subject to today’s notice. Photo by Taylor McKinnon / EcoFlight.

“The Colorado River system’s endangered fish can’t handle more water depletions. The river system is already overtaxed, and declining flows because of climate change are making a bad situation worse,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center. “It’s hard to imagine a more self-destructive policy for the Colorado River Basin than using scarce water to fuel more climate-warming fossil fuel extraction — but that’s exactly what the Obama administration is allowing.”

The notice asserts that a programmatic “biological opinion” study authorizing water withdrawals for oil and gas development on public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin is outdated and invalid. The study fails to consider impacts to endangered fish from the drawing-down of large amounts of water that would be used for horizontal drilling, as well as the impacts of developing expanded estimates of Mancos shale gas deposits, existing and projected future climate-driven Colorado River declines, oil and other toxic spills, mercury and selenium pollution, and the failure of the federal recovery program to provide minimum river flows in critical habitat for the fish.

The notice challenges both agencies’ reliance on the study when they approved new land-use plans for the Grand Junction and White River field offices last year and other oil and gas development plans this year. Together the new land-use plans would allow nearly 19,000 new oil and gas wells in western Colorado. Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service has already conceded that any further water depletions from the Colorado River or its tributaries would jeopardize the four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail.

“Fracking in the Colorado River Basin comes at the peril of public lands, our climate, the river, its endangered fish, and tens of millions of downstream water users,” said McKinnon. “It’s backward public policy in face of a worsening climate crisis. Now’s the time for the Obama administration to align our country’s energy policies with its climate goals by ending new fossil fuel leasing on America’s public lands.”

Center for Biological Diversity attorneys Wendy Park and Michael Saul are staffing the case.

Download today’s notice here.

Background
On behalf of the American people, the U.S. federal government manages nearly 650 million acres of public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. A 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download the September 2015 “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama.

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Critical Gulf: The Vital Importance of Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing in the Gulf of Mexico

Download Public Lands, Private Profits about the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Two conservation groups say oil and gas leasing and development need to be halted on federal lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin until agencies can take the steps needed to protect endangered fish.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers have notified the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue the agencies for failing to take into account new information in order to properly protect the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail. This information includes the growing use of water-intensive horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas from the Mancos shale formation, which holds a much larger developable resource than previously thought. The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that the Piceance Basin’s Mancos shale formation contains 40 times more recoverable gas than it previously had estimated.

The groups say the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service relied on an invalid and outdated study authorizing water depletions for oil and gas development in the Upper Colorado Basin as the BLM approved land-use plans in the region, most notably plans involving the Grand Junction and White River field offices that combined allow for nearly 19,000 oil and gas wells…

The study, known as a programmatic biological opinion, was adopted in 2008, before the BLM recognized the potential for horizontal drilling and the associated water impacts, the groups say in their notice of intent to sue. The notice said while the BLM estimated that local wells drilled out directionally and then vertically into producing formations require an average of 2.62 acre-feet of water, nine local horizontal wells ended up consuming an average of nearly 69 acre-feet each. That largely was responsible for water consumption of nearly twice the projected annual total for oil and gas development for a sub-basin portion of the Colorado River, in violation of a depletion limit intended to protect the fish, the groups say.

The groups’ notice said difficulty meeting minimum recommended flows for the fish in a critical 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River in Mesa County strongly suggests the habitat there will be unsuitable for the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in dry years, “and that flow depletions from oil and gas development will only exacerbate these unsuitable conditions and reduce these species’ chances of recovery.”

BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service spokesmen said Monday their agencies don’t comment on pending litigation.

Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group said the legal action is another attempt by conservation groups to grasp at straws in their opposition to the industry. She noted a state estimate that fracking consumes less than a tenth of a percent of Colorado water.

“It’s a very small amount of water that is used for fracking and for oil and gas development in general,” she said.

She added that one horizontal well replaces several vertical wells, so the overall water use is actually lower. And she questioned how much impact energy development can be having on fish at a time of minimal drilling activity on the Western Slope.

The conservation groups single out in their notice water consumption by Black Hills Exploration & Production, but that company since has suspended local drilling.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program