“There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination” — Ken Carlson

A schematic of possible migration pathways of contaminants, water-based and gas-phase, into the bedrock aquifer from adjacent faulty oil or gas wells.
A schematic of possible migration pathways of contaminants, water-based and gas-phase, into the bedrock aquifer from adjacent faulty oil or gas wells via Colorado State University

From Colorado State University (Anne Ju Manning):

There’s no evidence of water-based contaminants seeping into drinking water wells atop a vast oil and gas field in northeastern Colorado, according to Colorado State University scientists working to protect and inform citizens about the safety of their water.

Ken Carlson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has led a series of studies analyzing the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends north-south from Greeley to Colorado Springs, and east-west from Limon to the foothills.

The studies have been performed under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort begun last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and/or natural gas wells. The CSU researchers primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.

Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin
Niobrara Shale Denver Julesberg Basin

“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”

That isn’t to say that some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg oil and gas field aren’t compromised. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane – a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component in natural gas.

And that’s not good, Carlson said. Methane, a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive (which is why coal mines blow up, and why the movie “Gasland” portrayed flaming taps). But it’s not toxic, and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking water safety. It also is found in large quantities in the basin from naturally occurring, biogenic sources.

With regard to the really bad stuff – the bariums, chromiums and other soluble contaminants that people have been worried about getting into their water – Carlson’s team didn’t find any.

Their studies strengthen the theory that thermogenic (originating from oil and gas formations) methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around the aquifers. Well casings are the cement and steel housing around the production tubing of the oil rig. That tubing penetrates the ground, straight through the aquifer, and into the oil- and gas-rich sediment thousands of feet below.

“My guess is that most of the thermogenic methane-contaminated wells we see out there are 10 to 30 years old,” Carlson said. “Well casing requirements and monitoring have tightened up significantly since the 2009 regulations.”

The latest studies were published in Environmental Science and Technology, and in Water Research.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

A series of studies, led by CSU civil and environmental engineer professor Ken Carlson, analyzed the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends between Greeley and Colorado Springs and between Limon and the foothills.

The studies were done under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort started last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the DJ Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and natural gas wells, say CSU researchers.

Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post
Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post

They primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.

“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”

Still, some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg field are compromised, says CSU. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane — a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component of natural gas.

Methane, in addition to being a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive. Still, it’s not toxic and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking-water safety.

But other worrisome soluble contaminants — including barium and chromium — were not found by Carlson’s team.

They say that strengthens the theory that thermogenic — that which originates from oil and gas formations — methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around aquifers.

The issue: "...it's disposal of wastewater." -- Don Frick
The issue: “…it’s disposal of wastewater.” — Don Frick

Arctic Ocean oil and gas lease auctions canceled

Summit County Citizens Voice

jb Arctic Ocean oil and gas drilling is off the table for now.

Feds also deny requests for extension of current leases

Staff Report

Drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. slice of the Arctic Ocean is a no-go for the foreseeable future, federal officials said this week, canceling plans for future lease sales and denying extension requests for existing leases.

Citing market conditions and low industry interest, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it’s canceling two potential Arctic offshore lease sales scheduled under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program. The decision comes on the heals of Shell’s announcement to halt exploration in the Chukchi Sea.

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Oil and gas exploration near South Park concerns some in Colorado Springs area — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

In a small plane soaring thousands of feet above the expanse of South Park, Jara Johnson surveyed one of the richest landscapes in the state, an area home to endangered wildlife, water, natural gas and uranium.

Although South Park has long been prized as the home of South Platte River and for its native elk herds, its energy prospects are what has put it on the radar of the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency has begun putting together a master leasing plan for South Park to evaluate the risks of drilling for oil and natural gas in what Johnson considers one of the state’s unparalleled playgrounds.

But for those who make their living off the wildlife and water in South Park, the area’s potential for energy development poses a serious economic threat, said David Leinweber, who owns the Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs.

Leinweber’s business has one of the largest guiding permits for the South Platte and habitually fishes the “Dream Stream,” a state-designated Gold Medal fishery at the southern edge of the BLM’s proposed leasing site. Leinweber foresees disaster if oil and gas development were to harm the river and its tributaries.

“In South Park our big concern is not very much different from what just happened on the Animas (River),” said Leinweber, referring to the acid-mine drainage that polluted the southwestern Colorado river last month. “It’s the what-if story.”

For Johnson, the director of operations for the environmental nonprofit Coalition for the Upper South Platte, there is much more at stake than South Park’s rich fishing economy.

Last week, Johnson served as guide for a National Wildlife Federation-organized flight tour over South Park to highlight the area’s mix of crucial water resources and wildlife habitats.

To the uneducated eye, South Park is a treeless expanse that stretches between the Front Range to the east and the Mosquito Range to the northwest. But Johnson sees the 980-square-mile area as a complex ecosystem with rare high-elevation wetlands, agricultural fields and winter refuges for elk and pronghorn. The South Platte meanders through the heart of the park – so named because white settlers thought it was like a natural game preserve – and delivers most of the water for the Denver metro area.

While less than an hour by plane from southeast Denver, South Park might as well be an exotic high-mountain paradise for animals, microbes and plants.

“There are plants in the Mosquito Range that are found nowhere else in the world,” Johnson said.

South Park’s uniqueness comes in part from its geology – a mixture of ancient volcanoes, glaciers and lakes, which make the area precious to the Front Range for its connection to water. Denver, Aurora and Centennial get water from South Park’s rivers, streams and reservoirs. While Colorado Springs gets its water from the Homestake system west of Leadville, two pipelines shuttle water east through the park, right through the BLM’s proposed leasing site.

With 28 abandoned wells and no active permits for the area, South Park has seen minimal drilling, said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. Areas around Lake George are “prime for uranium development,” although none has happened, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, potential for oil and gas development has raised the alarm in Park County, which gets most of its water from aquifers beneath South Park. While locals are anxious to see how leasing will play out, they are getting what many consider an unprecedented opportunity to plan with the BLM.

In years past, master leasing plans were done once energy companies expressed interest in drilling on BLM lands. But in 2010, inspired by the risks and interest in South Park, the BLM reformed the process, Lacayo said.

“The concept of the leasing reform (is) it doesn’t wait for someone to submit an expression of interest,” she said.

Instead, the BLM triggered the process without active interest in energy development in South Park. And the BLM is seeking the input of people like Leinweber.

“I think that when we initiated the master leasing plans, it was to provide the public with more opportunities to take a closer look at oil and gas leasing,” Lacayo said.

Before 2010, the first time locals learned of plans to drill on BLM lands was when mineral rights were sold, Lacayo said. Now, residents and others impacted will know about the area’s potential for oil and gas development long before leases are made available. The BLM has placed a moratorium on energy development around the state until several leasing plans are completed, Lacayo said.

Lacking funds, the agency has relied on CUSP to jump-start conversations about the impacts of oil and gas development. The nonprofit received a grant from the Keystone Policy Center to host three public meetings from October to February to give Park County officials, residents and business owners a chance to express concerns.

In a report submitted in March, CUSP found that South Park’s cattle owners welcome oil and gas development, while others want limited or strict restrictions.

Park County residents are afraid oil and gas wells will pollute their vulnerable aquifers. Various wildlife groups proposed that drilling be prohibited in known wildlife areas, such as portions of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. Water providers, such as Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, lobbied for mandatory setbacks for oil and gas development from water sources.

The BLM will take all the input into consideration for an environmental review, which will be released for another round of public comment after a draft is done, Lacayo said.

Although research has begun, the BLM is possibly years from opening the leasing process in South Park. The area’s leasing plan is but a sliver of the BLM’s Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, which will take years and millions of dollars to complete.

South Park, meanwhile, will continue to be the recreational and wildlife mecca it has always been. But even if it doesn’t become the home to Colorado’s next natural gas boom, Leinweber believes that even the smallest amount of drilling could have devastating impact on the area if it goes wrong.

“What people don’t often recognize with some of the oil and gas things is that it often isn’t the big company that goes in and does the exploration,” he said.

“It’s these small guys that don’t really have the backing of something. If they were to make a mistake, it can be pretty impactful for a long time. My concern is containing any byproducts that come out of the these (drilling) processes that could jeopardize our industry as a business.”

@EcoFlight: Flight Across America 2015 #ColoradoRiver #drought #COWaterPlan

ecoflightlogo

From the EcoFlight website:

Project Overview

EcoFlight’s Flight Across America program dynamically engages college students about environmental issues, using a broad range of perspectives, both aerial and on the ground, to bring attention to pressing conservation issues. Students learn how such issues impact their lives and the world around them, and how to personally participate in advocacy work. Through the aerial perspective and discussions with diverse stakeholders and experts on the ground, EcoFlight offers a tangible educational experience, engaging students in the complexities of environmental issues throughout the West. It is our hope that by offering students the opportunity to delve deeply into issues central to the West, they become better prepared to participate in meaningful discussions public lands and advocate for their beliefs, as the next generation of leaders.

Flight Across America 2015 will focus on water conservation concerns in the West, emphasizing the crucial role water plays in sustaining life, and the mega drought happening in many states across the West. The program provides an excellent learning environment for students, combining the aerial perspective of the role of water in the health of ecosystems and how watersheds connect landscapes, with on-the-ground discussions of the impact of energy development, urban planning, recreation and agriculture on our water resources. The Colorado River Basin is in its 14th year of drought, and water is a top concern for population centers and agriculture. We will discuss the coping mechanisms of multiple states in the West, as they plan for the future in an attempt to balance an already over-allocated water supply with growing domestic demand. Climate models are predicting an even drier future, with sustained periods of sparse precipitation and significant loss of soil moisture that span generations, about 10 times as long as a normal three-year drought. In the face of these “mega-droughts” it is imperative that we begin thinking in terms of the future and not just the present for water management in the West.

In a five-day tour of four states, FLAA 2015 will engage college students with diverse conservation concerns of water in the West. EcoFlight will provide aerial tours of water storage and diversion projects, over energy development (both fossil fuel and renewable), over agriculture, and wild landscapes, and watersheds that are vulnerable to drought and water-loss. On the ground students will meet with diverse stakeholders – planners, public officials, conservation groups, sportsmen, energy industry representatives, Native Americans, recreationists and journalists to discuss the different and often competing interests in water and water conservation.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Coloradans urge water fixes: Take Mississippi River water, ban fracking, close borders — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

cropcirclescoloradoindependent
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons, Flickr

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

I’m a Coloradan and I drink water.”

That’s how several letters to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in response to the state water plan begin. The statement may be valid, but it’s not going to solve a predicted water shortage over the next 35 years or contribute much to a state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, intended to address the looming crisis.
According to a 2010 study, Colorado may be short as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, due largely to an expected doubling of the state’s population. That’s about 1.6 trillion gallons of water.
The water conservation board has been seeking public input both into the development of the plan and on its first draft, which was released last December.

A second draft is expected in the next few weeks. A third draft will likely be released in September, with more public comment solicited. The plan is to be finalized and sent to the governor in December.

Coloradans flooded the CWCB with more than 24,000 emails and letters in the past 18 months, beginning when Hickenlooper mandated the plan’s development.

The CWCB staff is responding to every comment – no small feat for less than 50 people.

Many thousands of comments were easy-to-dismiss form letters and form emails. But thousands of Coloradans wrote to the CWCB to express concerns about the status of Colorado’s water and what should be done to improve it.
The vast majority of the comments were thoughtful, well-informed and came from Coloradans from every walk of life, including school teachers, college students, farmers, ranchers, elected officials at every level and retirees.

While many are long-time Colorado residents, with some whose families go back four generations, one person who commented said that she’d just moved to Colorado a year ago.

All of the input showed what CWCB Director James Eklund called “strong public engagement” with the issue.
The comments touched on every aspect of the water plan, although water conservation was the dominant theme.

“As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on education about water conservation. In our household, our water usage is about half that of other households because we make an effort to conserve,” wrote one Coloradan.
But another person, who also called for more education about water conservation, complained that he witnesses a guy at the local YMCA who takes showers that are way too long.

And then there were those with some seemingly off-beat ideas about how to save Colorado water. Gary Hausler suggested importing water from east of Colorado, including from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

It’s not the first time somebody has proposed pumping in water from the Midwest. Two lawmakers during the 2015 session proposed studying the feasibility of extending a Kansas pipeline that brings in Missouri River water to the Eastern Plains. That bill, House Bill 15-1167, won approval from the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee but later died in the House Appropriations Committee.

Hausler is a proponent of piping in water from the Mississippi, south of Cairo, Illinois, to add one million acre-feet of water to Colorado.

“The Mississippi represents an immense source of unused water that meets Colorado’s future needs and eliminates the need for ag dry-up and additional trans-mountain diversions,” he wrote. (In Colorado, 80 percent of the water for the Eastern Plains comes through a system of 24 tunnels that travel through the Continental Divide from the Western Slope and its major rivers, including the Roaring Fork and Colorado.)

But Hausler said the proposal has been ignored and derided for years for political reasons, and he was careful to add that he has no financial interest in the proposal.

The CWCB staff replied that importing water from the Midwest has been studied and is not believed to be feasible for many reasons. However, the idea has been discussed by the various basin roundtable groups, the staff replied.
Colorado has eight major river basins. Each river basin has a roundtable group, plus a ninth, representing the Denver Metro area. The groups are made up of local governments, water districts and other representatives. Each basin roundtable developed its own recommendations for the state water plan.

Hausler’s suggestion was similar to one made months earlier by Brenda Miller, who called transferring water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope “futile” and a reflection of Denver’s “urban sociopathology.”
Look to a place with surplus, Miller suggested, such as the Missouri River, an “easy 400 to 500 miles from Denver.”

Another commenter wanted to offer his high-tech ag services to solve the predicted water shortage: “I have invented a growing system that uses less than half the water and produces more end product than conventional methods. It will save more water than I can claim,” said Larry Smith, who did not elaborate on his system.

Many letters dealt with a particular water use that writers believed ought to be curtailed: hydraulic fracking.
Sally Hempy wrote: “The biggest impact we can make in our Colorado waters is to outlaw the fossil fuel industry. You can’t protect one county that is free of fracking while the neighboring county mines, fracks and pollutes our acrifers (Note: aquifers).”

She also complained about runoff from agriculture and animal feedlots. “Let’s protect what we have!”

The CWCB staff said fracking doesn’t need a lot of water compared to other uses, such as power plants, and that the plan does not make a “value judgment” on any specific water use.

At least two letters suggested another ban: the livestock industry.

Jerry Daidian suggested eliminating “production of livestock feed as a beneficial use…The disproportionate use of Colorado’s [river] water by the livestock industry lies at the core of the problem.”

Other writers suggested Colorado close its borders and stop shipping water to other states.

Mary Ratz wrote that the state’s precipitation “is ours to use. We should not have to let ANY of it flow to other states and should not have to prove we own that water and that we need all of it. This is a state RIGHT, not for the federal government’s to decide.”

She also noted the Colorado River “is all ours” and shouldn’t be watering lawns in Las Vegas or any of the lower Colorado River basin states (Nevada, Arizona, California and New Mexico).

CWCB staff responded, trying to explain interstate compacts, Congressionally-approved agreements between states that govern just how much water goes from a headwater state, like Colorado, to its downriver states.

But by this spring, the CWCB staff had a different suggestion: The writer should read the “Citizen’s Guide to Interstate Compacts,” produced by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Then there was the comment from Jeremy Davis: “Please lay-off. We are not merely cannon fodder. We are people with lives, dreams, and families. Leave our water alone. Allow us the opportunity to be.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage <a href="

USGS: Water Used for Hydraulic Fracturing Varies Widely Across United States

2011-2014 Hydraulic Fracturing Water Use (Meters Cubed per Well) via the USGS
2011-2014 Hydraulic Fracturing Water Use (Meters Cubed per Well) via the USGS

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Anne Berry Wade/Leigh Cooper/Tanya Gallegos). (Multiply meters cubed used by 264.172052 to get gallons used). Here’s an excerpt:

The amount of water required to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells varies widely across the country, according to the first national-scale analysis and map of hydraulic fracturing water usage detailed in a new USGS study accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research found that water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

More oil and gas coverage here.

COGCC debuts redesigned website for improved public access

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website screen shot May 1, 2015
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website screen shot May 1, 2015

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week migrated to a new and more user-friendly website at http://cogcc.state.co.us/. The new site provides a more contemporary look and feel, provides a more intuitive experience and streamlines the organization of large amounts of data and content available to the public.

The newly designed site also improves search capabilities while maintaining or enhancing all the content and functions of the previous site.

“We recognize the high public interest in the COGCC, its work and the data it maintains,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore. “Our agency has always been among the most transparent in the country in providing access to volumes of information about the regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado; with this redesigned website we’ve taken another important step in making public information available to all interested parties.”

The redesigned site is one of several recent steps to make interaction with the COGCC easier. The agency has streamlined the complaint process, aggregated spill data and converted its water quality data to a downloadable format. Work continues on additional projects that will make more data more easily accessed and analyzed by the public.

The website is part of an ongoing focus at COGCC to strengthen its regulation of oil and gas development in Colorado.

Since 2011, the COGCC under the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to increase setbacks, reduce nuisance impacts, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.

The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.