Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

Urban Drainage and Flood Control District

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Monday, October 29, 2007

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Here's a report from the Geothermal Investors' Forum held at the Montrose Pavilion, Saturday, Oct. 19, from The Telluride Watch. They write:

Industry experts hailed from across the country, and as far away as Canada and Great Britain, to present on recent innovations in the geothermal business. Potential investors came all the way from Iceland. And yet, Colorado has always been small potatoes in the geothermal market. Firstly, because macro scanning models and remote sensing only pick up large heat anomalies at a depth of about six kilometers (3.7 miles), anomalies at temperatures necessary to produce commercially viable power. The mountains, with all their folded valleys, present a reluctant challenge when the landscapes of Nevada and Utah seem so easy. And secondly (and perhaps more importantly), because of spotty, incomplete data. As a result, no large-scale geothermal power plants have been built in Colorado. While prospectors' have never stopped watching Colorado, nothing has presented itself to draw attention from other, sure-fire sites. Until now...

Recent improvements in the industry have opened up the Colorado playing field. These improvements are innovations in both technology and business. The buzz is centered around enhanced geothermal technologies - things like binary plants, which use an organic fluid with a low boiling point (much lower than water's 212 degrees F) in the heat exchanger. Lower-temperature water can then be used to drive this fluid through the turbine and produce power in the desirable megawatt range. Or, for another example, take United Technology Company's new Purecycle generator, an innovation that uses preexisting centrifugal water chiller motors, but reverses the system. Rather than cooling and disposing of heat, heat is put into a generator. Instead of electricity being used to turn a motor that drives the compressor, electricity is produced by the heat turning the generator. As these chillers are already on the market, after a series of simple modifications, the result is a super affordable, easily deployed unit capable of producing electricity at 99 percent availability from resurging water between 165 and 300 degrees F. This is big news.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:55:32 AM    

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Colorado is out of drought for the most part. The Denver Post is running an article about the outlook for the next water year. From the article:

On the official drought map of the United States, Colorado sits happily as an island of relative cool-white moisture, surrounded by wide seas of scorched brown and burnt amber from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Timely storms in the past year have combined with a stronger conservation ethic to leave Denver-area water systems flush in the month consumers shut down their sprinklers. With Southern California smoldering and Dixie choking on dust, Colorado water officials take solace in a predicted La Niña forecast for the Pacific Ocean that could bring increased winter storms to the Northwest and keep the Rocky Mountains on the cooler side of the drought map...

Denver, Aurora and other major utilities will use this off season to study and attempt to solidify what they are now calling semipermanent reductions by consumers. Since the worst of the Colorado drought and wildfires in 2002, utilities have compared each summer's water use to 2001 or earlier levels to gauge behavior changes brought on by price hikes and publicity campaigns. Denver users consumed 21 percent less water through September than they did in pre-drought years, Fisher said...

Cuts in use and well-timed snow and rain from May to September left Denver's reservoirs at 93 percent of capacity this fall, compared with 89 percent last year and an 87 percent median over the long term. Consumers in Aurora appear to have cut use by about 19 percent from pre-drought levels, Binney said, though managers have noticed "creep" in the levels of lawn-sprinkling as the city's reservoir situation improved. Aurora's reservoir system is at 84 percent of capacity, a vast improvement over 32 percent in October 2002...

This coming winter's forecast puts Colorado at the edge of the Northwest rain and snowstorms usually attributed to La Niña. Oregon and Washington will benefit, and severely drought-stricken Idaho will see relief, Svoboda said. In a La Niña year, Colorado's results depend on how storms track, to north or south. While the central part of the state may fare well, the southwestern corner could dry out again. The problem for Southern states, from the California coast across to Georgia, Svoboda said, is that warm and dry conditions will persist under the La Niña pattern. Rapid population growth in those states now puts them closer to the same kind of year-to-year danger traditionally seen in the Southwest.

Category: Colorado Water

6:38:15 AM    

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Here's a short discussion of Shell's plans for recovering kerogen from oil shale, using freeze walls, up in northwestern Colorado, from The Aspen Daily News (free registration required). From the article:

Above northwestern Colorado's rolling hills studded with piñon, juniper and sagebrush rises a maze of giant pipes and frost-covered tubes that circle a football-sized testing site and plunge into wells bored a quarter-mile into the pale rock below. A refrigeration and pump unit the size of a warehouse pumps cooling fluid into the wells in an effort to turn the groundwater into walls of ice that will line the holes. These ice walls are a centerpiece of Shell Exploration and Production's attempts to convert the rock that underlies this region into fuel. Using a mixture of heat and ice, it's one of three companies attempting to develop oil shale...

Unlike past attempts to unleash the energy potential locked in oil shale, which involved open pit mining and baking out the petroleum liquid called kerogen, Shell, like most other companies pursuing oil shale, is considering an "in situ" process that would drop long heating units into wells, some 3,000 feet deep, heat the rock to 650-750 degrees for about three years, then pump out the kerogen, which could be used for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Chevron and EGL Resources are also pursuing oil shale in the region using the federal program, but Shell may be alone in its hope to use freeze walls, meant to line the wells, keep groundwater out of the wells and keep the fuel out of groundwater. Freeze walls have been used for years in construction and mining, but this may be the first time it's been used in underground wells. Shell is conducting a test of the technology at its Mahogany Research Project on the high desert between Rifle and Meeker...

Shell has been for the most part open about its plans, but it raised eyebrows when it withdrew a state permit to pursue its pilot project, part of a plan approved in the 2005 Energy Act. "There was just a myriad of factors," said [Tracy Boyd, communications and sustainability manager for Shell], and officials realized that their plans would probably change from what they had requested in their permit, including new developments in freeze wall and heater development. Shell officials have invested "many tens of millions of dollars" in the project, Boyd said, but the company will not likely decide until the beginning of the next decade if it believes oil shale development is economically feasible. The company is devoting the next four to five years to studying the freeze-wall technology, building up the walls of ice, breaking them down and trying to repair them...

In-the-ground methods are less impactful than open-pit mines, but they bring a range of environmental concerns, from air quality to water use to scars on the landscape. Plans call for scouring football-field-size portions of land, drilling wells mere feet apart, then reclaiming those areas and moving on to the next plot. The process would also require the construction of power plants to supply a massive amount of energy to the project, which Shell officials believe could produce about three times the amount of energy than it will take to develop it...

Boyd said, "We have this huge resource sitting here in the United States of unconventional oil shale that is awaiting someone to crack the nut here in terms of how to produce it in an environmentally sensitive and economically viable way.

More coverage of Shell's operation, from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

Royal Dutch Shell will wait at least another year before resubmitting a mining permit application to the state to begin work on its oil shale test on public land in the Piceance Basin. Shell withdrew a state permit application in June for its oil shale test site on a Bureau of Land Management research lease in Rio Blanco County because it was not confident in its "freeze wall" technology. But the company definitely will resubmit the application, Shell Communications Manager Tracy Boyd said Friday...

The problem with the permit application, Boyd said, was quickly progressing research on the company's freeze wall test. "It's hard for us to fill out an application and live with our decision for a year while processing the application,' he said. "By the time it would have been issued, we'd have been more advanced than what was proposed." If Shell goes commercial with its oil shale extraction method, it would surround its drilling area with a freeze wall, which would separate groundwater outside the drilling area from the hydrocarbons inside. To create the freeze wall, Shell would drill many pipes filled with ammonia around the drilling site. Over time, the groundwater 2,000 feet below the surface would freeze and create a solid wall. The ground within the wall would be pumped free of water so it wouldn't be contaminated by oil shale extraction. But the technology used to create the freeze wall evolves so quickly that the technology described in its permit application would be obsolete by the time the permit is granted, Boyd said. The application process could take a year, he said. Shell is waiting to see the results of a freeze wall test being conducted at its private Mahogany research site before submitting another permit application, Boyd said. The company's process also involves inserting heaters into the ground, which will release hydrocarbons from the oil shale beneath the surface. "The mining permit is pretty specific," Boyd said. "We're looking at different kinds of heaters" to find the most efficient kind.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:27:04 AM    

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Here's an opinion piece in opposition to Powertech's proposed uranium operation in Weld County, from The Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

Those of us who live in Northern Colorado have good reasons to be concerned about the potential for uranium mining in our area. There are now five uranium companies active here. One concern is that uranium mining companies have a history of minimizing the problems they cause - until it's too late and the damage is done. One of the companies that wants to mine here doesn't seem to be able to admit that uranium mining - which releases radioactivity into the air and water - poses unique dangers to our health. Its leaders keep talking about a Web site with "over 140" studies that show "uranium mining operations do not increase the risk of cancer mortality or cause adverse health impacts."

Looking at the Web site is truly educational, but probably not in the way the company intends. For starters, only 39 of the 143 studies actually talk about uranium operations. The rest have titles that include "Colorado Climate," "Hotel room suicide" and "Mortality among Catholic nuns certified as radiologic technologists." So 39 studies are actually about uranium. Thirty-two of these are about uranium miners, and 25 of them show increases in lung cancer (of the other seven, two are about cardiovascular disease; one shows no results; one is not a health study; one shows no increase; and the other two are not clear). About a quarter of these studies were done in Colorado - one at Uravan, which became a ghost town and Superfund hazardous waste cleanup site after the last uranium boom. So 25 of 26 studies say uranium miners suffer from increased lung cancer. That's 96 percent! Hardly a ringing endorsement of uranium's safety.

Seven studies also show higher rates of other health problems in the miners. These include tuberculosis, emphysema and other lung diseases; diseases of the circulatory system; liver cancer and cirrhosis; and laryngeal cancer. One study even shows higher death rates due to accidents, homicide and mental disorders. I'd call all of these adverse health impacts.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:08:54 AM    

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