CSU, Noble unveil live water monitoring program near drilling sites

Staff reports
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Colorado residents now have access to live monitoring of well water near oil and gas drilling.

A team from Colorado State University on Wednesday unveiled the Colorado Water Watch, a project in which they collect groundwater samples from oil and gas sites and report information every hour to a CSU-run website.

“This is a tool to provide the public and others with information about water quality at oil and natural gas sites in Colorado so they can make informed decisions about the impacts of fracking and development of energy resources,” said Ken Carlson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, in a news release.

Carlson has led the effort in the last 18 months to get the project underway and operating.

Though the state of Colorado requires water sampling before and after the drilling process, this project monitors water live, as it changes and acts as an early warning system, the release stated.

“Our data is designed to complement the information that is already being collected by the state,” Carlson said in the release. “It is not as detailed. We are really monitoring for changes in quality that could be due to any activity in the watershed, including oil and natural gas operations, agriculture, other industrial activity and even urban runoff. If the advanced anomaly detection algorithms detect a change, detailed analysis will be done to understand what caused the alert.”

CSU worked with Noble Energy, which provided access to about 10 wells to monitor the water table.

The goal of the project is chiefly transparency, allowing and increasingly scrutinizing public access to real time data on water quality near drilling sites.

With that, Carlson said in a previous interview, residents will learn about all the elements in their water, including naturally occurring methane that is prevalent in Weld County. Carlson said he expects to find some naturally occurring methane in some of the water sampling, and will pay close attention to how or if that methane changes over time.

In the release, Dan Kelly, vice president for regional planning and strategy for Noble, said the program is a breakthrough in water monitoring. “We are now able to provide a much higher level of transparency to our operations that ensures our wells are engineered and constructed in a safe and beneficial manner.”

The projected was funded by the Department of Natural Resources, Noble and CSU.

“The public debate about the impact of fracking and oil and natural gas development on water supplies has, at times, been divisive and contentious in Colorado and around the nation,” said Mike King, executive director of the DNR, and a member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, in the release. “Part of that is due to the lack of independent data available to the public. Often, the public believes they do not have enough information to make informed decisions. We hope the Colorado Water Watch will provide the type of real time data that can alleviate that concern.” ❖