Pawnee Buttes Seed of Greeley’s grass tour brought together wind, ag and oil-gas | TheFencePost.com

Pawnee Buttes Seed of Greeley’s grass tour brought together wind, ag and oil-gas

Kelly Ragan | Reporter, Bridgett Weaver | Reporter

Day One

Circular beige tanks hugged the rolling grasslands as red or white pipes snaked out of earth. The ground surrounding the tanks was brown, dry and lifeless. In several years' time, reclamation will change the landscape.

Pawnee Buttes Seed of Greeley's annual grassland tour kicked off its two-day tour Thursday. This year, organizers hope to educate the public on the dynamic relationship between agricultural land and oil and gas.

"We brought two different entities that are often played against each other," said Marci Dickie, Pawnee Buttes Seed sales coordinator. "Oil and gas is a hot topic in the news and people want to see what's actually happening."

About 70 tour attendees were bused from site to site before they spilled out to investigate the land.

Noble Energy, a tour partner, manages about 800 oil wells on Wells Ranch, roughly 16 miles northeast of Greeley. Robert Veldman, environmental coordinator for Noble Energy, helped walk attendees through several Noble sites.

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A combination of vertical and horizontal fracking has disturbed the land, which has left surrounding land hard and dry.

Veldman spoke about the results of reclamation efforts.

"This is what happens when you have collaboration," Veldman said, pointing to a pollinator garden located on the Pawnee National Grassland that stretches five miles over a pipeline. The garden is largely considered a success, as a variety of pollinators clung to blooming sunflowers.

"The new generation that works for us expects us to work with the community," Veldman said. He explained that while Noble Energy has always been focused on balance, the issue is becoming more important as their sites are moving closer to urban landscapes.

Noble Energy hopes sites like the pollinator garden will be used in conjunction with the classroom to educate children about pollinators and their necessity in agriculture, Veldman said. He hopes more awareness will inspire research and more action.

Other aspects of the tour included various sites at Wells Ranch, a 30,000-acre property.

Tina Booton, the Weed Division supervisor for Weld County, attended the tour. As to be expected, she said, the grass and reclamation has not been instant or perfect.

"I think this side is fairly healthy," Booton said. "The roots will continue to fill in and the weeds will be easy to push out. This half is less healthy but there's still some good grass hanging in there. A nice mow would clean it up."

Day Two

GROVER — Jim Sturrock's ranch is for beef production first, and energy production second.

"You can't raise hamburgers without forage or grasses," he said. Sturrock sees about 400 head of cattle circulate through his ranch each year.

On Friday, Sturrock showed a group of interested Weld County residents around his more than 3,000-acre ranch, Lonesome Pines Land and Cattle Co., as part of the Pawnee Buttes Seed Grasslands Tour.

The two-day long tour, which ended Friday, offered a showing of farmland that is used for energy production and then reclaimed.

Sturrock's ranch is home to a wind farm, managed by Cedar Creek Wind Energy, LLC, as well as his cattle.

Sturrock said he never intended to have a wind farm on his property, but the wind energy company was pretty insistent.

"It wasn't in my business plan," he said. "They were bound and determined. They were going to bring me on board come hell or high water."

So Sturrock agreed to rent his land for wind energy production, but with a few stipulations.

Cedar Creek was expected to help pay for the reclamation so that land was still functional for ranching.

"The reclamation is part of the lease, and how it's supposed to be done," Sturrock said.

Cedar Creek started installing wind turbines on Sturrock's property in 2006, and the farm was completed by 2008.

Since then Sturrock has been working with Pawnee Buttes Seed and Cedar Creek to put the land back to how it was, with a few wind turbines on top.

Don Hijar, director of Pawnee Buttes Seed, said the grass everyone was seeing was planted there.

"I don't know if you all understand that he planted what you see," Hijar said. "Mother Nature helped some," by spreading seeds and watering with the rain. Sturrock planted wheat, barley and some other indigenous plants.

It's important for Sturrock to have the plants out in the fields because that's how his cows eat.

"The cow doesn't care if it's planted or natural — she'll eat it," Hijar said.

Still, the "how" part of reclamation is important, said Glenn Ledall, Pawnee Buttes Seed salesman.

Pawnee Buttes Seed often works with oil and gas companies as well as wind energy companies to reclaim land after the companies install the wells or turbines.

"We don't want to discourage (progress) — we want to support and encourage it," Ledall said. "We want to help progress, but we want to help preserve those natural resources that are precious."

They work with sites both on the plains and in the mountains, Ledall said.

"Clear at the beginning, (we decide) where do we put the oil site, oil well or wind turbine?" Ledall said. "Because we obviously need to disturb the land to get what we want to be putting in."

He explained that every area has different indigenous plants, and to make normal it requires putting those plants in.

"It's about starting out knowing what kind of soil, what kind of land we have," Ledall said. "They really need to put it back" to what it was before the energy production started.

In a climate like that of eastern Colorado, it is especially important to put plants back over the soil as it creates a shield from the hot sun.

"As Jim at lonesome pines is doing, (we put) in a cover crop, we're helping to start the process, and then we're going to get back to the native plants and grasses," Ledall said.

The reclamation process is not short. Ledall said it could take 3-5 years just to start, and it is normally done in several phases. But no matter where the reclamation is happening or what kind of land it's on, the goal always is the same.

"We ultimately want to get it back to the original state," Ledall said. "Before it ever was, before we started and that oftentimes is our long-term goal."

The tour

The Pawnee Buttes Seed grassland tour continues today. Among other topics, it will cover wind energy-related land reclamation efforts.