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Summer Field Program - August 7 - 12, 2006

Trip Summary

The 2006 Energy and Minerals Field Institute Government Field Program began on Monday, August 7, with a breakfast meeting at the Golden Hotel in Golden, Colorado. The EMFI participants were issued their hard hats, communicators, Field Guides, and other paraphernalia, and all participants introduced themselves. The EMFI Director, Gary Baughman, then provided an introduction to the logistical aspects of the Program. Dr. Dag Nummedal, Director of the Colorado Energy Research Institute, welcomed the participants on behalf of the State of Colorado and discussed a few of the challenges that must be faced in order to secure the Nation's energy future. One of the most intriguing was the need to create the equivalent of one new major nuclear power plant every two days in order to satisfy the energy demand projected for 2030.

After breakfast, we boarded our bus, and stalwart driver Nick Jones drove us to the Golden campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. James Bosch, of NREL's Public Affairs Office, met us at the Visitor Center and rode with us to the NREL offices. Bobi Garrett, of the Strategic Development and Analysis Department, provided an overview of NREL's history, organization, and functions and described a few of its more outstanding accomplishments. We then drove to the laboratory area, where Michael Heben discussed the need for practical systems to store and transport hydrogen fuel, especially for use in vehicles. Larry Kazmerski, head of the National Center for Photovoltaics, discussed the history of PV technology and demonstrated some of the recent breakthroughs in that field. During our lunch half hour, Michael Pacheco of the National Bioenergy Center discussed the various types of energy that can be recovered from biomass and described some of the more novel alternatives, such as the use of algal ponds to produce feedstocks for conventional petroleum refineries. Then we drove to the National Wind Technology Center north of Golden, where Director Robert Thresher described his group's long involvement with wind energy and showed us the equipment NREL uses to develop and test wind turbines. On the drive back to Golden, we witnessed the rare Rocky Flats Free Range Tire pursuing a herd of Hereford cattle. The afternoon's formal program ended with a presentation by Vincent Matthews, Director of the Colorado Geological Survey, on the international competition for natural resources. He presented some astounding statistics on how the availability and cost of energy and other natural resources have been affected by the rapid economic growth in China and India. Then we drove over the Continental Divide to Glenwood Springs for our overnight stay at the Hotel Colorado.

Our Tuesday breakfast included a presentation by Duane Zavadil of Bill Barrett Corporation on how his company approaches the recovery of natural gas from tight gas sands. Duane accompanied us to the site one of Barrett's drill rigs in the Piceance Basin and then followed us to the Battlement Mesa Activity Center for a lunchtime panel discussion on the local issues surrounding energy development in western Colorado. Steve Bennett of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management described how the Bureau's Glenwood Springs Energy Office hopes to expedite the permitting of energy projects in the West. Bob Elderkin, former BLM scientist and currently owner of the Rimrock Arabians Ranch near Silt, discussed the need to regulate energy development to protect wildlife habitat and migration routes. Keith Lambert, mayor of the nearby town of Rifle and a survivor of the previous energy boom, described the impacts of energy development on communities in the energy corridor and discussed how those communities are responding to present and projected growth. Steve Salzman, one of our own participants representing the Bureau of Land Management, reviewed the complex issues surrounding a split estate, in which rights to the surface of a tract of land are owned by one party and rights to the underlying mineral resources are owned by another.

After lunch we drove north through Rifle and were joined by James Thurman of Shell Oil Company. Mr. Thurman accompanied us to the sites in the Piceance Basin where Shell is developing a process to recover shale oil by in situ (in-place) heating of the extensive oil shale resources of the Green River Formation. Shell has been working on the technology for several years and is attempting to lease federal land for more extensive test work. We then returned to the Hotel Colorado for dinner and a presentation by Bill Lorah of Wright Water Engineers. Mr. Lorah spoke on the law of the river - the unique system of laws, compacts, rulings, and traditions that dictate how water is used in the semi-arid West.

On Wednesday we drove south from Glenwood Springs along the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers to Somerset, where we divided into groups to tour three underground coal mines. Wendell Kootz and Trevor Morley of Arch Coal Inc. led one group into the West Elk Mine. Jim Cooper and Randy Litwiler of Oxbow Mining Inc. accompanied a second group on a tour of the Elk Creek Mine, and Collin Stewart of Bowie Resources Ltd. hauled the third group to the Bowie No. 2 Mine. The tours began with training in the use of respirators and other safety gear and the processes for emergency evacuation. Each participant was then equipped with hard hat, light, respirator, coveralls, gloves, and steel-toed rubber boots. Each group visited the working face (where coal is removed from the seam) and inspected sections of the longwall roof support system, the shearer equipment (which breaks the coal and moves it back from the working face), a continuous miner, and equipment for installing support bolts in the roof of a newly opened area. After the tours, we had lunch at the West Elk Mine and listened to presentations on the coal industry's regulatory and permitting challenges and concerns about worker health and safety.

Then we boarded the bus and headed south through Montrose to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Morrow Point Dam and hydroelectric power plant, located on the Gunnison River near the small town of Cimarron. Dave Steinmark, Charlie George, Dick Girvan, and Kay Schritter of the Bureau's Curecanti Field Division showed us the two massive turbines and generators and the control room and accompanied us into the dam structure itself. Then we drove on to Ouray for dinner at the Outlaw Restaurant and our overnight stay at the Best Western Twin Peaks Motel.

We began Thursday with an early breakfast at the Main Street Café and then continued over Red Mountain Pass, through Silverton, Purgatory, and Durango, to the town of Ignacio on the reservation of the Southern Ute people. Barbara Wickman and Travis Taylor of the Ute-owned Red Willow Production Company described how their company grew into a major player in the coalbed methane industry, both in the Southwest and in other regions and countries. Mr. Taylor rode with us to one of the production sites and explained how the well and its pumps, tanks, and instruments are operated. We then drove back north to the campus of Fort Lewis College in Durango, where Margie Gray, Director of the Fort Lewis College Foundation, had secured lunch and a meeting room. Our luncheon speaker was Barry Spear of the Durango law firm Maynes, Bradford, Shipps and Sheftel. He described the wondrously convoluted evolution of the Animas-La Plata water storage project, the purpose of which is to store water from the Animas River in an elevated reservoir above Durango, so that it can be released to satisfy the needs of Native American tribes and other downstream users. After the presentation, we enjoyed an excellent tour of the ALP construction sites (pumping station, pipeline, and reservoir) conducted by Barry Longwell of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. We then drove west to Mesa Verde National Park for our evening meal and an overnight stay at Farview Lodge.

On Friday morning, we divided into two groups and toured either the Balcony House ruins or Cliff Palace. Afterwards, we heard a presentation on environmental issues in Mesa Verde by George San Miguel, the Park's environmental manager. Park personnel have serious concerns about how accelerated development of energy resources to the south will affect visibility in the park's vicinity.

Our next stop was about 60 miles south and west of Mesa Verde, at the Navajo Coal Mine on the Navaho Reservation in northern New Mexico. BHP Billiton operates this strip mine, which employs blasting, a huge dragline, and very large front loaders and trucks to extract sub-bituminous coal for use in the nearby Four Corners Power Plant. Rock Funston, Mine Manager, first described the mining operation and then accompanied us on a tour, with stops to view an exposed coal seam, the dragline in operation, and one of the front loaders. We assembled in the loader's bucket for the traditional EMFI group photo. Mr. Funston guided us to our final site visit on our long journey - the Four Corners Power Plant - where Nathan Tohtsoni described how the plant produces electricity for use by Arizona Public Service Company and other investors. Then we drove to Farmington for an excellent Mexican dinner at Si Senor Restaurant and our overnight stay at the Region Inn.

On Saturday we assembled in the conference room at the Region Inn to review the trip, discuss some of the issues we had uncovered, and brainstorm methods for sustaining the EMFI program. Several of the participants were deposited at the Farmington airport, and the rest of us set out for Golden in our trusty bus.

We saw many interesting sights during our six days on the road, and we met many passionate, committed, and talented people. We learned about geology from the master, and we learned more about the secret life of rocks than we ever thought we would want to know. We learned that most of the terrain in the Rockies is, was, or soon will be, sliding our way. We learned to distinguish "cute little landslides" from "mean mother" ones and to tell igneous rocks from sedimentary and metamorphic ones. We learned to take the long view of our planet's history and to discuss, with apparent seriousness, events that transpired 40 million years and 23 months ago. We heard John Rold described as a national treasure by one of our participants and, upon reflection, we decided that's just about right.