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Summer Field Program - August 6 - 11, 2007

Trip Summary

The 2007 EMFI Government Field Program began on Monday, August 6, with a Welcome Breakfast at the Golden Hotel in Golden, Colorado. As the group assembled their EMFI hardhats, Gary Baughman, director of the EMFI and of CSM’s Office of Special Programs and Continuing Education, introduced the EMFI staff, which consisted of Tom Sladek, Jim Proud, Melody Francisco, Rachel des Cognets, and Wentz Wensel, and went over the rules of the road.

Dr. Baughman also introduced the Program's primary resource expert, John Rold.  Mr. Rold, now a consultant, directed the Colorado Geological Survey for 24 years and also had many years of experience in the energy and minerals industries.  He provided commentary throughout the trip on the geology of the region, and also shared his unique knowledge of geography, history, agriculture, and current events, all interlarded with philosophy and interspersed with his special brand of humor.

The participants introduced themselves and identified their respective affiliations.  Some represented offices in the Congressional and Executive branches of the federal government, and some represented state agencies of Colorado and Wyoming.  The group demonstrated an impressive range of professional experience, and they were encouraged to share information regarding their agencies and organizations.  .  

Dr. Baughman then provided an overview of the various operational details of the trip, ranging from the importance of punctuality and attendance at all scheduled activities, to the use of the communicators and EMFI’s proprietary "All-a-Board" device, to the ban on cell phone use during instructional portions of the trip.

The final introduction of the morning was Nick Jones, the bus driver from Gray Lines, in whose hands we placed our lives and limbs for much of the remainder of the trip.  Nick has worked his magic on several EMFI tours.  Nick proved to be not only an outstanding driver, maneuvering the 47-passenger bus into places most of us would have trouble driving cars, but also a personable traveling companion who joined us on most site visits.

The participants boarded the bus and set out for the first site visit of the trip - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden.  We were greeted by Kerry Masson, Director of Outreach and Public Affairs, and taken to the NREL Visitors’ Center where presentations were given by Chris Phoebe, Assistant Manager of the Department of Energy’s Golden Field Office; Bob Noun, Executive Director of Public Affairs at NREL; Stan Bull, Associate Director of Science and Technology; and John Ashworth, Interim Director of the National Bioenergy Center.  Their presentations provided an excellent overview of NREL’s wide range of responsibilities and research programs.  Following a lively Q&A session, the participants were divided into two groups.  The first group was taken to the National Center for Photovoltaics building where they received a lecture on history and practical applications of photovoltaic technology by Larry Kazmerski and a tour of the laboratory by Brent Nelson.  The other group was taken through the biorefinery process research pilot plant facility by Andy Aden. The groups switched places, allowing us all to observe and ask questions about these programs.

The participants re-boarded the bus and headed for the CSM Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Our hosts were Robert Ferriter, Director of the CSM Mine Safety and Health Training Program, and Bob Cooper, Mine Manager.  We enjoyed our lunch while they informed us of health and safety concerns in the mining industry.  Bill York-Feirn and Harry Lovely of the Colorado Mine Safety and Training Program of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources also provided information on the State’s mine rescue training programs, which are conducted at the Edgar Mine.  Dag Nummedal, Director of the Colorado Energy Research Institute (CERI), provided an excellent overview of the new energy economy and the changing roles of the energy and minerals industries. 

We then walked up the hill, in a light rain, to the mine portal, where we were shown schematics of the mine workings and learned about the evolution of drilling equipment, roof bolts, ventilation systems, and other hardware.  A highlight was visiting the area where mine rescue teams practice working in confined spaces, sometimes in total darkness.  This was particularly topical, because many of the rescue workers at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah had been trained at the Edgar Mine.  Later in the week, we watched national news reports discussing Edgar’s training program and the role of the rescue workers in the Utah disaster.

We then drove on I-70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel and Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs and the Hotel Colorado.  John Rold introduced the participants to the geology of this portion of the Rocky Mountain region and commented on the importance of geology to construction or roads and tunnels, the natural hazards of the area, and the methods for dealing with landslides, rock slides, and floods.

Participants were on their own for the evening in Glenwood.  Some found interesting hiking trails.  Others visited local eateries, and some paid homage to Doc Holliday at his final resting place.  We wrapped our first long day with an overview of the past, present, and possible future of oil shale, including slides projected on a suspended tablecloth in the hotel’s dining room, followed by a group discussion.

Tuesday began early with a presentation over breakfast by Duane Zavadil of Bill Barrett Corporation.  Duane discussed his company's tight gas sands development activities in the Mamm Creek area and explained the directional drilling technology being used.  He rode with us on the bus to a drilling site near Silt, Colorado.  Duane explained in detail how the drilling is conducted, how increased subsurface well density is achieved with directional drilling, how the complex lenticular reservoir characteristics allow (or dictate) the use of various techniques, and how the whole process is regulated by state and federal agencies.

Unfortunately, our visit included a brief, albeit intense, rainstorm that made the ground – and all of our shoes – more than a little muddy. The EMFI owes a debt of gratitude to Driver Nick for his patience and understanding (and especially his skill in restoring the condition of our bus).  

We then drove to Battlement Mesa Activity Center, a very pleasant facility overlooking the oil shale cliffs near Rifle, for lunch and a panel discussion on energy development along the Colorado River and in the Piceance Basin. The Battlement Mesa community was a product of the oil shale boom of the late 1970s and the bust of the early 1980s.  The panel consisted of Steve Bennett (Associate Field Manager of the Glenwood Springs Energy Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management); Keith Lambert (Mayor of the City of Rifle); Bob Elderkin (owner of Rimrock Arabians ranch near Silt); Al White (Colorado State Representative for District 57 and a Field Program participant); and Brian Macke (Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission).  A Q&A session followed the presentations, expanding on the complex legal, political, technical, and environmental issues that surround energy development in the West.

At 2:00 pm, we drove to a site close to the oil shale cliffs where Shale Tech International is developing the Paraho retorting technology.  Plant manager Ed Cooley discussed his long involvement with oil shale, dating back to a pilot plant program by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the late 1960s.  We viewed the small but fully functional retort, which has completed an 18-month test program with Australian shale and is now working with oil shale from Colorado and Utah.  At Mr. Cooley’s invitation, we collected many fine samples of oil shale and then boarded the bus and headed north for the Roan Plateau via the Rio Blanco Store and Piceance Creek Road.

Our guide to the controversial natural gas leasing program and oil shale initiatives affecting the Roan Plateau was Steve Bennett, our panelist from Battlement Mesa.  Mr. Bennett spoke about the different types of energy production potential on the Plateau, the arrangements for leasing, and the current restrictions on drilling and mining.  This tour was particularly topical, and the questions posed dealt with information “ripped from the headlines” of that morning’s newspapers.  We followed a thunderstorm into Craig, Colorado, where, after the lights came back on, we enjoyed dinner at the Tin Cup Grill and spent the night at the Holiday Inn.

Wednesday began with a 7:00 am breakfast at the hotel and a brief bus ride to Trapper Coal Mine.  Ray DuBois, President and General Manager, and Forrest Luke, Environmental Manager, described the history of Trapper Mine and its present operations.  Much of the presentation was focused on environmental planning and the reclamation programs that Trapper Mining employs and how pleased they are with the results.  After a brief Q&A session, we rode the bus to an active mining area where we had a once-per-lifetime opportunity to ride on the Queen Anne, one of Trapper’s three huge draglines.  This behemoth strips overburden from the top of coal seams.  The Queen Anne’s  bucket can move the equivalent of 1-1/2 semi truck loads of dirt and rock in one gulp.  We also had the opportunity to peer over the edge of a working face, where coal was being extracted and loaded into large trucks.

On the ride back to the Trapper office, the group observed first hand the results of the land reclamation programs. This included seeing antelope and deer grazing on top of what was once an exposed surface coal mine.  And while coal mining has a checkered past in the West, the Trapper people pointed out that their environmental efforts are more normal than exceptional in the modern industry.

After a quick lunch in the mine’s conference room, we drove across the road to the Craig generating station of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which is Trapper’s only client and turns Trapper's coal into electricity.  Following an introductory presentation by Operations Superintendent Marve Weible, we were treated to a comprehensive tour of the 1,274-megawatt facility, including a peek into a firestorm in an operating boiler and an elevator ride to the roof, where we viewed the plant’s flue gas de-sulfurization units, Trapper Mine, the town of Craig, and the high voltage transmission lines that carry electricity from Craig to the more populous areas of Colorado.  We left Tri-State at 3:30 pm and headed for Vernal, Utah, where we dined at The Stockman and slept at the Weston Plaza Hotel.

On Thursday, following breakfast at 7:00 am, we left Craig for Dutch John, Utah, and the Flaming Gorge Dam and Hydroelectric Power Station of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  Manager Steve Hulet gave the group a formal presentation on the Colorado River Storage Project, the 502-foot-high Flaming Gorge Dam, and the 108-MW hydroelectric generating station. An excellent tour of the dam and power plant followed, including stops at the generators, a walk behind the dam face, and a mandatory stop to feed the huge trout at the base of the dam. We departed the dam at 11:00 am for the trona mines near Green River, Wyoming.

Half of our group toured the FMC Green River Trona Mine, hosted by Mine Superintendent Richard Kramer, with the assistance of Chris Pritchard and Adam Astraya. After a thousand-foot elevator ride and a journey of several miles in a converted Jeep, we reached the longwall face and watched the mining operation up close, including the movement of the shields behind which the mine roof collapses.  The second group toured the Solvay Chemicals Inc. Green River Trona Mine, hosted by General Mine Superintendent Bryan Mortimer, with assistance from Phillip Luzmoor, Sandy Sheldon, George Moody, and Dave Stevenson.  They viewed the continuous mining system while it was shut down for maintenance and experienced the engrossing sights and sounds of the roof and walls moving towards them.  The bus left the trona mines at 5:00 pm and drove to Rock Springs, Wyoming, for dinner and lodging at the Outlaw Inn.

The group left Rock Springs for Pinedale, Wyoming, after an early breakfast on Friday.  The bus was met along the roadside by Bill Lanning and Chuck Otto of the U.S. Bureau of Land Mangement’s Pinedale Field Office who, together with Merry Gamper, had coordinated a  full day’s visit to the drilling operations in the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline.  At the Jonah Field, hosts Paul Ulrich and Chris House of Encana Oil and Gas showed us several innovative drilling technologies.  First was an active mobile drilling rig that had its power generators and hydraulic pumps located some distance away, thus allowing the rig to be moved without having to dismantle and reassemble the associated equipment.  Next, we were shown a “fracing platform” - a centralized site from which hydrofracing fluid is distributed under high pressure to numerous wells located within 8000 feet of the platform.  The viscous fracing fluid is injected under high pressure deep underground to fracture or crack (frac) the rock in which the gas is trapped.  Those cracks are then held open by injecting a special sand proppant.  The fracing platform approach substantially reduces the impacts of the hydrofracing equipment and trucks on the fragile terrain, which otherwise would be laced with access roads and would have a fracing pad at each wellsite.  Also demonstrated was a new method of platform construction that protects the ground surface using wooden pallets or “mats.”  The mats are installed on top of existing plant growth to form a protective cover on which the drilling facilities are installed and operated.  When drilling is completed, the equipment is removed and then the mats.  It has been shown that many of the plants are hardy enough to survive and will grow back after the mats are removed.  By using mats, developers can avoid removing the topsoil before drilling, returning it afterwards, seeding the disturbed areas, and caring for the ground until healthy cover is re-established.  The companies are also investigating the use of more durable composite mats.  Results will be available early next year.

We then drove a few miles to the north, to the Gobblers Knob Compressor Station in the Pinedale Anticline field, which is being jointly developed by three energy companies.  The Pinedale Anticline is important wildlife habitat, and the gas developments are closely regulated and restricted to the summer months.  Our hosts were Diana Hoff, Shane Schulz, Kevin Williams, and Kevin Perretti of Questar Corporation; Geoff Sell and Jim Sewell of Shell; and Belinda Salinas of Ultra Petroleum.  We visited several different drilling sites and received thorough briefings on the innovative drilling and reclamation technologies that are being employed.  The bus left the field at 3:00 pm, and after a quick stop at BLM headquarters, headed north to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Lake Lodge.  The trip was a little long, because of a wrong turn, but even that had merit.  One of our members spotted a fish hawk (ospreyhawkus tammiwhitus) perched on a power pole and its nest two poles away, where two scruffy fledglings watched for prey among the RVs and SUVs that constitute rush hour traffic in Jackson.  We had an excellent barbeque dinner at Jackson Lodge, followed by free time to appreciate the many beautiful sights.

Saturday began late, with an 8:30 breakfast at the Lodge.  We had a very useful group wrap-up session, during which the participants commented on the sites we had visited and the content of the program and suggested mechanisms to ensure the EMFI program can continue.  After a group picture with the Teton Range as backdrop, we delivered most of the participants to the Jackson Airport.  Business cards, hugs, and handshakes were exchanged as the majority of the group left the bus to catch their flights back home. Those who remained drove the uneventful eight or nine hours back to Golden, signaling the end of yet another successful and rewarding Energy and Minerals Field Institute.