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Summer Field Program - August 10-15, 2009

Trip Summary

The 2009 EMFI Government Field Program began on Monday, August 10, with an orientation breakfast at the Hotel Monaco in Denver, Colorado.  Gary Baughman, Director of the EMFI and of CSM’s Office of Special Programs and Continuing Education, introduced the EMFI staff (Tom Sladek, Jim Proud, Dixie Termin, and Rachel des Cognets) and reviewed the rules of the road.

The Institute conducted a Government Field Program in August 2009 for selected audiences from federal and state governments.  The resource emphasis for the program included energy, though attention was given to other mineral resources as well.  A wide range of energy resources was included and their respective strengths and weaknesses as contributors to the Nation’s future energy supply was addressed.

Dr. Baughman also introduced the program's geology 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.

The participants introduced themselves and identified their respective affiliations.  Some represented offices in the legislative and executive branches of the Federal government, and some represented State agencies of Colorado.  Dr. Baughman then provided an overview of 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 Line Tours, 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, maneuvering the 47-passenger Big Red Bus into places most of us would have trouble driving cars.  He is also a personable traveling companion who joined us on most site visits.

The tour began with a short walk to the Denver headquarters of Xcel Energy Inc., for a tour of Xcel’s Dispatch Center.  Our guides were Nick Detmer, Manager of Generation Control and Dispatch, and his colleague Peter Colussy.  The Dispatch Center plays a crucial role in Xcel’s utility operations in the Rocky Mountain states.  Workers monitor forecasts of temperature, wind, and precipitation and attempt to satisfy predicted demands for electricity with supplies from power plants, energy storage facilities, and the interconnected power pools such as the Western Area Power Administration.  The increasing importance of wind power and solar energy has presented some challenges because the output from the renewable energy facilities can vary substantially with season and even time of day.  Xcel compensates for this variability, in part, by using energy storage facilities (such as the Cabin Creek pumped hydro project near Georgetown, Colorado) and peaking plants (such as the Plains End Power Plant near Golden, Colorado).  These plants can respond rapidly to changes in power supply and demand.  Plains End, for example, can go from zero output to full load (227 MW) in only a few minutes.

Participants boarded the bus for a short ride to the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, where four speakers helped us understand how energy is produced and used in Colorado and how renewable energy resources are being encouraged and accommodated.  Nick Detmer described how Xcel is responding to a State mandate to increase use of renewable resources to 20% of its electricity portfolio by 2020.  Matt Futch, Utilities Program Manager at the GEO, provided an overview of the State government’s activities and described plans for using federal economic recovery funds to promote energy efficiency and enhance the role of renewable resources.  Cory Willis, Director of Asset Management for Cogentrix Energy LLC, described how independent power producers develop their projects, from initial contact with a host utility through siting, permitting, financing, construction, and commissioning.  The Plains End plant, which Cogentrix now owns, was used as a case study.  Dennis Finn, regional representative for Wärtsilä North America, discussed why rapid-response generation equipment is important for the orderly integration of renewable energy and described his company’s innovative responses to the growing importance of renewables, such as the integration of biomass gasification equipment with power generators.  Wärtsilä reciprocating engines, fueled by natural gas, produce the electricity at the Plains End. 

Plains End Power Plant
Plains End Power Plant in Golden, Colorado.

After lunch, the EMFI group set out for a tour of the Plains End Power Plant, which is located north of Golden, about 20 miles from downtown Denver.  The plant was completed in two stages.  Plains End I, containing 20 Wärtsilä engines and generators, was completed in May 2002.  Plains End II added 14 more units and began operating in 2008.  Today, Plains End is the world’s largest gas-fueled power plant using reciprocating engines, with a design capacity of 227 megawatts (MW).  The plant has “black-start” capabilities, meaning it can resume generating power on its own after a blackout of the regional grid.  That generation can be employed to restart other power plants, such as the large coal-fired power plants that provide most of Colorado’s electricity.  Our hosts were Tommy Arnett, General Manager of Plains End, and Chris Stanley, O&M Supervisor. 

We then drove west on US 6 through the canyon of Clear Creek to I-70, and followed the highway through the Eisenhower Tunnel, past the ski areas of Summit and Eagle counties, and through splendid Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs.  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 of roads and tunnels, the natural hazards of the area, and the methods for dealing with landslides, rock slides, and floods. An informal group dinner was held at the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company, and we spent the night at the Hot Springs Lodge.  

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 along the Colorado River west of Glenwood and explained the directional drilling technology being used.  Directional drilling allows the completion of numerous wells from a single drilling pad which permits efficient access to the complex lens-shaped gas reservoirs.  He also discussed how the whole process is regulated by State and Federal agencies. Directional drilling is widely employed in the gas producing areas in the West, and it will be used by Barrett to extract gas from under the Roan Plateau, an elevated section of the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado.  Issuance of gas leases for “the Roan” was required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  Leases were sold in August 2008. 

Leasing affects only a small portion of the Roan’s surface, specifically the land formerly occupied by Naval Oil Shale Reserve No. 1, one of three oil shale reserves set up early in the 20th century to secure fuel oil supplies for the U.S. Navy, which was then converting its ships from coal to oil.  Barrett purchased all of the leases from the winning bidders and is currently negotiating a development plan with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the State of Colorado. 

Natural Gas Derrick
View of the Bill Barrett Corp. drilling rig in the Piceance Basin.

Duane rode with us on the bus to a drilling site near Silt, Colorado.  Duane’s colleague Monte Shed described the several stages in the drilling operation and provided an up-close view of the drilling platform, including the intense activity involved in adding a length of drill pipe to the string. 

We then drove to the Battlement Mesa Activity Center, a very pleasant facility overlooking the oil shale cliffs near the town of Parachute, 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 Keith Lambert (Mayor of the City of Rifle) and Alan Crockett (an attorney with BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office who is closely involved in the leasing activities on the Roan).  EMFI staffer Tom Sladek summarized the history of oil shale development around the world, with emphasis on current research programs in Colorado and Utah.  EMFI participant Doug Duncan, from the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia, presented the results of a recently-completed compilation of data on the resources of oil shale in the Green River Formation of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.  A Q&A session followed the presentations, expanding on the complex legal, political, technical, and environmental issues that surround energy development in the West.

We then returned to Glenwood Springs for a free afternoon and evening.  Some participants rented bikes or explored hiking trails.  Many splashed in the Hot Springs Pool, the world’s largest swimming pool fed by natural mineral springs.  Others visited local eateries, and some paid homage to Doc Holliday at his final resting place.  We slept again at the Hot Springs Lodge. 

On Wednesday, we drove back east on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon to the town of Wolcott and then north and east over Gore Pass to Kremmling, to visit a wood pelletizing plant.  The plant was established by Confluence Energy LLC in response to Colorado’s “red tree” problem.  Red trees are pine trees that have died because of infestations by pine bark beetles.  The beetles chew holes through a tree’s bark and lay their eggs within.  After the beetles leave, fungus grows in the holes and eventually chokes off the tree’s circulatory system.  The fungus leaves a blue stain in the wood, which some consider decorative, but it is the red needles – denoting a dead pine tree – that have attracted the most attention.

Biomass Conversion Facility
Confluence Energy LLC, Biomass conversion facility in Kremmling, Colorado.
(Photo courtesy of Tim Minelli)

Mountain bark beetles have long been common in Colorado’s forests, but their spread was previously checked by prolonged periods of extreme cold.  Warmer winters allowed beetle populations to soar, such that by 2009 more than two million acres of Colorado’s forests had been affected.   Foresters predict that 95% of Colorado’s lodgepole pines may soon be dead or dying.  The dead trees are ugly, and they present a serious fire hazard.  When they decay, greenhouse gases are released, and the barren slopes become vulnerable to erosion, which threatens water quality in the area’s streams and rivers. 

Some Colorado communities (and entrepreneurs) have taken advantage of the epidemic, by using the dead and dying trees as a fuel source, replacing expensive fossil fuels, especially propane.  The town of Vail is considering a plant that would use wood to generate 40 to 50 MW of electricity plus steam and hot water for heating municipal buildings.  A power plant in Canon City burns a mixture of coal and chipped wood.  The government of Boulder County heats five buildings with wood.  Gilpin County heats its road maintenance facility with chipped logs.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden heats 400,000 square feet of building space with a biomass boiler.  The middle school in Oak Creek replaced an aging coal-fired heating system with a modern system that burns wood pellets made from beetle-killed pine.  Those pellets are manufactured 50 miles away, at the Confluence Energy facility. 

Mark Mathis, President of Confluence Energy, showed us how 200 tons per day of wood (mostly from trees killed by the beetles) is shredded and dried and pressed into pellets.  The pellets are about ¼-inch in diameter and a few inches long.  They are sold in 40-pound bags in retail markets from Nevada to Pennsylvania and delivered in bulk to larger users, such as the Oak Creek school.  The plant worked through some operational problems following its startup in 2008, but it is operating well now, according to Mr. Mathis.  He hopes to add other capabilities to the site, such as a sawmill, wood products factory, and a power plant.  Seth Voyles, manager of government affairs for the Pellet Fuels Institute, provided a national perspective on the pelletizing industry.  The Institute’s main offices are in Arlington, Virginia.

From Kremmling, we drove north and west to the town of Craig for a tour of Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant run by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.  Following lunch and 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 an operating boiler and an elevator ride to the roof, where we viewed the coal storage yard, the plant’s flue gas desulfurization units, nearby Trapper Mine (which supplies much of the station’s coal), the town of Craig, and the high voltage transmission lines that carry electricity from Craig to the more populous areas of Colorado.  Our tour guides were Mr. Weible and his associates Bob Baca and Ron Gauthier. 

We then drove a few miles north to the Craig Holiday Inn.  After checking in, we drove to the Tin Cup Grill on the Yampa Valley Golf Course for dinner and conversation.  We were joined by Mr. Weible and his wife Robin and Mr. Baca and his wife JoEllen.  We spent a short night at the Holiday Inn and rose early for our tour of Trapper Coal Mine.  

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 Q&A session, we rode the bus to an active mining area where we climbed atop one of Trapper’s three huge draglines, which strip overburden from above the coal seams.  A dragline’s bucket can move the equivalent of 1-1/2 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.

Trapper Mine Loader
Kate Cannon (National Park Service), Ryan Miller (Congressional Budget Office), Elizabeth Fox (Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works), Matt Quinn (U.S. Dept. of the Interior), Tiffany Taylor (U.S. Dept. of the Interior)
in front of the new $8 million front end loader at the Trapper Mine.

On the ride back to the Trapper office, the group observed 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 the norm than the exception in the modern industry. 

After box lunches in Trapper’s conference room, 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.  Steve and his colleagues JR and Cathy then conducted a tour of the dam and power plant, including stops at the generators, a walk behind the dam face, and a mandatory stop at the dam’s base, where we fed huge trout but did not feed a huge marmot.  

We departed Flaming Gorge in the late afternoon for the town of Rock Springs, Wyoming, and our overnight stop at the Best Western Outlaw Inn.  During our group dinner, participants Kevin Tennyson (from the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development in the Department of the Interior) and Ashley Stockdale (also from DOI’s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development) discussed energy programs on Native American lands, with assistance from participant Tiffany Taylor of DOI’s Office of Budget.  There was much discussion of the Office’s new website, which was specially constructed to foster familiarity with Native American energy resources and to encourage participation in the diverse energy projects.

On Friday morning, we drove north from Rock Springs towards the Jonah Field and the Pinedale Anticline - two large and productive gas fields in Wyoming’s Sublette County.  The petroleum geology of both fields is somewhat similar to the area of Colorado’s Piceance Basin that we visited during our second day on the road.  Natural gas rising from deeply buried formations has become trapped in a large number of stacked, lens-shaped reservoirs.  The “tight sands” in these reservoirs must be fractured to release the gas, so that it can be drawn to the surface.  This is done by injecting a viscous fluid into the formation under very high pressure.  The fluid “fracs” (cracks) the layers of rock, and the cracks are kept open by injecting a special fluid that contains grains of sand. 

In the Jonah Field, only one well is developed from each drilling pad, unlike in Colorado’s Piceance Basin where directional drilling allows dozens of wells to be drilled from a single pad.  As a result, there is an abundance of surface facilities in the Jonah Field.  Directional drilling is widely used in the Pinedale Anticline, so the drilling pads are larger, but there are fewer of them.

In the gas industry, Sublette County is a very big play.  Although Jonah Field has a productive area of only 21,000 acres, which is smaller than one township (23,040 acres), it contains more than 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  This makes Jonah the 7th largest gas field in the United States in terms of proven reserves.  The Pinedale Anticline field occupies more area (57,600 acres), contains more gas, and is the 4th largest gas field in the U.S.  In 2007, Jonah produced more than 366 billion cubic feet of gas (the 4th most productive U.S. field), and the Pinedale Anticline produced 313 billion cubic feet (6th most productive).  The combined total production was exceeded by only two fields – Newark East in Texas and the San Juan Basin in Colorado and New Mexico.

There are restraints, however.  The federal government owns most of the mineral rights, so leases must be obtained before development can proceed.  Royalties and other taxes must be paid to the Federal and State governments.  And the environment must be protected. 

Sage Grouse Wildlife is also of special concern.  Elk, deer, and antelope live in and migrate through the area, and the sagebrush dominated rangeland is critical habitat for these ungulates, plus the sage grouse. The land is high (7200 to 7400 feet) and dry (9 inches of precipitation per year), so restoration of disturbed sites is difficult.  Much effort is expended to protect “leks” – patches of ground where male sage grouse gather at daybreak in the spring, puff their chest feathers, fan their tail feathers, and strut about to impress the females. 
To see and hear a sample of this ritual: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9zKd3dfz8I

We were met at the southern edge of Jonah Field by Bill Lanning and Merry Gamper of BLM’s Pinedale Field Office in Pinedale, Wyoming, who had coordinated our visit to the drilling operations.  Jonah seemed quieter than during the last EMFI visit in 2007, perhaps in response to the economic recession and especially to much lower prices for natural gas.  Paul Ulrich, Jeff Johnson, and Chris House of EnCana Oil and Gas showed us around.   In the Pinedale Anticline, our hosts were Diana Hoff and Kevin Williams of Questar Exploration and Production Co., Aimee Davison of Shell Rocky Mountain Co. and Cally McKee of Ultra Resources, Inc.

We were especially interested in the status of two technologies witnessed by the EMFI participants in 2007.  One was a type of platform construction that protects the ground surface with wooden pallets or “mats.”  The mats are placed on top of existing plants 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 plants are hardy enough to survive being covered 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 mats have generally been successful, although they are expensive; they deteriorate fairly quickly; and they can be used only on flat sites.  They are still being used in Jonah Field.  They are not in common use in the Anticline, where too much time is required to drill numerous wells on each site.  In 2007, the drilling companies were preparing to test more durable composite mats, but these were not successful because they smothered the vegetation. 

The other technology was the “iron derrickman” – an advanced drilling rig enhancement described by the inventor, Iron Derrickman, Ltd., as “racking board mounted pipe handling systems.”  The systems were developed in Canada and use mechanical equipment to connect lengths of drill stem to the pipe string as it advances into the ground.  This substantially reduces the need for workers to climb about on a rig and to handle large pieces of heavy, rapidly moving equipment.  We saw several such devices during our 2009 tour, so they seem to be catching on.

The bus left the field at 2:30 pm and headed north to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Lake Lodge.  As we rode, participants Ginny Brannon, Climate Change Manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Tom Plant, Director of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, described how their agencies are helping the state respond to the challenges presented by global warming and other forms of climate change. 

We had an excellent barbeque dinner at Jackson Lodge, followed by free time to appreciate the many beautiful sights.  We were joined at dinner by Mallory Smith (Chief of Business Resources for GTNP), Patrick Hattaway (North District Ranger), and Bob Vogel, Assistant Superintendent of the Park.

EMFI Group at GTNP
Participants of 2009 EMFI in front of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.  Front row (kneeling) from leftRachel des Cognets (EMFI staff), Tim Minelli (U.S. Government Accountability Office), Tiffany Taylor (U.S. Dept. of the Interior), Kate Cannon (National Park Service), Bonnie Gitlin (Congressional Research Service), Tom Sladek (EMFI staff), Kevin Hurst (Office of Science and Technology Policy), Gary Baughman (EMFI Director), Jim Proud (EMFI staff).  Second row:  Frank Martin (U.S. Bureau of Land Management), Nick Jones (Gray Line bus driver), Kevin Tennyson (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Ginny Brannon (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), Emily Sharp (Office of Management and Budget), Matt Quinn (U.S. Dept. of the Interior), Ashley Stockdale ((Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development), Nathan Crow (House Committee on Energy and Commerce), Michael Collins (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation), Elizabeth Fox (Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works), Jetta Wong (House Committee on Science and Technology), Tom Plant (Colorado Governor’s Energy Office), Raj Bharwani (House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming), Dixie Termin (EMFI staff), John Rold (EMFI staff).  Third row:  Doug Duncan (U.S. Geological Survey), Ryan Miller (Congressional Budget Office), Franz Wuerfmannsdobler (Senate Appropriations Committee).

Saturday began late, with an 8:30 breakfast at the Lodge.  Mary Gibson Scott, Park Superintendent, told the fascinating story of the Park’s controversial establishment and development and described some the issues being confronted by the National Park system.  A very useful group wrap-up session followed, during which participants commented on the sites we had visited and the content of the program, and suggested mechanisms to ensure the continuation of the EMFI.  Sue Consolo Murphy, Chief of Science & Resource Management for the Park, joined us on the bus and guided our progress south.  We paused at Jenny Lake for a group picture with the Teton Range as backdrop, and then proceeded to Jackson Hole Airport.  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 nine hours back through Denver to Golden, signaling the end of another successful and rewarding Energy and Minerals Field Institute.

 

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