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Groundwater monitoring around hydraulic fracturing sites in Colorado - Case study

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Courtesy of OTT HydroMet

Hydraulic fracturing or ‘Fracking’ has become more prevalent and controversial in the US in recent years. More than 90 percent of new wells in the US are completed using this method. While it is endorsed by some as a game-changer that promises an increase in the nation’s economy due to energy independence, job creation, and lower energy prices; others are calling for a temporary moratorium or a complete ban on fracking due to environmental concerns.



The US government has identified and employed practices to mitigate the risks associated with fracking operations in the state of Colorado. Nonetheless, there remain questions by some about whether the regulated practices are sufficiently protective - leading to continued mistrust among the public.

To address this uncertainty and confusion, the Center for Energy Water Sustainability (CEWS) at Colorado State University has developed a real-time groundwater monitoring system in the Denver-Julesburg basin, called the Colorado Water Watch (CWW).This real-time system employs the Hydrolab MS5, OTT netDL data logger, and OTT ecoLog 800 groundwater level and conductivity sensor.

Background

Colorado Water Watch is a state and privately funded program brought together by a team of engineers and scientists from the Center of Energy Water Sustainability, making it a neutral third party independent of influence from various parties with interests in this topic (e.g. industry or environmental non-governmental organizations).

  • The goal of this project is to gather groundwater monitoring data in real time, and analyze and report it in real or near-real time, depending on whether the data requires further evaluation.
  • The project is designed to bridge the gap between fears about public health impacts caused by oil and natural gas development and the assumption that industry environmental and health practices are reliable.

Criteria for the water monitoring system was based on:

  •   The capability of measuring the required parameters with accuracy
  •   Reliable equipment quality for long term installation
  •   Ability to transmit data from field to server via telemetry
  •   Compact design for field implementation
  •   Cost effective for ease of feasibility

The parameters that will be measured in real time include:

  •     Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
  •     Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP)
  •     Dissolved Oxygen (DO)
  •     Total Dissolved Gases (TDG)
  •     Water temperature
  •     Water level/Depth
  •     pH

Monitoring Solution

  • The Colorado Water Watch monitoring stations are equipped with real-time water quality sensors and are situated in close proximity to oil and gas operations.
  • The monitoring stations use a Hydrolab MS5 multi parameter water quality sonde in combination with an OTT netDL 500 cellular data logger and an OTT ecoLog groundwater level and conductivity sensor with built-in telemetry options.
  • The system is designed to continuously look for any changes in baseline groundwater quality using surrogate indicators. The real time data is automatically collected and wirelessly transferred to the Colorado Water Watch database once every hour.
  •  The monitoring data is then analyzed using advanced anomaly detection algorithms that can examine historical patterns and detect any changes in the water quality. The analyzed data is published on the Colorado Water Watch website for public access. 
  • The Colorado Water Watch has released a user-friendly website which incorporates real-time data analysis tools. More information available on waterwatch.colostate.edu.
  • The Colorado Water Watch will keep evolving and more monitoring stations will be added to establish monitoring network with a better resolution.

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