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Colorado’s United Power announces plan for pilot project in Wattenberg Field

A press release distributed by United Power this week describes a new agreement as ground-breaking.

That cliché truly applies in this case as the Brighton based electrical cooperative and a company called Transitional Energy have signed a letter of intent to develop geothermal resources among some of the thousands of oil and gas wells in the service territory of United Power north and east of Denver. United says it has 5,300 well-bores in its service territory, which overlaps with the Wattenberg, one of the nation’s most productive oil-producing fields.

Many oil and gas operators use electricity to power drilling rigs and other well-pad equipment. In this pilot project, owners-operators of wells in the Wattenberg field north of Denver—both working and abandoned—will be able to tap the warmth of the wells to generate electricity. In this way, they can offset their electricity purchase from United while reducing their greenhouse gas footprints.

“Reuse of existing wells and infrastructure is a capital-efficient way to use the heat beneath our feet,” the press release said.

The website for Transitional Energy says the technology has a payback period of 5 years.

Transitional Energy was launched with a $500,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in 2020. It has an office on 17th Street in Denver.

In January the company also received a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office, according to the company’s website. That grant is to be used to develop up to one megawatt of electrical generation from the Blackburn Oilfield in Nevada.

United has also distinguished itself as an innovator in other ways. In 2019, it put into operation a 4-megawatt battery storage complex, still the largest in Colorado.

“United Power is excited to work on this innovative pilot project,” stated Dean Hubbuck, United Power’s chief energy resources officer. “Utilizing clean, economical geothermal energy to provide local power that can be dispatched when needed is a critical component of our growing energy portfolio. Geothermal energy represents a huge untapped renewable resource that can reduce our reliance on power from other traditional sources.”

Hubbuck said he believes a pilot will occur by summer. The technology has been deployed in Europe and elsewhere, he said.


Nearly half of oil/gas wells in Colorado classified as marginal producers

“Of the 52,000 total wells in Colorado, 20,349 based on state data, produced less than the equivalent of 2 barrels (BOE) of oil and gas per day in 2020—an amount considered uneconomical to operate. The (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation) commission has used production of 5 BOE a day as a marker for “relatively unprofitable assets” that pose heightened risk of becoming orphaned if transferred in large volumes. … The COGCC estimates it costs an average $92,700 to properly plug and abandon a well in its orphaned-well program.”

– Colorado Sun story, “Some fear the transfer of wells to smaller operators increase the risk they will be orphaned,” Jan. 24, 2022.


Eagle County sees no good from crude oil trains

Eagle County is willing to go to court in an effort to prevent trains carrying crude oil from Utah going through Eagle County.

As first reported by RealVail, the U.S. Transportation Board in December approved an application for a new 85-mile rail line to run from the oil fields in the Uintah Basin of Utah through Colorado.

Oil from the basin around Vernal is currently trucked to railroads or refineries. It is too heavy to be pumped through pipelines. The amount of oil being eyed for extraction could not readily be shipped by truck.

The Salt Lake Tribune in December said that the Uinta Basin Railway is projected to cost $1.4 billion and be financed and operated by private firms. Under a public-private partnership, Rio Grande Pacific Corp would operate the line.

The Ute Indian tribe, which relies on oil and gas production as a revenue source, is expected to become an equity partner, the Tribune reported.

Eagle County had appealed the decision by the Surface Transportation Board in January 2021. Eagle County was concerned about the oil being shipped across a revitalized Tennessee Pass line. Freight trains stopped using that route between Dotsero and Canon City in 1996. The federal board—the governing agencies for railroad routes—denied that and another request in September 2021.

The most recent twist is that the Eagle County commissioners have decided they are willing to challenge the federal agency’s decision on the basis of “procedural errors.” Matt Scherr, a county commissioner, said the county is concerned that the federal agency would allow use of The Tennessee Pass line without the necessary broader review.

Allen Best
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