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Groundwater Monitoring: What’s Winter Field Work Like?

February 12, 2013

-Kyla Grasso, Geologist, AltaRock Energy, Inc.

Chilly day at the office! Filtering water sampled from East Lake hot springs before bottling and shipping it out for analysis.

Although the stimulation phase of the Newberry EGS Demonstration has come to a close, field work continues throughout the winter months on the volcano (brrr!). We’re currently collecting and analyzing groundwater samples in order to monitor any changes in the local groundwater system. This work is intended to make sure thestimulation hasn’t affected the quality of the groundwater high on the flanks of the volcano. Water samples are collected by AltaRock’s staff monthly and sent to independent laboratories where they’re analyzed for 30 different elements. Characterization of the local groundwater chemistry means we’re able to show that EGS can be developed safely and without negative impact on the surrounding aquifers and hydrologic features.

We will continue to collect and analyzing water samples from several sites surrounding the stimulation well for six months following the stimulation. Sample sites are located both up-gradient and down-gradient from the stimulation well.  In the winter we sample the hot springs at East Lake and Paulina Lake in Newberry Caldera, two wells located on the volcano, and a residential well in the valley.  Once spring weather comes around (we’ll hedge our bets on mid-July, since last year it snowed June 26th!), we’ll be able to access several other wells which are shut in for winter to protect them from freezing. So what does groundwater quality sampling look like in the field? Check out these photos!

Collecting a water sample from the hot springs at Paulina Lake requires a 4-5 mile snowshoe trek over steep slopes and icy ridges.

Collecting a water sample from the hot springs at Paulina Lake requires a 4-5 mile snowshoe trek over steep slopes and icy ridges.

Transportation is a must! With 4-5 feet of snow in some areas, a tracked vehicle with enough storage for our field sampling gear is a must. Here we’re getting set up to sample water from the hot springs at East Lake.

Transportation is a must! With 4-5 feet of snow in some areas, a tracked vehicle with enough storage for our field sampling gear is a must. Here we’re getting set up to sample water from the hot springs at East Lake.

Field work in the winter months is always tricky. Newberry Volcano often hosts 5-6 feet of snow, making a tracked vehicle and snowshoes must-haves for winter field

Digging out! Three feet of snow buried this seismic monitoring station in January. We uncovered it just to check on things, and all was well. Equipment at our field site is designed to function over a wide range of temperatures, and so far it’s held up very well this winter.

Digging out! Three feet of snow buried this seismic monitoring station in January. We uncovered it just to check on things, and all was well. Equipment at our field site is designed to function over a wide range of temperatures, and so far it’s held up very well this winter.

work. Collecting just two samples can take an entire 10-12 hour field day if all goes well. We’ve all heard the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and when it comes to working in an environment where temperatures can range from -15 °F 100 °F, that couldn’t be more true. While we’re out sampling groundwater, we often make time to check on seismic equipment, perform any needed maintenance and make a stop at the stimulation well to check on things.

Water filtration system used to prepare samples before we send them out to the laboratories for analysis.

Water filtration system used to prepare samples before we send them out to the laboratories for analysis.

Each sample collected is first analyzed in the field. We record pH, water temperature, electrical conductivity and a number of other measurements as soon as we take the sample. Once these are recorded, the water is filtered, bottled and sealed to prevent contamination before being sent for analysis. Three laboratories perform more than 30 different tests on each sample. Our staff compiles the data, compares it with previous results, and looks for any significant changes.

So far we’ve collected and analyzed 21 samples from nine different sites surrounding the stimulation well, and we’ll head out again next week to collect another set. Our sampling program can detect changes as small as 0.2 parts per million for some elements. As expected,

to date no significant changes to water quality have been found at any of the sampling sites.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil Frandsen permalink
    February 13, 2013 9:28 pm

    Grin. This retired Seismic Surveyor, who has worked at -65°F, on Banks Island, in the Canadian High Arctic, just has to tease folks who see a mere -15°F as cold.
    And those toy snowshoes are not much, when I think of the full-sized trail snowshoes _I_ used, when away from my Rolligon, or from my Nodwell, or from my Bombardier, in winter.
    I do congratulate you on sticking to proper sampling and recording, all year, in all conditions, to follow your Environmental Remediation Plan.

  2. April 19, 2013 2:51 pm

    Why on earth do you filter the water before it is tested? Seems a little strange don’t ya think?

    • April 25, 2013 9:28 pm

      It is the standard of practice in the environmental industry to filter sediment out of groundwater samples when studying the chemistry of dissolved water chemistry. By removing sediment particles from the sample, scientists get a better assessment of the chemistry of the water being studied because sediment particles interfere with the analyses. Filtration is encourage by many state agencies to provide a better assessment of water quality. The filters used to monitor water quality at Newberry have a pore space of 0.45 microns, which is 2 to 100 times larger than most bacteria and viruses. By measuring the dissolved water chemistry, and not the chemistry of sediment captured during sampling, AltaRock can better determine if there has been any change in the quality of the groundwater beneath the Newberry Volcano. Furthermore, groundwater water quality in the Deschutes Basin is also monitored by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality independently of the Newberry project. [*] These agencies follow the same standard practice of filtering groundwater samples to remove large particulates.

      The Environmental Monitoring Plan being followed at the Newberry Project has been reviewed both by independent industry professionals as well as the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to meet the standards of the industry for protection of human and environmental health. AltaRock scientists are licensed professionals who are required by Code of Conduct to follow industry, state, and federal regulations in doing this monitoring work. As members of the community, we are committed to protecting the valuable water resources of the Deschutes Basin. After all, we drink the water, too.

      • May 7, 2013 6:27 pm

        I just don’t think that a ‘FOR PROFIT’ company should be collecting the water samples, filtering them, sending them to the lab with no oversight and then calling them Independent tests. That is NOT an Independent 3rd party providing the samples and IS NOT an Independent lab analysis If YOU are providing the filtered sample. Where is the PROOF that it was collected correctly and that you did not filter out OTHER contaminates,fracking fluids, tracers/diverters? How do we know where you really collected the sample from? You expect us to believe YOUR PAID employee? You have everything to gain from these test results. You should be video taping the entire process with an Independent third party present from step one to giving the sample to the delivery driver and then making those video’s public. What Industry professionals are you talking about? I believe you are referring to the same people that HAVE LIED to us for years about the impacts of what they are doing to our environment.

    • Neil Frandsen permalink
      April 25, 2013 11:11 pm

      Filtering the water, before testing, seems to be a way to test for minerals in the water, not testing for what the beaver fever organisms had for lunch… Grin.
      I was born in the Crowsnest Pass, and grew up on the plains a few miles east of the Porcupine Hills. We drank upstream from where our cows gathered…

      • May 7, 2013 8:44 pm

        Seems like a better way for them to filter out whatever they want gone from the sample before they send it to the lab.

      • Neil Frandsen permalink
        May 9, 2013 2:17 pm

        Well, CoExist, I rather doubt there are any remmnants of fracing fluids up there in the mountains, close to a very hot underground field of rocks. Not a good spot for any hydrocarbons, of the gas or liquid suasion, to stay…
        As to the _rest_ of your comments, I did not notice any offer to volunteer your time and effort, to come along and Video the Process. Too cold, and to energetic, eh…
        I write as a retired Seismic Surveyor, experienced in temperatures and ground conditions, from Canadian High Arctic in Winter (-65°F, at the worst), to Tanzania in October, when it was only +30°C at 6AM, then warmed up….
        And, in Alberta, west of Sylvan Lake one summer, we hired local Water Well Drillers to do tests of _every_ domestic water well, in Farmsteads along our Seismic Lines. Got regular tests of the water, plus recovery and flow rate tests of every well. The process is interesting to watch, and takes up to 24 hours per well. Yes, the landowner got a copy of the same report we got…

  3. Geoff Garrison permalink
    April 25, 2013 7:16 pm

    Alright, I’m first to admit that we lowly US Americans are not nearly as toughened as our northern neighbors, an that most Albertans consider -9 C to be tee-shirt weather.

  4. kylagrasso permalink*
    May 20, 2013 4:04 pm

    CoExist (and others), I’d be happy to discuss our water sampling procedures in greater detail with you, either by email or in person if you’re in the Bend area. I can be reached at: kgrasso@altarockenergy.com.

    Kyla Grasso
    Geologist, AltaRock Energy, Inc.

    • Neil Frandsen permalink
      May 24, 2013 1:33 am

      Kyla: From the POV of a retired Seismic Surveyor, who supervised simple water-well sampling and testing, west of Red Deer, Alberta, on one seismic job, I see the detailed work you folks are doing as very interesting!
      The natural differences, in the groundwater, are gonna improve the know used by the water-resource planners, in many places, I bet.

  5. June 12, 2013 9:45 am

    Water testing is a highly important, as water is effectively life, so you need to know what you’re dealing with, how safe the water is, and how such water can be used. This is where the value of quality water testing really comes into play. Fantastic blog.

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