Published: Sept. 6, 2019

Jackson County Wellpad Vasquez

A new oil and gas well pad under construction in the Grizzly Creek watershed in Jackson County in northern central Colorado. Photo credit: Barbara Vasquez.

Professor Joseph Ryan’s Oil and Gas Contamination of Jackson County Waters project is one of 33 faculty-led projects selected to receive the CU Boulder Outreach Award for 2019-20. The Outreach Awards were created 20 years ago to fund university research, teaching and creative work that has a direct impact on public needs. 

As new oil and gas development begins in Jackson County, Colorado, many residents are concerned that public health and environmental impacts are not being closely monitored. New horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have started in the Grizzly Creek watershed southwest of Walden.

“Jackson County is well outside the main oil and gas fields in Colorado, but it’s been dealing with oil and gas development for a few decades,” said Ryan. “There’s new interest in some of the old oil and gas formations because of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.”   

Jackson County Wellpad Vasquez

A close-up of the well pad near Grizzly Creek in Jackson County shown above. Photo credit: Barbara Vasquez.

Ryan’s project will monitor the Grizzly Creek watershed for oil and gas contamination, while also informing Jackson County residents. Before the recent surge in drilling, the Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action has received some support from the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey, but has not been able to raise sufficient funds for continued water quality monitoring. Ryan’s project will allow for more sustainable water quality monitoring.

“Once we get some results, we’ll set up meetings with Jackson County residents – there are only 1,400 of them – with the help of the Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action to share what we know about the risks and benefits of oil and gas development,” Ryan said.

To begin the project, Ryan is looking for an undergraduate or a graduate student  who can travel and collect water and sediment samples around some of the sites slated for oil and gas drilling, in order to obtain a baseline for water quality in the county. If interested, please contact Professor Ryan.

Over the past two decades, the Outreach Awards have funded 808 different projects impacting 5.5 million people in Colorado and beyond. The Office for Outreach and Engagement looks for innovative pre-K-12 programs, community-based initiatives, legal assistance and STEM education projects that directly impact those in our community. Funding for the 34 projects this year totals $460,000.

Ryan is a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, as well as the Environmental Engineering Program. His research focuses on contaminant fate and transport in natural waters, surface and colloid chemistry, and sources and transport of metals in watersheds affected by acid mine drainage. This is his 10th Outreach Award. 

Ryan said he is looking forward to applying what they learned during the AirWaterGas project, a seven-year Sustainability Research Network funded by the National Science Foundation that investigated the effects of oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain region.