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Meeker Dome, the site of several abandoned oil and gas exploratory wells, is a local anticlinal uplift in northwestern Colorado, 3 miles east of the town of Meeker and on the right bank of the White River. The Meeker Well, originally drilled for oil exploration purposes and abandoned in the 1920`s, was identified as a significant point source of salinity in the Colorado River System. The well was flowing at a rate of about 3 cubic feet per second, and its highly saline water (19,200 mg/L) was increasing the salt load of the Colorado River by about 57,000 tons per year.
Reclamation plugged these wells during planning studies conducted between 1968 and 1980. The Meeker Well was plugged to a depth below 550 feet in 1968. In February 1969, two abandoned wells 2 miles north of the Meeker Well also were reported to be flowing saline water and were plugged 8 months later. Further seepage appeared in the same year in four areas within a mile radius of the plugged Meeker Well. These were plugged durin a 1980 planning study.
A 1985 Planning Report Concluding the Meeker Dome Unit study concluded that plugging these abandoned oil wells significantly reduced the salt contribution from Meeker Dome, alleviating the need for further action.
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Feasibility Investigations.--Feasibility investigations were initiated in early 1979 by a multi-disciplinary planning team of interested local, State, and Federal agencies, as well as special interest groups and private citizens. These investigations were designed to gain a better understanding of the quantity, sources, and mechanisms by which saline water enters the White River and then to identify alternatives that would eliminate or greatly reduce the salt contribution to the river.
Technical Investigations.--Reclamation contracted with CH2M Hill to perform technical investigations. The results of the study indicated that, of the eight oil and gas exploratory wells drilled on the dome, four were adequately plugged. The other four were believed to be unplugged or inadequately plugged and acting as conduits allowing saline water from deep geological formations to flow through shallower groundwater aquifers and pollute surface waters of the White River. To verify this theory, a program was initiated to clean, test, and plug the James, Marland, Meeker, and Scott Wells. A network of observation wells and seep measurement stations were installed to monitor the effects of the verification program.
The bores of the James and Scott Wells were cleaned, tested, and successfully plugged. Major difficulties were encountered with the Marland Well. An adjacent intercept hole was drilled and used to plug it by using pressure cementing from the intercept hole. This was apparently successful in stopping the last source of seepage from the dome and eliminating the need for replugging the Meeker Well.
Verification Studies-In 1994, Reclamation executed a cooperative agreement with USGS to re-visit the site and confirm whether or not the unit is still preventing salt from entering the White River. Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-427, Trend Analysis of Selected Water Quality Data Associated with Salinity-Control Projects in the Grand Valley, in the Lower Gunnison River Basin, and at Meeker Dome, Western Colorado, found evidence that salinity levels in the main river channels dropped significantly in these project areas. Because of the unique chemistry of the Meeker Dome seepage (sodium chloride), the Meeker Dome evaluation was able to positively conclude that the well plugging project continues to be very effective.
The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-320) authorized a basinwide program to enhance and protect the water quality in the Colorado River. Title II of the act was directed toward salinity control in the Colorado River above Imprial Dam.
Public Law 96-375 of October 1980 specifically authorized various feasibility-level studies, including the Meeker Dome Unit.
Groundwater levels in observation wells and flows from saline springs have decreased significantly from the conditions existing at the time of the verification well plugging. This information appears to confirm the hypothesis that the wells acted as conduits for saline water. In September 1984, salt loading from the dome had decreased from the preplugging level of about 26,000 tons per year to about 7,000 tons per year. At the end of FY85, monitoring of seeps and wells was terminated. Water levels in the observation wells had stabilized, and springs and seeps remained dry or filled with standing water, indicating the well plugs remained intact.
The Meeker Dome well plugging removes 48,000 tons of salt per year, for a total capital cost of $3,100,000 and no annual O&M costs--for a cost of $5 per ton.