February 4 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Local governments face production-related revenue downturn; more red tape sought for resource development; Wyoming’s cautionary tale

Pushing for bans on fracking or other measures to limit responsible natural resource development will only exacerbate problems at the local level, putting education, infrastructure, and other critical services at risk, on top of the drop noted here in the Denver Post due to commodity prices tanking:

Because 97 percent of Platte Valley’s budget comes from taxes paid on mineral production and equipment — a property tax known as ad valorem — McClain said his district could be looking at a budget reduction between $300,000 and nearly $1 million next school year.

How that plays out in terms of potential cuts or program impacts is yet to be seen, he said.

“You’re always concerned about your folks,” McClain said. “You worry about it taking the forward momentum and positivity out.”

It’s not just schools that are suffering. Municipal budgets, local businesses and even hospitals in mineral-rich pockets of Colorado are watching closely to see how long prices remain depressed.

Combine that with a 72.3 percent drop in severance tax revenue–down to $77.6 million this year compared with $280 million last fiscal year–and you’ll get, in the words of the Post, “the state’s direct distributions of those proceeds to cities, counties, towns and schools will be reduced from a little more than $40 million in 2015 to just $11.9 million this year.”

Nearly 75 percent drop, just from falling oil prices. Put on top of that more red tape, or eliminate the practice altogether, and eventually those figures will head toward zero (no production = no tax revenue).

This is what is at stake when it comes to pushing back against the repetitively dubbed “common sense” regulation that threatens a rather large portion of the state’s economy.

***

Speaking of restrictions:

BRIGHTON — Adams County leaders made it clear Wednesday morning that they won’t support a 10-month ban on new oil and gas activity in urban parts of the county after hearing nearly eight hours of testimony that began Tuesday night.

Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said he wasn’t comfortable imposing a moratorium on an industry that has proved critical to Adams County’s economy. He said he supported hiring an attorney that can make sure the county is making the best deals with industry as possible.

“I want to make the right decision with the right information,” Tedesco said.

His colleague, Erik Hansen, said oil and gas workers are not the villains their opponents make them out to be and that the county has a good site-by-site evaluation system already in place.

“You know what? The folks who work in the industry care about their kids too,” he said.

Those families–the workers and the kids–live in the communities. It may be stunning to anti-energy activists, but those developing and producing the energy that drives your car (gas OR electric), heats and cools your home, keeps your iPads and laptops running, and generally produces an incredible standard of living for you might live right next door. *shudder*

Good on Adams County for rejecting hyperbolic, paranoid nonsense.

***

And not to be outdone by the anti-fracking ballot measures proposed at the state level, Colorado legislators are looking to add more red tape, because enough is never enough, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rulemaking last month did not address those concerns, say energy development opponents:

Democrats in the Colorado House, where that party has a majority, are expected to introduce two measures later this session, one making it easier for surface property owners to collect damages from mineral rights owners if their properties are damaged, and a second measure to give local governments more regulatory authority over drilling within their jurisdictions.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said that second idea is something she highly supports.

“I think this bill would be a very reasonable approach,” she said. “I have always felt that’s where you have to get at, the conflict in property rights.”

Regardless of those measures, the backers of several proposed ballot measures dealing with fracking are still going ahead with their ideas.

Those proponents, who could not be reached for comment, have said they were not satisfied with new regulations approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last week. They said those new rules, the result of a special task force established by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a compromise to keep the proposals off the ballot in 2014, didn’t go far enough.

Rest assured, short of the outright ban, anti-energy folks will not back off even if all of the proposed measures are put into place. New development might be blocked, but continuing extraction would still be a target. They will never be satisfied, until all development is 100 percent eliminated.

Don’t take my word for it:

The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter would like the entire state of Colorado to be 100% renewable, beginning with Denver. Becky English, the executive committee chair for the Sierra Club, responded to an email about a sustainability summit scheduled for early December in Denver:

I would have liked to share that the Sierra Club national board has declared a goal of powering the electric sector by 100% renewable energy nationwide, and that the Rocky Mountain Chapter has adopted the goal for Colorado. I will approach you offline about how best to work toward this goal in Denver.

And that’s just the Sierra Club–see also here and here.

***

Stakeholder meetings or dog-and-pony shows supporting the Clean Power Plan and the state’s agencies dedicated to enforcing the rule (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)–the Gazette certainly has an opinion:

Reality struck when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment took the show to Brush, a rural eastern plains town where people work hard to earn a buck.

Four of five panel members were cheerleaders for the president’s plan, which has the full support of Gov. John Hickenlooper. Panelist Kent Singer, an attorney and executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, offered the panel’s only balance. He said public utilities and electric cooperatives are supposed to provide reliable energy at a price households, farms, ranches and businesses can afford. The president’s plan, he worries, would impose hardships.

Audience participants crashed the party to explain how eastern Coloradans have invested in hundreds of wind turbines that won’t count toward the proposed standards, as the plan would disqualify assets built before 2013.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg told state officials he represents 21,000 square miles that host more wind turbines than the rest of the state combined, and most would not qualify. He worries about constituents having to fund investments they already made in vain.

“We can look at the lower middle class, the working poor, the poor and the elderly and see how they would be impacted, and how it would make it even tougher for them,” Sonnenberg said. A farmer who spends $10,000 on energy to irrigate a field would take a big hit, the senator explained, at a time when some crop prices have plunged.

State health officials need to get serious about their presentation for the remaining “All Stakeholder” meetings in Pueblo and Craig. This plan poses serious consequences for those who cannot afford haphazard and experimental efforts to control the climate. We need a balance of experts presenting a variety of views, not another panel stacked with support for a political agenda.

Having attended one of the first CDPHE “stakeholder” events back in September 2015, I can assure the reader that comments in favor of the Clean Power Plan ran about 15 to 1, with plenty of others from industry to rural electric co-ops basically pleading for the agency to implement the rule as mercifully as possible.

It’s clear from the first few events that the stakeholder process is nothing more than a three ring circus for advocates like activists and renewable energy businesses to show up and applaud the agency, giving it a rather unnecessary shot in the arm of confidence. Meanwhile, the folks who actually bear the brunt of the rule itself, whether it’s the ratepayer who pays for the energy and the guaranteed profit for the utilities (all stranded assets like coal plants having to be replaced with more expensive energy alternatives), the taxpayer who is on the hook for subsidizing unaffordable and unreliable energy alternatives, the farmers and investors who were sold a bill of goods in years past of being part of a “New Energy Economy” by previous politicians only to be passed over and not counted as renewables anyway . . . the list goes on and on.

The CDPHE process is really illustrative of quite a few economic concepts, from crony capitalism to captive regulation, concentrated benefits vs. dispersed costs, and government intrusion in the free market to pick energy winners and losers. In this case, the winners repeatedly show up and applaud. The potential losers are taken out of the process, and must rely on lawsuits like the multi-state challenge joined by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, or the much more distant hope of an administrative change in policy due to a shift in the political climate at the Federal level.

***

Turning to updates on the Gold King Mine spill:

DENVER – Southwest Colorado feels forgotten in the aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill, state lawmakers heard Wednesday.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, expressed the sentiment to a House committee just before the panel killed his legislation that would have allowed the state to file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of individuals impacted by the spill.

Coram was especially irked by the fact that the measure was assigned to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a committee sometimes used by the majority party to kill legislation deemed unpopular by leadership. Democrats control the House.

The bill died on a 5-4 party-line vote.

“If this (Gold King spill) had happened in a metropolitan area, we would be doing something. But the fact is, in rural Southwest Colorado, we … have the opinion that the Front Range does not care who suffers in rural Colorado,” Coram told the committee.

And while state efforts to provide relief failed, Congressional inquiries into the EPA-caused spill continue apace, with calls for transparency and clarification over the role of the EPA in a report from the Department of the Interior that was supposed to be impartial and independent:

A key report on the Gold King Mine disaster, which poisoned drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation, is now being questioned by congressional committee and subcommittee chairmen.

New evidence may “contradict” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Gina McCarthy’s “repeated assertions” to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) “that EPA had reviewed only a [Department of the Interior] press release and had no role in DOI’s independent review” of the Gold King Mine blowout, according to a Wednesday letter to McCarthy.

“Please clarify … that DOI did not have a conflict of interest, that its review would be independent and that EPA officials had no involvement in DOI’s review,” committee Chairman Jim Inhofe and Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee Chairman M. Michael Rounds wrote.

The DOI report detailed that the EPA-caused Gold King Mine spill, which sent three million gallons of wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River, was preventable. The report stated, however, events at the site before and after the incident were beyond the investigation’s scope – even though such details were sought by the EPW committee.

We’ll keep an eye on this development.

***

News from our Wyoming neighbors, a cautionary tale of how the current administration’s push to kill coal will likely kill local communities too:

President Barack Obama’s administration has ordered a three-year moratorium on sales of federal coal reserves, and it’s putting a rare mood on folks in Gillette, a ranching-turned-energy town of 32,000: pessimism.

“Most of the time it comes back. This time, I don’t know,” said Bobbie Garcia, watching her daughter summit a two-story climbing structure at the town’s $53 million recreation center largely built with coal money.

Until recently, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana remained a rare bright spot for the industry. Even as Appalachian mines shut down and cheap natural gas started crowding out coal as a power plant fuel, economies of scale kept the region rumbling.

Massive strip mines sprawled across tens of thousands of acres, much of it in the Thunder Basin National Grassland, produce roughly 40 percent of the nation’s supply of the fuel.

For Gillette and other communities, that means more than 7,000 mining industry jobs. And not just fly-by-night, roughneck gigs, but the sort that sustain families year after year, pointed out Michael Von Flatern, a state senator who has lived in Gillette since the early 1970s.

The sort of jobs that are likely irreplaceable. Also, it’s no easy task replacing 40 percent of the country’s coal, considering that 23 percent of U.S. energy production still comes from that resource. Compare that to 0.5 percent for solar and 2 percent for wind, according to the Energy Information Administration through 2014 (the last full year).

If you want to know what’s headed for Colorado, look north. Or ask the folks in Moffat County about the Colowyo Mine situation from last year.

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January 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: COGCC rulemaking pleases no one; anti-fracking measures disastrous for Colorado economy; pushing back against Clean Power Plan

Even small changes to oil and gas regulations can have deep and damaging effects on Colorado’s economy, according to researchers at the University of Colorado:

A statewide, 2,000-foot buffer zone between drilling rigs and homes, schools and businesses would take a hammer to Colorado’s oil and gas industry, already reeling from low commodity prices, as well as the state’s wider economy, according to a new study from University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Such a setback requirement “could result in slower economic growth” for Colorado’s economy as well as state revenue, according to the study released Wednesday.

The study said its forecast on the effects of a 2,000-foot setback included:

Production of oil and gas statewide could drop between 25 percent and 50 percent;
A $6 billion to $11 billion drop in Colorado’s gross domestic product;
A loss of 33,000 and 62,000 jobs between 2015 and 2030;
Loss of $214 million to $428 million in per year in tax revenues from oil and gas companies.

Given that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission just concluded a round of rulemaking based on the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force recommendations from 2015, new and more onerous regulations like the setback examined by CU researchers or the more dangerous proposed fracking bans and various setback ballot measures could have catastrophic consequences on top of the recent commodity downturns impacting the state.

Anti-energy activists have intimated that even more proposals could be in the offing for 2016:

Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

Remember when this blog said the Oil and Gas Task Force was merely kicking the can down the road?

We’ve made our way down that road, and the can is about ready to explode.

In the near term, the COGCC rules could go into effect in as few as 6 to 8 weeks, subject to review by the legislature and the Attorney General:

Compton said the months of rulemakings were “the most difficult” that he’s been through — a string that included the 2008 wholesale overhaul of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations.

The commissioners voted 5-4 to define “large” oil and gas facilities, the threshold that triggers the communication process between energy companies and local governments, as eight new wells and storage tanks that can hold up to 4,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids. The commissioners restricted the rule to large facilities in “urban” areas, defined as 22 buildings within 1,000 feet of the wellsite, rejecting request from some quarters to take the rule statewide.

But the rules appear to exceed the recommendations, and create ambiguities that will only incur more procedural red tape:

The process approved by the COGCC will triple, from 90 days to 270 days, the amount of time needed to get a hearing on a large project before the oil and gas commissioners, said Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, an arm of the American Petroleum Institute.

The final rules also said facilities should be “as far as possible” from existing buildings, a phrase Bentley called “vague and confusing” that would cost energy companies time and money to comply with.

The commissioners also rejected a request that existing surface-use agreements between energy companies and landowners be grandfathered, and allowed to avoid the notification and consultation process.

“We feel the industry brought reasonable solutions to the table that were largely ignored, and the rules still go beyond the recommendations of the task force,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Bringing reasonable solutions and constructive dialogue should be expected of the industry, but the same can’t be said for the forces calling for the end of natural resource development altogether:

Activists addressing a state oil and gas rulemaking hearing this week levied a barrage of accusations and insults toward state officials and even renewed calls to eliminate Colorado’s state agency responsible for regulating oil and gas development.

Speaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hearing, Lauren Swain, representing national climate activist group 350.org, largely ignored the fact that the rulemaking was supposed to be the focus of the hearing and instead used her time to complain about the agency. From Swain’s testimony:

“With this new proposed rule, the COGCC has proven once again that it can no longer be considered a legitimate state agency because the COGCC continues to facilitate the pace of hazardous polluting oil and gas drilling and fracking operations near homes and schools subjecting communities to the risks of toxic emissions, spills and explosions.”

But Swain took her testimony even farther by lobbying for disbanding the agency in favor of creating a new agency that would “swiftly” transition the state to 100 percent renewables using the Solutions Project at Stanford as a guide. From Swain:

“The COGCC must be replaced with one or more agencies charged with one, facilitating to protect Coloradans from the harmful impact of oil and gas production and two, to aid and foster Colorado’s swift transition to one hundred percent renewable energy production and consumption using the Solutions Project developed at Stanford University as a guide.”

Up next was testimony from an activist who has previously accused the oil and gas industry of having a “personality disorder” and of being “socially deviant.” This time, Amanda Harper called oil and gas producers a “short sighted, selfish and sociopathic industry.”

Not a lot of balance or reasonable tone, it seems.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered his comments at an event that saw journalists kicked out and required an open records request to seek audio of the Democrat’s comments–and while he questioned the leverage of the anti-energy groups to get the proposed measures on the 2016 ballot, he surreptitiously argued that the COGCC rules discussed above had, in his opinion as well, gone further than his own Oil and Gas Task Force had recommended:

“I haven’t heard of any funding source for any of them,” Hickenlooper began. “Like the normal, large funders of those initiatives, you know, I haven’t heard of. So, maybe they’ll get on the ballot, but without a lot of money, I don’t think they’re going to do well. I can guarantee you there’ll be money spent showing that, the, the problems associated with any of those initiatives.” (Forum Q & A – 17:05)

Moments later, he added, “Again, we’re going further even than the commission recommended, and in certain cases, to try and give local, local municipal elected officials more, a greater role.”

Further.

We’ll see how that plays out.

***

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan received a stay of its own last week when the DC circuit refused to grant a stay of the rule, forcing 26 states to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile at the Colorado legislature, Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) has championed measures designed to keep the implementation of the Clean Power Plan at arms’ length, allowing lawsuits to be completed before the state moves forward, something Coloradans clearly support:

Two weeks into the 2016 legislative session, Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from the heart of the Front Range oil and gas patch in Greeley, has introduced two bills that take aim at the plan, which requires power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, largely by shutting down or converting coal-fired plants to alternative fuel sources.

One of Cooke’s bills couldn’t be more timely. After several state attorneys general, including Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, failed to win a stay of the plan from a federal court Thursday, Cooke’s Senate Bill 46 jumps into the ring like a tag-team wrestler, working from another angle to stall implementation of the Obama administration plan.

“Well, it wasn’t really a surprise that the court in D.C. struck down the stay request,” Cooke told The Colorado Statesman. “Unfortunately, the bill is more relevant now.”

The “Preserve State Clean Power Plan Options Act” aims to “slow down the implementation process” in part by suspending it “until all [related] lawsuits are done,” Cooke told members of three rural Colorado advocacy groups, including some representing coal mining areas, who were visiting the Capitol Friday.

In effect, Colorado wouldn’t need a stay from a court because it would have passed a stay for itself, written by Cooke.

Cooke’s other bill, SB 61 or “Ratepayer Protection Act,” would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pay for costs generated as a result of Clean Power Plan implementation.

***

NEWS ROUNDUP:
Silverton punts on Superfund designation

How the EPA handled Flint, MI water contamination, vs. Animas River spill

Plunging oil prices means lower severance tax revenue in Colorado

Lower gas prices? Let’s raise taxes!

Anti-energy activists oppose coal development on the Western Slope. News at 11.

Trading: Coal extraction for sage grouse habitat

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January 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Billionaire Steyer plays CO politics; NM files intent to sue EPA over mine spill

Independence Institute associate energy policy analyst Simon Lomax has the latest on green billionaire Tom Steyer’s efforts to tilt the legislative balance in Colorado in 2016:

San Francisco billionaire activist Tom Steyer is getting more deeply involved in Colorado politics than ever before. After spending more than $350,000 on research and polling in the Centennial State last year, two groups aligned with Steyer are now funding political attacks on State Senator Laura Woods (R). Republicans control the Colorado State Senate by a single vote, so unseating Woods could return control of the state legislature to Democrats and reinstate one-party rule under Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) until early 2019 at least.

Read all of his latest piece here.

***

Our neighbors to the south, New Mexico, has filed an intent to sue notice over the Animas River/Gold King Mine spill last year triggered by the Environmental Protection Agency:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico plans to sue the federal government and the owners of two Colorado mines that were the source of a massive spill last year that contaminated rivers in three Western states, officials said Thursday.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it filed a notice of its intention to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the spill, becoming the first to do so. The lawsuit also would target the state of Colorado and the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside Mines.

The New Mexico regulators said they will sue if the EPA does not begin to take meaningful measures to clean up the affected areas and agree to a long-term plan that will research and monitor the effects of the spill.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said Ryan Flynn, state Environment Department cabinet secretary.

While the Navajo Nation is considering its options for legal action, the state of Colorado’s Attorney General had no comment at this time.

***

Drilling on the Western Slope dropped in 2015:

Garfield County last year held onto the No. 2 spot statewide in terms of oil and gas drilling activity, despite the lowest level of activity since the 1990s.

Mesa County bucked the statewide trend in 2015, however, seeing a sharp increase in drilling and ranking third among Colorado counties.

Falling oil and gas prices resulted in drilling beginning on just 1,437 wells statewide last year, down from 2,239 the prior year, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. Much of the decrease occurred in Weld County as companies slowed oil drilling there thanks to falling prices. But the county still continued to see the bulk of activity last year, with drilling begun on 1,084 wells.

Garfield County had just 173 well starts last year, down from 362 in 2014. The last time the county saw less drilling, with 94 well starts, it wasn’t Jeb Bush but his brother, George, who was harboring presidential aspirations, in the year 1999.

***

Lower commodity prices have given Coloradans a bit of temporary relief, offsetting the region’s cost of living increases:

Two conflicting consumer price trends are pushing around the Denver area’s cost of living like a rag doll.

A new federal report Wednesday says that the cost of shelter in the Denver, Boulder and Greeley area jumped 5.8 percent in the second half of 2015 from a year earlier.

And yet, over the same period, energy costs fell 19 percent.

The result: a 1.4 percent year-over-year rise in the area’s overall consumer prices, the cost of a basket of typical goods and services, according to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Kansas City office.

Shelter costs outweigh energy costs for most consumers, so shelter plays a bigger role in driving overall consumer prices.

The problem is that commodity prices fluctuate (due to market forces but also to environmental factors like government policies), and this small, offsetting bump for Colorado electricity ratepayers will provide only temporary relief. According to the Denver Business Journal, gasoline is down nearly 26 percent in 2015, with natural gas down nearly 19 percent. Household electricity was off 2.9 percent

On the other hand, gasoline cost 25.9 percent less in late 2015 than it did a year earlier, BLS said, while household natural gas cost 18.9 percent less and household electricity was down 2.9 percent. That’s hardly a dent in the 63 percent increase in residential electricity costs measured through 2014.

***

Job counters will see in a few years if the solar industry’s employment numbers are real (this time, and not an ephemeral mirage like so many other “green jobs”) and not temporary construction jobs and inferred “indirect jobs,” but for now they admit what is giving the solar folks a bump:

A few key developments are driving the job surge in solar.

Businesses and homeowners are eligible for a 30% tax credit if they install solar panels on their property. That’s been in place since 2006 but in December Congress renewed the tax credit for another six years. That lowers installation costs considerably.

The climate change agreement in Paris and the global action plan to limit global warming is also a positive for the clean energy industry.

And the Environmental Protection Agency released plans last year to force states to lower their carbon output.

Not much in the way of actual demand from consumers without government force (EPA’s Clean Power Plan) or government incentive (tax credit), or public pressure (Paris).

The article notes that lower commodity prices for oil and gasoline, and natural gas, are giving solar a “headwind.” Free market effects will do that.

Despite all the supply-side incentives (tax credits, subsidies, and mandates) and the demand-side disincentives (killing coal through the Clean Power Plan) the Energy Information Administration reports that solar was at 4.4 percent of all renewables in 2014 (last full year of data available), and a mere 0.4 percent of total U.S. energy consumption that year.

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January 13 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Oil and gas drive Colorado’s economy, but outlook uncertain; Western Slope feels effects of regulation; WOTUS repeal?

Oil and gas development contributes a rather large percentage to Colorado’s economic condition, and new numbers confirm its continued importance to the state:

A new economic report shows that oil and gas development contributed billions to Colorado’s economy in 2014 generating benefits that researchers conclude “impact every citizen in the state.”

Prepared by the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder, for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the report details how oil and gas development contributed $31.7 billion in total economic impact to Colorado’s economy in 2014, along with “supporting 102,700 jobs and $7.6 billion in compensation.” From the report:

“The oil and gas industry, along with nearly all extraction industries, inherently provides substantial economic benefits due to its integrated supply chain, high wage jobs, and propensity to sell nationally and globally. Much of Colorado’s oil and gas is sold outside of the state, contributing wealth to owners, employees, governments, and schools, all of which are beneficiaries of oil and gas revenues.” emphasis added

Energy in Depth has a complete review of the report’s findings.

The state’s oil and gas development would be crippled if newly proposed ballot measures calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing and other regulatory limits are passed in 2016.

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Lower oil commodity prices–a drop from $90 per barrel in 2014 to roughly $30 per barrel in January 2016 means great prices at the pump, but not good news for Colorado’s oil and gas workers:

KUSA – Oil is in an all-out freefall, dropping from roughly $90 dollars a barrel at the end of 2014 to just more than $30 per barrel Tuesday.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the industry is starting to panic.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association president and CEO Dan Haley said when commodities drop, challenges emerge.

“You’ll see some restructuring, you’ll see some tightening of jobs,” Haley said, adding that in 2015, about 2,000 people lost their jobs due to falling oil prices.

The full fallout is not likely to be known when or if the price has hit bottom, or begins to rebound, in the short or long term. Rig numbers are down and students at Colorado School of Mines are worried about the future of the industry, according to the article.

***

A report on job creation tied to a “100% renewables” future is looking a little damaged, according to the folks at Energy in Depth:

A Stanford professor who claims a transition to 100 percent renewables would be a major job creator has scrubbed his website of data showing significant long-term job losses from such a plan, according to a new review by Energy In Depth. Online records show that the professor, Dr. Mark Jacobson, edited his documents just hours after an Energy In Depth report revealed how the transition to 100 percent renewables would cause a net loss of more than 1.2 million long-term jobs, based on data pulled directly from Dr. Jacobson’s website.

The decision to alter his own data could raise additional questions about Dr. Jacobson’s plan for a 100 percent renewables energy system, a plan that has already faced significant criticism from the scientific and environmental communities.

Even if the jobs were there, as Dr. Jacobson contended, not everyone on the left is on board the “100% renewables” bandwagon:

Earlier this week, Dr. Jacobson granted a separate interview to the left-wing blog Daily Kos, which gave him a forum to respond to Energy In Depth’s report. But Dr. Jacobson likely did not anticipate another Daily Kos blogger criticizing his 100 percent renewables plan as impractical. In a comment posted to the article including Dr. Jacobson’s interview, an environmental blogger said that “no electric utility is ever going to adopt Jacobson’s plan” because, among other things, the “wind power component of Jacobson’s plan cannot be relied upon for reliable electric power generation and supply.”

***

Two Colorado Republicans reacted to President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address and in particular the plight of Colorado’s Western Slope communities hit hard by the administration’s regulations:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., whose 3rd Congressional District trails the rest of the state in the economic recovery, said the president would do well to visit his district.

“I would invite him to visit Craig or Delta,” Tipton said in an interview. “They have lost good-paying jobs and are struggling right now.”

Both communities in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District have been hard-hit by coal-mine closures. Arch Coal, a major coal supplier and employer on the Western Slope, declared bankruptcy on Tuesday, before the speech.

“The president talked about significant government interference in the marketplace that will most likely imperil jobs on the West Slope of Colorado,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

***

Speaking of Arch Coal’s bankruptcy:

Arch Coal Inc.’s bankruptcy filing Monday signals that the coal industry’s shakeout is entering a crucial phase, which will result in more small, unlisted mining companies, record numbers of mines for sale and lower wages for workers.

Over a quarter of U.S. coal production is now in bankruptcy, trying to reorganize to cope with prices that have fallen 50% since 2011, battered by competition from natural gas and new environmental rules. Arch, the biggest domino to fall so far, is trying to trim $4.5 billion in debt from its balance sheet.

Competitors Walter Energy Inc., Alpha Natural Resources Inc., and Patriot Coal Corp. all filed for court protection last year.

But bankruptcies only spell death for current corporate structures, not necessarily the mines they operate. And the U.S. still gets 34% of its electricity from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration, and that number is still expected to be around 30% by 2030. “The question is, what is that 30% going to look like?” says Steve Nelson, chief operating officer at Longview Power LLC, a 700-megawatt coal-fired plant in northern West Virginia.

Market-driven changes are good–the transition from coal-heavy electricity to natural gas is not a problem, and beneficial to the environment–when done without government mandates. Onerous regulations designed to put coal out of commission, from fuel switching initiatives in Colorado to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, are not beneficial to the country’s economy and to the individuals and communities impacted by layoffs and dislocation, as well as skyrocketing residential electricity rates.

***

Should be an interesting event and will definitely address some of the impact to Colorado of recent commodity downturns in oil:

By: Vital for Colorado
Event Description
Join us in discussing lifting the U.S. Oil Export Ban and what it means to Colorado. Our esteemed panel includes U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter (D) CO and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R) CO, Christopher Guith, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, Geoff Houlton, Dir. of Commodity Fundamentals Anadarko Petroleum Corp., John R. Grizz Deal, CEO IX Power Clean Water, and Craig W. Van Kirk, Professor Emeritus Petroleum Engineering Colorado School of Mines. This is a free event but registration is encouraged.

WHEN
Thursday, January 21, 2016 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM (MST) – Add to Calendar
WHERE
Colorado School of Mines Green Center – Bunker Auditorium – 924 16th Street Golden, CO 80401 – View Map

The Independence Institute is not affiliated with the event.

***

The EPA’s Waters of the United States rule is facing legislative repeal, subject to President Obama’s veto:

House lawmakers are poised to pass legislation repealing what is probably the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most hotly contested regulation: an attempt to expand its authority over bodies of water across the country.

The House will vote Wednesday on a bill that would repeal the EPA’s so-called Clean Water Rule under the Congressional Review Act — a law that allows Congress to vote down executive branch regulations. EPA’s water rule has been heavily criticized by lawmakers who see it as a huge expansion of government power and could mean more regulations for private landowners.

“We want them to go back and do a new rule,” Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs told The Daily Caller New Foundation in an interview. Gibbs sent a letter to House leadership last year asking them to defund EPA’s water rule in the 2016 budget bill.

The Senate passed a bill repealing EPA’s water rule in November, sparking huge outcry from environmentalists who support more federal control over bodies of water. The House is likely to pass the repeal with bipartisan support, sending it to President Barack Obama.

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January 6 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: fracking foes awaken; legislative session promises energy battles; EPA and Gold King Mine saga

Let’s start with the obvious–the anti-fracking forces have reignited their campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing, and want to do away with property rights too, according to this Gazette editorial:

CREED, an umbrella of sorts for anti-energy activists, wants an outright ban on fracking with a proposal known as Initiative 62. In addition to banning all fracking, the measure would prevent compensation of mineral owners for financial losses incurred by the elimination of fracking.

The measure states, in part: “The prohibition of hydraulic fracturing is not a taking of private property and does not require the payment of compensation pursuant to sections 14 and 15 of Article II of the Colorado Constitution.”

In other words, they want eminent- domain-by-mob without due process or just compensation. The U.S. Constitution, thankfully, prohibits voters from taking private property or negating its value. Voters have no more authority to eliminate mineral rights than to end same-sex marriage. Federal law will prevail.

Initiative 63 would establish an “Environmental Bill of Rights,” suggesting local governments have all sorts of newfound authority to ban energy production on private property. Initiative 65 would impose 4,000-foot fracking setbacks from buildings and homes.

As the editorial correctly point out, these anti-energy measures will drive a wedge between leftwing activists and mainstream Democrats, just as they threatened to do in 2014, before Gov. John Hickenlooper threw his policy Hail Mary to halt any chance of a Dem split.

The Denver Business Journal has a quick rundown of the 11 proposed initiatives.

Which brings us to billionaire activist Tom Steyer. From our new energy policy analyst, Simon Lomax:

Steyer’s track record further suggests he won’t be limited to the presidential contest in Colorado or the effort to reelect Bennet, who served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee two years ago. Before holding talks with Colorado’s anti-fracking groups about statewide ballot measures in 2014, Steyer called for a fracking ban in his home state of California, which could only be lifted on a county-by-county basis with a two-thirds popular vote. Steyer’s views are very close to those of anti-fracking groups in Colorado, who have proposed a mix of statewide and local bans for the 2016 ballot. Steyer and Rep. Polis – who championed the 2014 anti-fracking measures before they were pulled – are “kindred spirits,” according to a top adviser to the California billionaire. Steyer has a long history with ballot initiatives in California, and is already backing a 2016 measure in Washington state to impose a carbon tax.

Along with ballot measures, Steyer also has a history of throwing his money into state legislative races. In 2014, for example, he poured money into Washington and Oregon trying to win seats for Democrats. In some cases, NextGen Climate did not spend the money directly – it was given to environmental groups like Washington Conservation Voters and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. NextGen Climate also gave generously to the national League of Conservation Voters for campaigning in Oregon, Washington and several other states, with the group’s president telling The Washington Post, “There’s not a day that goes by that someone on our team doesn’t talk to someone on the Steyer team.”

Which brings us back to Conservation Colorado. If swaying state legislative races is part of Steyer’s plan, he could not find a better partner than Conservation Colorado. The group spent more than $950,000 on Colorado elections in 2014, and appears to have hit the ground running in 2016. In a little-noticed move, Conservation Colorado gave $10,000 to Fairness for Colorado, a 527 political organization, in September 2015. According to state records, Fairness for Colorado – which focuses on economic issues and social welfare, not the environment – has already spent almost $11,000 with a Denver direct-mail firm.

Simon’s article has tons of links for all the relevant information, plus plenty more on Steyer and Democratic efforts in Colorado in 2015 and 2016.

The fracking battle will also continue in the legislature with liability for earthquakes laid at the feet of resource developers:

Democratic state Rep. Joe Salazar wants to hold drillers responsible for any earthquakes they trigger that cause property damage or physical injury.

Salazar says residents in his Adams County district are worried about a fracking group’s plans to place 20 oil and gas wells in neighborhoods there.

“These were people who were concerned for their children,” Salazar said. “They were concerned for their community. They were concerned about the environment. They’re concerned about their clean water and clean air.”

But state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, says liability would be difficult to prove. He also says that Colorado already has strict environmental guidelines – and he cautions against targeting an industry that provides a great deal of revenue to the state.

“How much longer do you want to stand on the throat of the oil and gas industry to limit that amount of money that’s being generated by the state of Colorado?” Scott said.

But even Rep. Salazar doesn’t think an outright ban on fracking–as some on his side have demanded, will work, and responses to any proposed ban are also in the works:

State Rep. Joseph Salazar, D-Thornton says he doesn’t think increased oil and gas regulation should be handled with constitutional amendments. Nor does he think an outright ban on fracking will fly. But he believes that the Legislature can do more to protect residents from the impacts of drilling.

“An outright ban, that’s just not going to work,” Salazar told The Statesman. “I understand that mineral rights owners have property rights, and that’s a taking. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be safe about it by studying the effects and implementing good safety measures to ensure that when people want to exercise their mineral rights that they’re not adversely affecting their neighbors.”

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he’s ready to sponsor his own initiative similar to one he backed in 2014 that would prevent any local government that bans oil and gas production from receiving state tax revenues generated by the industry.

“I pushed pretty hard for us not to cave on that for fear that we’d be going down this same path in 2016 that we were in 2014,” Sonnenberg said, referring to the decision to pull two industry-backed ballot questions as part of the 2014 Hickenlooper-Polis compromise. “Rest assured, I will not be silent on this issue. Whatever I need to do, I will be out front.”

***

Other legislative efforts will be focused on the fallout of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill:

She [Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango] is also working on bills in the wake of the inactive Gold King Mine spill, in which an error by the Environmental Protection Agency caused an estimated 3 million gallons of mining sludge to pour into the Animas River on Aug. 5.

One proposal comes out of an interim water resources committee that has suggested a resolution that would encourage Congress to pass “good samaritan” legislation, which would reduce the liability associated with private entities conducting mine reclamation work.

Roberts would also like to address jurisdictional issues between states in the wake of Gold King. The incident impacted several states, including neighboring New Mexico. State agencies found it difficult to work with one another because of legal roadblocks. Roberts has proposed legislation that would eliminate some of those barriers through intergovernmental agreements.

“When minutes matter, you need a clearer pathway,” she said.

But deciding anything with regards to the EPA Gold King Mine spill might be difficult, as The Daily Caller explains:

A definitive explanation for what caused the Gold King Mine disaster may never be known if the Environmental Protection Agency is not investigated just as a private company responsible for the calamitous spill would be, according to a former enforcement agent.

The EPA accepted blame for the Aug. 5, 2015, leak that poisoned drinking water in three western states and the Navajo Nation with three million gallons of toxic mining waste, but no officials have been named as responsible or punished. Similar previous environmental disasters, however, were subjects of criminal investigations that led to severe public penalties for those responsible.

“You may not learn about it unless you engage in a criminal investigation,” Heritage Foundation senior legal research fellow and former EPA criminal enforcement special agent Paul Larkin told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Encouraging.

***

And the EPA isn’t done with mining either, with backing from the usual anti-energy suspects:

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing toughening its requirements for measuring methane emissions from underground coal mines, a move that would result in some added expenses for testing and could bolster calls for regulating the emissions.

The agency recently unveiled a proposal it says will streamline — and improve the data quality of — its greenhouse gas reporting rule, which applies to a number of industries.

In the case of underground coal mines, it would no longer let them use data from quarterly Mine Safety and Health Administration reports for reporting the volumes of methane vented from mines.

Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the Earthjustice conservation group, praised the proposal as one that will provide better information on Colorado coal mines and address a major source of climate pollution.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas on steroids — it’s up to 80 times more potent than (carbon dioxide) as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. And coal mine methane is a big issue in Colorado because coal mines in the North Fork Valley are some of the gassiest in the U.S. It’s important for EPA — and the public — to have an accurate picture of this pollution, particularly after the climate accord in Paris, which put a major emphasis on transparency around climate pollution,” he said.

***

Another piece from Simon, this time on the Paris climate deal and our own Sen. Michael Bennet:

Of the 26 Senate Democrats who voted with Republicans in 2009 to put the brakes on cap-and-trade, nine are still serving.

Avoiding a debate over the Paris climate agreement and its impact on energy prices, jobs and the economy is a great deal for them—especially U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who are running for re-election in November 2016. As things stand, they can just hunker down and let the EPA do its thing.

But it’s a lousy deal for the blue-collar and rural constituents who voted for these senators. Their concerns about the economy, energy prices, and jobs were front and center during the cap-and-trade debate, and they should be front and center again after the Paris climate agreement. Instead, these voters have been left in the cold while environmental groups toast themselves and whatever they think was achieved in Paris.

***

Finally, your poop may be keeping the lights on:

The wastewater treatment plant in Grand Junction, Colo., takes in 8 million gallons of raw sewage — what’s flushed down the toilet and sinks.

Processing this sewage produces a lot of methane, which the plant used to just burn off into the air.

The process was “not good for the environment and a waste of a wonderful resource,” says Dan Tonello, manager of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Now, using more infrastructure, the facility refines the methane further to produce natural gas chemically identical to what’s drilled from underground.

The biogas–a delicate term–is renewable.

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December 30 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: the anti-fracking force awakens; EPA receives a lump of coal in its budgetary stocking; pot is not green

Theeeeeeey’re baaaaaack!

As promised, the anti-energy, anti-fracking folks have delivered nearly a dozen ballot initiatives that focus on either banning hydraulic fracturing altogether or a host of other setback measures.

The group has cleverly dubbed themselves Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, or CREED, likely to inspire confusion among voters who might be only familiar with Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, or CRED:

Each of the constitutional amendments would need signatures from 98,492 registered Colorado voters to get on November’s ballot.

A review-and-comment hearing on the language of the ballot questions is set for at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in Room 109 at the Capitol.

“If the state will not adequately protect Coloradans and communities, then we, the people of Colorado, must do it, and that requires a change to Colorado law,” Tricia Olson, CREED’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Our beautiful state should not be overwhelmed by wells, pads and other industrial oil and gas operations plunked down next to neighborhoods and schools.”

As the Post points out, these measures would toss the efforts of Governor John Hickenlooper’s grand pragmatic strategy to develop and cultivate the blue ribbon commission that existed in 2014-15, narrowly averting a previous slate of anti-fracking measures brought forward in 2014 that Democrats feared would threaten the midterm election that cycle.

But the supporters of the 2014 measures felt that Hickenlooper’s attempts to find “balance”–his words–on fracking in Colorado did not go far enough, and felt betrayed when the measures were pulled. Continued efforts on this issue could once again upset a delicate situation for Democrats in the state split between development and anti-energy, more left-leaning Democrats.

The Independence Institute will be tracking these measures throughout the year in 2016, and will provide regular updates on ballot specifics, tracking ballot measure progress, and weighing in when and where appropriate.

Stay tuned.

***

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Christmas stockings weren’t as full this year as they would have liked, instead getting a lump or two of coal, so to speak:

The EPA received $8.1 billion or $451 million less than Mr. Obama had demanded, and no increase from the year before. Congress has cut the EPA’s allowance by $2.1 billion, or 21%, since fiscal 2010. This has forced the EPA to cut more than 2,000 full-time employees over the same period, and its manpower is now at the lowest level since 1989 (see nearby chart).

Mr. Obama sought an additional $72.1 million to turbocharge his extralegal climate rule on power plants. That request included $8.3 million for the EPA’s science and technology groups, which do the phony modeling to justify regulations. It also included $68.3 million for the agency’s environmental programs and management department, which is where the minions draft and implement the President’s climate initiatives. Congress denied every penny.

Two thousand fewer EPA officials to harass the American public with onerous regulations? Sounds like a good start (from the WSJ):
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.34.03 PM

***

There will be plenty of energy battles in 2016, from the Clean Power Plan’s effect on rising electricity costs to anti-fracking ballot measures and beyond. The Independence Institute has already revealed that residential electricity rates in Colorado have skyrocketed 63% between 2001 and 2014, before the CPP or other measures even kick in at the state level.

But this nugget, from July 2015, illustrates just how much the impact of rising electricity costs disproportionately targets those least able to afford it:

Average households pay 2 percent to 3 percent for energy, compared with low-income households, which often pay as much as 50 percent.

“That leaves very little for food, clothing, medicine,” said Pat Boland, Xcel’s manager of customer policy and assistance.

Percent_Increase_NRG_Income(Independence Institute)

The next time someone advocates for higher energy costs through regulation or burdensome energy mandates, remind them who really takes a hit in the pocketbook.

***

Speaking of folks who like higher energy costs:

A coalition of environmental groups announced earlier this week its intent to take legal action against several federal agencies for extending operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine just outside Farmington.

On Dec. 21, San Juan Citizen Alliance, among other regional and national conservation groups, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others over a July decision to allow the plant to operate until 2041.

“While the rest of the world is transitioning to alternative forms of energy, the Four Corners Power Plant continues to burn coal and will do so for the next 25 years,” Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment said in a news release. “Prolonging coal not only condemns our health and the water, air, and land around us, it undermines our community’s economic future because we are not investing and transitioning to clean energy.”

***

On the other hand, lawsuits to protect Coloradans from rogue agency actions, like the EPA spill in August, could be on tap in 2016:

DENVER – State legislation has been drafted in an effort to pressure the federal government into quickly settling damage claims stemming from the Gold King Mine spill.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he will carry the bill at the start of the legislative session, which begins next month.

The bill would allow the state to file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of individuals financially impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.

“It’s authorizing the state of Colorado to sue the EPA in case they renege on their obligation,” Coram said.

He added, “The idea behind the bill is that it encourages them to settle this in a gentlemanly manner.”

***

It’s not every day that pot and energy end up jointly in the same article, but this revelation may be a real eye opener for a lot of folks, some who steadfastly approve of pot legalization but prefer more renewable forms of energy:

DENVER – Pot’s not green.

The $3.5 billion U.S. cannabis market is emerging as one of the nation’s most power-hungry industries, with the 24-hour demands of thousands of indoor growing sites taxing aging electricity grids and unraveling hard-earned gains in energy conservation.

Without design standards or efficient equipment, the facilities in the 23 states where marijuana is legal are responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions almost equal to those of every car, home and business in New Hampshire. While reams of regulations cover everything from tracking individual plants to package labeling to advertising, they lack requirements to reduce energy waste.

Some operations have blown out transformers, resulting in fires. Others rely on pollution-belching diesel generators to avoid hooking into the grid. And demand could intensify in 2017 if advocates succeed in legalizing the drug for recreational use in several states, including California and Nevada. State regulators are grappling with how to address the growth, said Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Pam Witmer.

“We are at the edge of this,” Witmer said. “We are looking all across the country for examples and best practices.”

Light ‘em if you got ‘em. It’s legal here, ya know.

***

Looking into the future of Colorado’s oil boom, thanks to the end of the U.S. oil export ban–but only time will tell.

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Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet, Christmas Edition: WY report finds fracking ‘unlikely’ in contamination at Pavillion; EPA spill report gives agency a pass; solar industry acknowledges reliance on tax credits

Energy In Depth picks up on the state of Wyoming’s long-delayed and much-expected report on possible fracking-related contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming as alleged by activists and theorized by the Environmental Protection Agency:

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has just released the results of its 30-month investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, and it has concluded that hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have been the cause. As the report explains,

“Evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.

It is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water- supply wells. Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. The likelihood that the hydraulic fracture well stimulation treatments (i.e. often less than 200 barrels) employed in the Pavillion Gas Field have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater (i.e. water-supply well depths) is negligible.” (emphasis added)

As the Casper-Star Tribune put it,

“Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.”

The cost to taxpayers was fairly large, with the state of Wyoming having to pick up from the EPA’s abandoned efforts to link fracking and contamination:

A 30-month state investigation costing more than $900,000 concludes fracking is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion but leaves many other questions unresolved about the role natural gas operations may have played in polluting the water.

Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.

Those findings, released Friday as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality, come almost four years to the day since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside this tiny central Wyoming community.

EPA ultimately turned over its investigation to the state in 2013, fearing, as a Star-Tribune report later showed, that it could not defend its initial conclusion.

Not that these conclusions will dissuade anti-fracking activists, who will continue to cite Pavillion even after the determination the connection was “unlikely”:

The DEQ report left several key questions unresolved. While fracking was ruled out as a likely source of contamination, the DEQ report did not completely exonerate Encana Corp., the Canadian company that operates the Pavillion gas field.

Regulators said more research is needed to determine if gas wells have served as a pathway for contaminants reaching drinking water sources. And they noted additional examination is needed of disposal pits in the area, where drilling mud and cuttings have been stored for decades and could have leaked into the groundwater.

But in a sign of Pavillion’s complexity, they said the area’s unique geology might also be to blame. Pavillion’s gas bearing formations are shallow, permeable and relatively close to formations that produce drinking water.

After 30 months, there is some clarity, but Pavillion will remain a contentious narrative as anti-fractivists push forward across the country and in Colorado next year.

***

Current and former Colorado politicos chime in on the Paris climate change conference:

Former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth, known for organizing the 1988 Hansen hearing that helped propel the issue of climate change to national attention, said the Paris agreement marks a turning point in the international community’s commitment to fighting global warming.

“The fact that every country has agreed and nobody is denying the science means that this agreement has a very important science base, which did not occur before, with a real strong consensus around the science,” Wirth said.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the Paris agreement would have little realistic impact on limiting some of the world’s biggest polluters and was instead a distraction from more pressing foreign policy issues.

“Once again, the president is attempting to give away the barn by forcing Americans to shoulder the cost for a climate deal that does nothing tangible to limit the world’s biggest polluters like China, India and Mexico,” Tipton said. “The American people would be far better served by an administration that is focused on addressing the national security threats posed by ISIS instead of finding new ways to further punish responsible American energy producers and drive up energy costs on American families.”

***

Looks like the EPA is trying to skip out on responsibility for the poisonous Animas River spill it triggered in southwest Colorado back in August, according to The Daily Signal:

In their report, the EPA claims it was engaged in only “careful scraping and excavation” with a backhoe outside the mine. “Just prior to finishing, a team noticed a water spout a couple of feet high in the air near where they had been excavating.”

The report goes on to say that the spout (that they just happened to notice) quickly turned into a gusher of yellow toxic water.

It seems the EPA would have us believe the mine erupted on its own (which is like arguing, but, Your Honor, I was just carrying the gun when it went off all on its own!).

The EPA’s report goes on to allege that the mine entrance (or adit) was larger than they “anticipated,” and the “fact that the adit opening was about 2 times the assumed 8 to 10 foot maximum adit height resulted in a closer than anticipated proximity to the adit brow, and combined with the pressure of the water was enough to cause the spout and blowout.”

In other words, the mine did it!

Is it possible that the spill was caused by the EPA being careless? Nope. The authors claim they were digging “to better inform a planned consultation” scheduled for nine days later.

Essentially, the EPA claims that the spill was an act of God, rather than its own fault.

More reports are forthcoming, as well as hearings and other activities, including lawsuits. This spill won’t easily recede from the news any time soon:

DENVER – Congressional Republicans are questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency interfered with a separate investigation into the Gold King Mine spill after an earlier internal review clashed with other accounts of the incident.

In a letter Friday to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr., U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, questioned the timing and substance of recent interviews conducted by EPA officials.

The separate report from the inspector general is not expected until early 2016.

“It was a very narrow focus, and it was incomplete, and there are obvious discrepancies …” Bishop told The Durango Herald at a congressional hearing last week at a mine in Idaho Springs, referencing the EPA’s Aug. 24 internal report. “It raises all sorts of questions about what’s taken place. That’s why we’ve got to start over.”

And La Plata County has tentatively agreed to EPA (taxpayer) funded remediation, which the agency still needs to approve:

A 10-year cooperative agreement in which the Environmental Protection Agency would provide $2.4 million for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill received unanimous support from La Plata County Board commissioners on Tuesday.

The federal agency has assumed responsibility for a breach at the abandoned mine portal that sent 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

EPA officials have until Feb. 1 to approve, amend or reject the agreement, which includes eight tasks to ensure the future health and safety of the county’s residents and environment. Those include continued work with Wright Water Engineers, which has conducted for the county an analyses on the Animas River’s health, independent of the EPA.

Other initiatives include a real-time water-monitoring system to alert the county of changes in water quality, developing a response plan for future environmental incidents and hiring a contractor for community outreach – to explain pre- and post-spill data to the public.

***

Sometimes in the course of celebratory effusion, the proponents of renewable energy–in this case, solar advocates begging for an extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit–spill the beans on how much the industry is completely reliant on government subsidies in order not just to be competitive in their parlance, but actually remain “viable” at all (and in Slate, no less):

The solar investment tax credit—in which owners of solar-panel systems get a 30 percent tax credit—was always meant to be temporary and is set to expire next year. [emphasis added] The Republicans in Congress generally favor fossil fuels over renewables, generally oppose anything President Obama is for, and deny the need to deal with climate change. So as fall settled in, investors began to focus on the fact that by the end of 2016, the solar investment tax credit of 30 percent would fall to 10 percent for commercial systems and disappear entirely for home-based systems.

Another problem: Renewable energy is as much about financial engineering as it is about electrical engineering. For solar to work, investors had to believe that the structures rigged up to build solar would stand up over time… [emphasis added]

Next, Washington delivered—defying the conventional wisdom. Newly installed House Speaker Paul Ryan realized that he’d have to negotiate with congressional Democrats if he wanted to get a budget and tax deal before the end of the year. And as they came to the table, another miracle happened: The Democrats held fast. On Dec. 14, Democrats indicated they would be willing to support the Republican-backed effort to lift the ban on oil exports—but only if the Republicans would consent to measures including a multiyear extension of renewable energy credits. It worked. Last Friday, Congress voted to extend the 30 percent solar investment tax credit through 2019, and then to reduce it to 10 percent through 2022.

That move instantly made the U.S. solar industry viable for another six years. [emphasis added] Investors were elated. SolarCity’s stock popped as details of the budget agreement began to emerge and then soared on its announcement. By Friday, the stock was above $56, up about 117 percent from its November low. SunEdison’s stock closed on Friday at $6.51, up 127 percent in a month. The Guggenheim Solar ETF is up about 30 percent from Nov. 19 through last Friday.

God bless us, everyone.

It will cost us, everyone. Except for the solar companies, who are busy carving up the fatted Christmas goose.

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December 17 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Environmental ‘Propaganda’ Agency; electric rate hikes called ‘discrimination’; anti-energy activists promise to ‘ratchet up’ efforts

Some commodity pricing is giving Colorado Xcel ratepayers a temporary reprieve from escalating energy costs:

Xcel said the new rates will result in “significantly lower bills, particularly for natural gas customers, for the second half of the current winter heating season.

“Compared on a year-to-year basis to better gauge the seasonal impacts of weather, both residential and small-business customers’ (natural gas) bills will be approximately 21 percent lower next quarter, when compared to the first quarter of 2015,” Xcel said.

Electricity bills are expected to drop about 5 percent compared to the current quarter, the utility said.

For the most part, Xcel passes changes in commodity prices, and the change in costs associated with supplying power and natural gas, along to customers on a dollar-per-dollar basis.

Commodity prices fluctuate, but the downward trend will be welcome for as long as it sticks around, or until it is offset by higher energy costs elsewhere, due to expensive replacement of baseload power with exotic, renewable energy sources.

***

The next legislative session should feature quite a few oil and gas battles, with one Democratic State Representative queueing up a bill to attack natural resource producers:

State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would force oil and gas companies to compensate residents for any loss in property value tied to drilling activities, including damage done by earthquakes linked to deep-earth wastewater injection wells. But state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has vowed to block the measure in the Senate.

“If it comes to my committee, I’d do everything I can to make it go away,” Sonnenberg said. “Quite frankly, it’s another serious attempt to run oil and gas companies out of business in Colorado… Everyone knows the pro- oil-and-gas bills go to the House to die and that the anti- oil-and-gas bills go to die in the Senate.”

That’s the response Salazar said he expected.

“This shouldn’t be a politicized fight,” he said last Saturday at a Thornton town hall he convened on the issue. “I believe we (in state government) need to give up some of the power to local governments. They need to be able to police these industries in their area.”

The benefit of a divided legislature is that extreme bills like this will likely not make it too far in the opposing chamber. But the bill will still be heard, and we expect some rhetorical fireworks over legislation similar to this.

***

Anti-energy activists in our state plan to “ratchet up” their efforts beyond legal means in the near future:

The leader of a national activist organization behind ban-fracking campaigns in Colorado, Ohio and elsewhere is calling on activists to “ratchet up” civil disobedience and begin “filling up jails.”

The comments are from Thomas Linzey, founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in an interview he did with Chris Hedges’ Days of Revolt. From the interview:

HEDGES: “Well, you have talked about it as a kind of military operation. Explain what it would look like.”

LINZEY: “Well, I think it means thinking about civil disobedience differently than we’ve thought about it before. So it’s not just to make a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project itself. And that means, I think, successive days. It means rotating people through. It means bringing people in from other places. It means filling up jails.” (emphasis added)

Linzey went on to suggest that the law isn’t really important here:

“I mean, our resistance has to ratchet up, the opposition has to ratchet up our stuff to a point where it’s actually actively interfering with these projects, because if you don’t do that and you rely entirely on the legal process and the legal process is so stacked against you in terms of what municipalities can and can’t do, that at that point you have no other option but to engage in that type of action.” (emphasis added)

Growing frustration on the part of anti-energy activists seems to be fueling (pun intended) a sense of urgency. We hope this amounts to nothing more than bravado, but hope that Colorado’s natural resource developers–our neighbors–stay out of harm’s way.

***

The Environmental Protection Agency? How about the Environmental Propaganda Agency–says the Government Accountability Office:

Yesterday the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated federal law in its use of social media to promote its controversial “WOTUS rule,” redefining the scope of the “waters of the United States” subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the GAO concluded that the EPA violated express limits on the use of appropriations for indirect or grassroots lobbying, and that in doing so, the agency violated the Antideficiency Act.

According to the GAO, the EPA used various social media platforms, including Thunderclap, to develop support for its proposal to expand and clarify the scope of its own regulatory jurisdiction and combat opposition to the rule. The EPA also used social media communications to promote materials supporting the WOTUS rule by environmentalist advocacy groups, including materials that were clearly designed to oppose legislative efforts to limit or block the rule. The GAO labeled these efforts “covert propaganda.” The New York Times had previously documented some of the EPA’s actions.

***

Good legislation is often larded with bad–pork, paybacks, and wheeling-dealing that makes the whole thing a whole lot less palatable–and the proposed extension of the wind production tax credit and the investment tax credit for solar has the renewable industry singing the praises of the proposed lifting of the oil export ban:

Michael Zarin — head of external communications for Vestas — said via email that the company is “pleased” by the proposed extension.

“As currently structured, the extension and phase-out plan would give the industry the longer-term certainty that we’ve been seeking,” Zarin said. “Together with wind energy’s natural competitiveness against other power generation sources, the PTC extension agreement would help ensure a solid future for wind energy in the U.S.”

The solar industry’s investment tax credit, currently a 30 percent credit for commercial, residential and utility-scale solar power systems, also would be extended and phased down through 2022 under the proposal.

The credit, as proposed, would stay at 30 percent through 2019, and then fall to 26 percent in 2020. It would drop to 22 percent in 2021 and 10 percent in 2022. The bill also offers a commence-construction clause that would extend the credit to any project in development started before the end of 2021 and be finished before the end of 2023.

“We are delighted a five-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit has been included in the omnibus bill,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We worked hard to get it included, and are working hard to make sure it passes.”

***

Mining for a photo-op to discuss the fallout of the EPA’s Gold King Mine spill:

IDAHO SPRINGS – The first-ever congressional hearing inside a mine was held Monday, offering a dramatic image of the impact the Gold King Mine spill has had on policy talks.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held its field hearing inside the Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs, where the panel discussed legislation aimed at training and recruiting engineers to work on mining reclamation efforts.

“This is weird,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, who made his remarks while wearing a hard hat and looking up at rock formations inside the mine, which is used for training by the Colorado School of Mines.

Discussions around mining reform gained momentum after the August Gold King Mine spill, in which an estimated 3 million gallons of old mining sludge poured into the Animas River, turning it a mustard-yellow. The river tested for initial spikes in heavy metals.

***

Efforts to increase electricity rates in the southwest part of the state were sustained, as a measure to push back failed, with opponents of the rate hike calling the residential-focused increases “discrimination”:

An effort to reverse a decision last month to increase residential electric base rates failed at the La Plata Electric Association’s meeting on Tuesday with a split 6-6 vote.

In November, the board approved on a 6-5 vote a new rate structure that will cost local residents about $5.25 more per month on their electric bills, based on usage. Commercial and industrial users will see an estimated 4 percent decrease on next year’s bills.

However, Tuesday’s main point of contention was last month’s decision to raise the residential base rate from $20.50 to $21.50 a month, which had several board members concerned that the increase would “exacerbate inequality” in the region.

“If we continue to do this, we are harming and discriminating more and more against our members,” said board member Jeff Berman in reference to the 60 percent increase in base charges over the last five years. “I cannot support a base charge increase that exacerbates inequality and discrimination.”

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December 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Fracking ban faces CO Supremes; fracktivist compares technology to slavery; House GOP calls Interior EPA spill report a “whitewash”

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments over Longmont’s fracking ban:

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court will consider Longmont’s voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

Longmont voters added the ban to the drilling method, also called fracking, to the City Charter in 2012, convinced that a city-negotiated set of regulations on oil and gas drilling didn’t go far enough.

Both the regulations and the ban brought lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. The oil and gas regulations lawsuit was dismissed as part of a compromise brokered by Gov. John Hickenlooper before the 2014 election.

The suit on the charter ban, however, has progressed through district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals and is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The city has argued that the state allows for local control, that Longmont voters should be able prohibit a type of drilling in city limits.

It is not known when a ruling can be expected.

***

Speaking of local fracking bans, Colorado Peak Politics found this gem from “fractivist Maria Orms, head of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, at an Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now (ACCDAN) meeting”:

“If you accept anything like an MOU [memorandum of understanding], that’s your terms of surrender…signing an MOU is collusion with the oil and gas industry. We need to talk to our county commissioners and tell them not to agree to any of this.

“Apartheid was legal at one point. Would you agree with that? Slavery was legal. Didn’t make it right. Well, maybe that doesn’t apply here to an environmental issue, this is not right, do not agree to this.”

***

Adding more time and uncertainty to drilling operations in Colorado as a result of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fracking task force recommendations has operators weighing risks and reconsidering Colorado operations:

“The risk [to operate] in Colorado has gone up because of this potential rule or potential application of this on a case-by-case basis,” Wonstolen said.

The COGCC on Monday held its third day of hearings on controversial proposed rules to implement two recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force in February.

The recommendations, No. 17 and 20, focused on increasing the communications between local governments and energy companies about where new oil and gas wells would be located in and around neighborhoods. It also called for the impacts of those new wells to be mitigated through best management practices.

But where the proposed rules would be enforced, and how the impacts would be mitigated, has spawned a months-long battle that’s expected to drag into next year. Another day of hearings is expected to be scheduled in late January.

Oil and gas industry representatives said the COGCC’s rules go too far. Citizen groups and representatives from local governments said they don’t go far enough.

***

And one other recommendation from the Governor’s task force calling for a complaint line on oil and gas operations has begun collecting said complaints:

A new state-run program created to field and respond to health concerns related to oil and gas operations has started to receive complaints.

As of Thursday evening, the new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program had fielded 20 complaints, according to Dr. Daniel Vigil, who is heading the program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The program began Oct. 15, allowing people to file a health concern and access information. Information includes “unbiased” staff reviews of existing research on the health impacts related to oil and gas development, said Vigil.

In addition, a mobile air monitoring program is being designed and is expected to be completed in the spring.

The health response program, which Vigil said is the first of its kind in the country, was one of nine approved recommendations from a task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper as part of a compromise to avoid multiple oil- and gas-related ballot issues in 2014.

It will remain to be seen how “unbiased” those review remain, and whether or not a concerted effort by anti-energy forces moves to overwhelm the complaint system in an effort to draw attention.

***

Carbondale is implementing government carbon fees based on energy consumption as state and federal subsidies for renewable energy disappear:

“Carbon fees harness market forces to encourage local investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Michael Hassig, former Carbondale mayor, said in a prepared statement. “We have to take what steps we can, now, right here in our own community, to reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

In 2010, Carbondale set the goals of increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent; reducing petroleum consumption 25 percent; and obtaining 35 percent of energy from renewable sources all by 2020. These figures are measured off of a 2009 baseline.

One scenario calculates that by installing energy-saving measures in 1,200 homes and in 60 businesses, combined with doubling the amount of solar electric systems (or the equivalent of 800 kilowatts of power-generating capacity), Carbondale could meet its targets, according to CLEER’s website. These energy improvements could be achieved by investing $1.1 million per year over the next five years.

The Carbondale trustees adopted a resolution in 2014 that dedicates 20 percent of the town’s state severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues to help reach clean-energy goals. Traditionally, funding from federal and state government grants, the town’s general fund, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (generated through building fees in Pitkin County and Aspen) and utilities have been used toward energy efficiency.

But the federal and state grants have since dried up, necessitating another path forward to raise revenue.

Carbon “fees” are not a harnessing or channeling of voluntary market decisions, they are an example of government force, picking energy behavior winners and losers.

***

A battle over a Department of the Interior inspector general report on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill has prompted Republican calls that the effort was “whitewash” of EPA efforts and lacked independent review:

The accident prompted harsh criticism of the EPA for failing to take adequate precautions despite warnings a blowout could occur. Yet Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said a review by her agency showed the spill was “clearly unintentional.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in there to suggest criminal activity,” Jewell testified during an appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans were dissatisfied. They pointed to earlier statements in which Jewell and other agency officials said the Interior review focused on technical mining issues — not the potential culpability of those involved in the spill.

Immediately after Wednesday’s hearing, committee Chairman Rob Bishop asked Congress’s non-partisan Government Accountability Office to investigate the Interior Department’s evaluation. The Utah Republican accused Jewell and other agency officials of stonewalling his repeated efforts to obtain documents relevant to the spill.

The clean up bill for the EPA spill is around $8 million, according to the 2015 “Wastebook” issued by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), and summarized here by Colorado Peak Politics:

An Orange River Runs Through It: The Animas River. Perhaps you’ve heard of this disaster? The EPA contaminated it, and then, denied responsibility. To date, the EPA has spent $8 million cleaning up its own mess, and that figure is expected to grow.

***

It wouldn’t be a Cheat Sheet without a Clean Power Plan update, so here’s one from the National Federation of Independent Business:

But NFIB believes that the Administration is once more overstepping with the Clean Power Plan. For one it imposes quotas on each state, mandating that they achieve targets for emission reductions—targets that, in some cases, are wholly unrealistic. The plan rewards states that have already taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would penalize states that fail to meet their federally mandated reduction targets. To avoid those penalties the rule allows states that are missing their targets to enter into cap-and-trade compacts, which would require those states to essentially purchase credits (at great cost) from states that are meeting their targets. Thus the rule penalizes states that have chosen—for the same policy reasons as Congress—to reject such regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Accordingly, the rule raises serious federalism problems because the federal government cannot force the states to enact law that they do not wish to enact. But as we argue—first and foremost—there is a separation of powers problem with the EPA rewriting the Clean Air Act. Once again, we’re fighting in court to enforce the basic principle that only Congress can make law. And once more, we’re defending small businesses against extreme energy-rate hikes.

We are currently asking a federal court to issue an injunction preventing EPA from enforcing the rule against the states. Our hope is that we will ultimately strike-down the rule as another example of executive overreach. For further explanation as to how this rule will affect ordinary small business owners, check out Randi Thompson’s recent editorial in the Reno-Gazette Journal.

***

It’s trees vs. bugs in the forests near Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Forest Service is giving the nod to the bugs, according to this Gazette editorial:

If our plush green backdrop becomes an ugly brown wasteland, tourists will avoid us. Home and business values may drop. And, of course, dead trees greatly increase the likelihood of more deadly, costly forest fires.

Because of diligence by the governor and mayor, we could have a good chance of saving thousands of acres of trees. There is one big problem: The Obama administration’s U.S. Forest Service. Federal forest officials seem to think tree-killing bugs have a right to life.

Forest-managing entities working cooperatively on a contract to exterminate the bugs include: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responsible for the 1,260-acre Cheyenne Mountain State Park; Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, responsible for 2,132 acres of city-owned forest; NORAD, which manages 400 acres; Broadmoor Bluffs Subdivision, with 291 acres; Broadmoor Resort, 146 acres; Broadmoor Expanse, 1,677 acres; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 81 acres, and El Pomar with 140 acres.

“The only party I know of that is not interested is the U.S. Forest Service,” said Dan Prenzlow, southeast regional manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They have 1,300 acres touching all the rest of us.”

The Forest Service remains adamantly against spraying, saying that nature should take its course:

Oscar Martinez, district manager for the Pikes Peak District of the U.S. Forest Service, said there is no chance the federal agency will join the eight other entities killing bugs. Even if federal officials could be convinced to change their minds, Martinez said, the federal government would require so much environmental assessment that nothing could be done in time to make a difference.

“If you bought a house up there with big trees, and you moved here for those big trees, I understand the concern,” Martinez said. “But there is a natural cycle of forest disturbance that must be allowed to occur as part of responsible forestry management.”

By letting nature run its course, Martinez said, dead and dying trees can “release the vegetation that was suppressed by the tree cover. If you look at butterflies, they are tied to flowering plants that are suppressed by trees.”

Martinez said a naturally occurring bacteria detected by federal foresters stands to kill many of the bugs over the coming year, which should save a lot of trees. But Prenzlow said federal officials told state officials two years ago the bugs would begin dying naturally. They remain alive and well.

“We’re going into our third year and the bugs have not died. The trees are struggling and dying, so we’re going to spray,” Prenzlow told The Gazette.

***

A lot of energy is going to pot–literally:

Attendees learned that Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells some 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year, or enough to power some 35,000 homes. The U.S. marijuana-growing industry could soon buy as much as $11 billion per year in electricity.

One study estimates that it takes as much energy to produce 18 pints of beer as it does just one joint. The data are alarming, and will only get more so as legalization spreads. But legalization, if approached correctly, also opens doors of opportunity. The biggest guzzlers of electricity also hold the most potential for realizing gains via efficiency.

Back in 2011, a California energy and environmental systems analyst, Evan Mills, published a paper quantifying the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. That footprint, he discovered, was huge. His findings included:

While the U.S. pharmaceutical sector uses $1 billion/year in energy, indoor cannabis cultivation uses $6 billion.

Indoor cannabis production consumes 3 percent of California’s total electricity, 9 percent of its household electricity and 1 percent of total U.S. electricity (equivalent to 2 million U.S. homes per year).

U.S. cannabis production results in 15 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, or the same as emitted by 3 million cars.

Cannabis production uses eight times as much energy per square foot as other commercial buildings, and 18 times more than an average home.

Time to stop before I write any more doobie-us puns. Have a great weekend!

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December 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: US House resolutions push back on Clean Power Plan, rail vs. pipelines in Denver, Gold King Mine owner has strong words for EPA

December 3, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, New Energy Economy 

The U.S. House passed two resolutions on the Clean Power Plan and carbon emissions this week:

The House sent a resounding message to the nations gathering in Paris for international talks on climate change by approving two Senate resolutions to block President Obama’s restrictions on power plants.

The resolutions now go to Obama. When the resolutions passed the Senate last month, the White House said Obama would veto the resolutions.

The House on Tuesday voted 242-180 to block the Clean Power Plan, a mostly symbolic measure by Congress to stop President Obama’s signature environmental regulation. The chamber also passed a second resolution to block carbon emissions limits on new power plants, 235-188.

The Clean Power Plan, seen as Obama’s signature environmental regulation, is the centerpiece of the administration’s commitments to the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, being held in Paris during the next two weeks.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said the vote is meant to show the 195 other countries gathering in Paris that there are serious objections to the Obama’s plans in the United States.

“We want to send a message to the climate change conference in Paris that in America there’s serious disagreement with the extreme policies of this president,” Whitfield said.

***

There are at least two ways to ship crude oil and related fuels–by rail or via pipeline–and the recent surge in tank cars on the nation’s rail lines have mashed up against the rapid urbanization of former industrial and commercial areas of Denver, such as the neighborhoods between Union Station and the Platte River:

Peering through four panes of insulating glass, it’s not the noise that bothers Don Cohen as a daily parade of freight trains passes 50 feet outside his condo. He and some Riverfront Park neighbors are troubled by what they’re seeing on the tracks more frequently. Tanker trains carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids — reflecting a shift in energy trends — rumble past the gleaming high-rise condo and apartment buildings several times a week, he says.

Those tankers pass near other Denver neighborhoods, too, old and new, upscale and hardscrabble. Highways and railroads box in some areas, with only one way out if disaster were to strike.

The trains also travel near the city’s major sports venues and Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, raising fears among some about what might happen in a fiery derailment or other accident — however small the chances might be.

Appeals by Cohen and others to city officials for increased emergency planning have met with mixed success.

It’s difficult to ignore that the rail lines in the region have

The numbers of rail shipments have increased over the past 7 years:

Nationally, crude oil volume on the rails has skyrocketed from just shy of 10,000 tank cars in 2008 to about 500,000 last year, The Associated Press recently reported. In Denver, according to city officials’ summary of reports by the two major railroads, trains carried well over 15,000 tank cars of flammable liquids in a recent one-year period, including 8,000 filled with crude oil.

***

The owner of the Gold King Mine shares more insights into the August Environmental Protection Agency-triggered spill in southwest Colorado:

Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, was vacationing at a remote lake in upstate New York when a friend sent him images of the Environmental Protection Agency-contracted crew’s triggered blowout on his property, effectively turning the Animas River into an orange spectacle. He was speechless and horrified, but not surprised.

“I’ve been trying to make everybody aware of the dangers posed by the Sunnyside Mine pool for 14 years,” he told The Durango Herald last week. “But when I saw the pictures, I just felt my life was over. I just thought, ‘Oh God, what did they do?’”

The EPA, investigating the Gold King Mine’s partially collapsed tunnel, accidently released an estimated 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage Aug. 5 into Cement Creek, down the Animas River and into the San Juan River in New Mexico.

Hennis, for his part, has long maintained increased flows from the Gold King Mine are a result of groundwater seeping from the vast, adjacent Sunnyside Mine network after it was plugged, first in 1996.

“I went up to the Sunnyside offices that were in Gladstone at that point and said, ‘I’d like to talk about the discharge,’” he said. “They denied everything, and have been denying it ever since.”

Hennis minced no words about how he felt since the EPA took over four months ago:

In the aftermath of the Aug. 5 blowout, Hennis said he gave the EPA the keys to his land for an immediate cleanup response. But since, he claims the federal agency has enforced a complete takeover of his property.

“They’ve been so thoroughly arrogant, incompetent, and frankly criminal in their outlook, that it’s kind of like dealing with the mafia,” he said. “It is very much an act of rape. I don’t mean to denigrate women who’ve gone through it, and for that matter, some men, but it’s been such an ugly penetrative act on an unwilling victim.”

An unrelated uranium mine spill near Cañon City has activists comparing it to the EPA Gold King Mine spill, though the volume is nowhere near as large as the August spill, and was located at a 30-year-old Superfund site (a designation many desired for area around the Gold King Mine):

Colorado health officials were reviewing an explanation from Cotter Corp. on Monday after a spill at Cotter’s defunct uranium mill in central Colorado — one of the nation’s slowest Superfund cleanups.

A pipeline leaked about 1,800 gallons last week on Cotter’s 2,538-acre property uphill from Cañon City and the Arkansas River.

Well tests in July found water in the waste pipeline area contained elevated uranium (577 parts per billion, above a 30 ppb health standard) and molybdenum (1840 ppb, above a 100 ppb standard).

This spill was the latest of at least five since 2010. Federal authorities in 1984 declared an environmental disaster and launched a Superfund cleanup.

This spill prompted comparisons to the EPA’s toxic spill near Durango:

“They need to eliminate the contamination at its source,” said attorney Travis Stills, who represents the community group Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

Buried mill tailings and impoundment ponds “continue to be sources of contamination. It’s some of the most toxic mining residue you could have — all of what you’d expect to find at a Gold King disaster, plus an overlay of uranium and radioactive isotopes, flowing into groundwater with a very direct route to people and the Arkansas River, ” Stills said. “What’s it going to take to get real action?”

***

Approximately 89 percent of the state’s oil production, or nearly 100 million barrels by year’s end, will come from Weld County in 2015, despite declining energy prices:

Despite a general slowdown in oil drilling across the Denver-Julesburg Basin and elsewhere, production growth in Weld County this year is on track to top 100 million barrels of oil.

Oil production growth in the county continues to cast a long shadow over the rest of the state, with more than 89 percent of the state’s production this year coming from Weld, up from 85 percent in 2014.

Industry analysts say operators are getting more oil from every well by drilling the best parts of the basin, employing improved well fracturing techniques and optimizing operations.

“We are seeing a relentless drive to push down costs across the basin,” said Reed Olmstead, manager of North America supply analytics, upstream strategy and competition at IHS Energy in Englewood. “Improved productivity is an important part of well economics, and in this price environment, only the best wells are getting drilled.”

Here are some of the staggering numbers from Weld County:

For the first half of 2015, Weld oil production averaged 8.7 million barrels per month, up from a monthly average of 6.7 million barrels in 2014.

Statewide oil production for 2015 so far is at 79.46 million barrels. Of that, 70.85 million barrels, or 89 percent, were produced in Weld. Rio Blanco is the second-largest oil county in Colorado with 2015 production of 2.6 million barrels produced to date.

Barring an unexpected drop-off in production, Weld is on pace to produce more than 100 million barrels of oil this year, a remarkable milestone considering the county produced just 26.8 million barrels in 2011.

In 2014, Weld produced 81.4 million barrels, or 85 percent, of the statewide total of 95.2 million barrels. For Weld, that was an increase of 13.8 million barrels, or 19 percent, from 2013 production.

***

Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has introduced a bill designed to spur carbon capture technology:

A bipartisan measure being carried by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and a Republican senator from Ohio aims to boost capture and storage of carbon dioxide, which would not only keep it out of the atmosphere but make it available for use in boosting oil production.

Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Rob Portman introduced the Carbon Capture Improvement Act last month. It would help power plants and industrial facilities finance the purchase and installation of carbon capture and storage equipment. Businesses would be able to make use of private activity bonds, which typically are used by local or state governments, are tax-exempt, and can be paid back over a longer period of time.

The captured carbon dioxide could be stored underground or used by energy companies in a process known as enhanced oil recovery.

“This bill would reduce upfront costs, one of the largest impediments to carbon capture technology. It is good for the economy and good for the environment,” Bennet said in a recent news release. “In Colorado it would enhance our diverse energy portfolio. The captured carbon dioxide can be used by oil producers to extract more oil out of current wells — improving our energy security and boosting domestic energy production. It also reduces emissions from power plants and industrial facilities to help keep our air clean — which is something that Coloradans value and makes our state an attractive place to live.

“This bipartisan bill is a market-based, technology-neutral approach to attacking the problem that carbon dioxide creates.”

***

Finally, State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-SD1) says no to a carbon tax:

A tax on CO2 would also negatively impact those not directly tied to Colorado’s coal industry. From home heating to electricity to transportation, Coloradans depend heavily on energy to power their lives. The NAM study estimates that, under a carbon tax, prices for natural gas used for heating and electricity would rise more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, gasoline prices at the pump could jump by more than 20 cents a gallon. These price hikes will affect every family and business in the state and, by 2023, as many as 52,000 people could be put out of work.

This would hit rural Colorado especially hard, as the state’s agricultural sector would face higher prices at every level of production. These costs will ripple throughout the economy, affecting everyone from the ranchers and farmers who drive Colorado’s $40 billion agriculture industry, to families buying local produce.

This regressive, job-killing tax is often advertised as a market solution to cutting emissions. In reality, it’s simply another means of artificially raising the prices of affordable, reliable electricity and pressuring investment in expensive, unreliable energy sources like wind or solar. Rather than imposing additional costs on Colorado families, policymakers should adopt a real market solution that relies on technological innovation and consumer choice while retaining economic growth and low energy prices. If Colorado’s leaders are committed to protecting hard-working Coloradans and growing the state’s diverse economy, they should reject a carbon tax.

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