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

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.