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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.