May 14 Colorado Energy Roundup: fracking, ozone, and a national renewable energy standard

Energy In Depth’s Simon Lomax pokes holes in the American Lung Association’s report on ozone–and the Denver Post’s reporting on it–with input from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

Citing its own April 29 “report card” on the region’s air quality, the ALA told the Denver Post that levels of ground-level ozone – sometimes called smog – are deteriorating rather than improving. But the ALA went much further, claiming that while the air above the Denver metro area “looks cleaner than in the 1970s,” the region actually has “higher ozone” and the gains made since the 1970s “are going away.”

In the same news story – authored by the Post’s environmental writer Bruce Finley – the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) warned the ALA’s report card was “both inaccurate and misrepresents air quality in Colorado.” But Finley’s story didn’t detail what those inaccuracies and misrepresentations actually were.

In a follow-up interview with Energy In Depth, CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) Director Will Allison revealed that the ALA report card ignored a full year of air quality data from 2014, which shows ozone levels getting better, not worse. To claim there’s higher ozone now than back in the 1970s also ignores decades of air quality data that show “it’s gotten a lot better,” Allison said.

To say the ALA took a liberal look at its own conclusions to bolster an argument for increased ozone regulation appears correct.

“If you look at 2011-2013 averages, we had 10 monitors in the Denver North Front Range that exceeded the ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. But if you look at the 2012-2014 averages, only four monitors exceeded the federal standards. So there was a significant drop from 10 noncompliant monitors to four,” Allison told EID.

***

Colorado’s 21-member oil and gas task force, which concluded its meetings in February, received modest support (about $2 million) in the Colorado legislature for a handful of its recommendations:

The budget includes:
$1,364,713 to pay for 12 new employees for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with overseeing the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas sector.
$360,910 for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to create a hot line and website with information about the industry, and a chance to raise concerns about its operations.
$402,859 for the CDPHE to create a mobile air monitoring unit to watch for air pollution from industry operations and a person to operate it.

These small changes stand in contrast to some of the more pointed and disruptive resolutions the committee considered, and to the ballot measures that tripped off the Governor’s “compromise” move last August.

Fracking opponents, of course, decried the legislative session’s activity on oil and gas issues, while the industry hailed the results, according to Valerie Richardson at The Colorado Statesman.

Kicking the can down the road to 2016 on fracking issues–with Democrats sidestepping a fractious debate, as Richardson put it–may still not prove advantageous to Democrats split over the issue. With eco-left activists vowing to work hard again next November and having felt betrayed by maneuvering in 2014, Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election efforts might not get the smooth ride his party was hoping to craft. It certainly didn’t help former Sen. Mark Udall, who carved a more eco-friendly niche in his term, but ultimately suffered defeat last year.

***

Speaking of Sen. Bennet–an attempt to bolster his green credibility with new legislation aimed at a national renewable energy standard:

The bill unveiled Tuesday that would require utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, starting with an 8 percent requirement by 2016 followed by gradual increases.

Sen. Tom Udall has introduced this legislation in every session of Congress since 2008. The bill is based on his bipartisan initiative that passed the House in 2007. Co-sponsors this time around include Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“A national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) will help slow utility rate increases and boost private investment in states like New Mexico — all while combating climate change,” Udall said in a news release. “Investing in homegrown clean energy jobs just makes sense, and that’s why I’m continuing my fight for a national RES.”

***

Colorado’s western slope counties may avoid economic devastation if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides not to tap the greater sage-grouse with a designation as threatened or endangered:

The Interior Department has said it wants to reach the point that the Fish and Wildlife Service can find that no listing is warranted. Much of that decision lies with the way the BLM manages its lands and both agencies report to Jewell.

“We are very, very close to avoiding a listing altogether,” Hickenlooper said, noting that he spoke to [Secretary of Interior Sally] Jewell 10 days ago.

Finding that the bird should not be listed is Jewell’s goal, Hickenlooper said.

“I believe her. I don’t think she’s posturing.”

A listing by the FWS would be a critical blow to Colorado’s western counties, along with 10 other states, as one county commissioner told Gov. Hickenlooper.

“All of Moffat County is out of business,” Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe concluded, should the listing move forward contrary to Hickenlooper’s claims.

Testimony Against Divestment at CU Regent Board Meeting

April 16, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, Legislation, preferred energy 

Delivered April 16:

·         Thank you for the opportunity to speak today on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. My name is Michael Sandoval. I am a proud graduate of CU Boulder and CU Denver. I graduated with degrees in history and marketing. I am here today speaking as both a proud alumnus as well as for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank based in Denver.

·         First, let me emphasize that Colorado is a proud energy producing state. In fact, many of our friends, family and neighbors have jobs in this industry. Many of the men and women in these fields earned their degree from this institution. To stigmatize and demonize energy workers is both shameful and downright ignorant. I think Lisa Hamil’s op-ed in the Boulder Daily Camera earlier this year says it best, “Banning investment in fossil fuel companies makes no more sense than banning entire fields of study like geology and petroleum engineering, or classes like the Global Energy Management Program’s Lifecycle of Oil and Natural Gas Certificate Course that I teach at CU Denver Business School. But that’s where the divestment argument leads: If it’s bad to invest in energy companies that produce fossil fuels, then it must be even worse to educate the professionals who would run those companies.”

·         A July 2013 study from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business found more than 110,000 jobs in our state are supported by the oil and gas industry. Likewise, the industry spurs almost $30 billion in economic activity and generates $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenues. In other words, oil and gas is one of Colorado’s foundational industries – just as important as agriculture and tourism. To suddenly wipe out the oil and gas industry would cause tremendous harm to every Colorado family, not just the tens of thousands of Colorado families whose livelihoods depend on this vital economic sector.

·         Given the importance to Colorado’s economy, let me next point out that the anti-fossil fuel campaign is really a national campaign run by far-left environmental activists. Well-funded national organizations like 350.org that have no real interest in our state are the ones pouring millions of dollars into this campaign. They oppose all fossil fuels. They are currently running campaigns against the Keystone XL pipeline and attempting to ban natural gas production here in Colorado and across the country. Just this week, members of 350.org were protesting outside of Hillary Clinton’s campaign office saying that she was too moderate for them. To be blunt, this is a national campaign using college students to shut down one of Colorado’s leading job creators. These groups are simply too extreme for Colorado.

·         Let me also note that the divestment campaign would be all economic pain for no climate gain. As Dr. Daniel Fischel from the University of Chicago School of Law found in a study he conducted, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Every bit of economic and quantitative evidence available to us today shows that the only entities punished under a fossil-fuel divestment regime are the schools actually doing the divesting—with virtually no discernible impact on the targeted companies. Students and universities may nevertheless wish to make a symbolic or political statement, but they should know it will come at a high price. Talk is cheap, but divestiture is not.”

·         Numerous professors from across the country agree. A letter signed by leading professors from the University of California Berkeley, UCLA, Yale and Duke wrote, “In our view, continued engagement with the energy sector on these critical issues represents a far better and more practical approach than a policy of exclusion and isolation. Plainly put, the challenge of combating climate change is too great, and the costs associated with divestment are too considerable, for us to pursue these worthwhile objectives in any other way.” I should note that this letter was also signed by professors from CU.

·         Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post agrees, writing earlier this year that “Any institution facing a decision on divestment should welcome students and faculty urging divestment, and then respond with a forceful “no.” Carroll explains, “Every governmental projection of the world’s energy portfolio in the coming decades foresees still massive reliance on fossil fuels, however seriously we invest in alternatives. As the climate scientist James Hansen said a few years ago, “suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

·         Let me end by saying that I appreciate the students who are here today making their voices heard. As a CU alum who was politically active myself when I was on campus I know particularly well the power of student voices. It is noteworthy that the couple of dozen activists speaking in favor divestment pales in comparison to previous efforts on this campus. But I am pleased that there has been a good, constructive dialogue.

·         As an alumnus of CU, I urge the CU Board of Regents to reject the politically motivated divestment campaign and stand with the thousands of hard working CU grads who work all over the world to ensure we have access to abundant, affordable, and reliable energy resources.

Following testimony, CU Regents voted 7-2 to continue current investment strategies and reject #divestment:

Senate Committee Report on Billionaires and Eco-Left Activism in Colorado Draws on II Research

August 12, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, preferred energy 

A key section of the July report issued by the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee focusing on Colorado environmental activists draws from work that first appeared at the Independence Institute’s Complete Colorado blog.

In a wide ranging, heavily footnoted report released July 30, the Minority Staff of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works demonstrates the confluence of the Environmental Protection Agency, eco-left activists, and what it calls the “Billionaire’s Club” in a complicated, tax-evading, multi-million dollar philanthropy scheme of dark money:

“Through these arrangements, the Billionaire’s Club gains access to a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats who specialize in manufacturing phony “grassroots” movements and in promoting bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public. Not only is the system incredibly sophisticated, but the Club’s attorneys and accountants have mastered the loopholes and gray areas in the tax code, which enable them to obtain a full tax benefit, even when the recipient of the grant is not recognized as a public charity, and even if the money indirectly and impermissibly funds political activities.”

The report finds fault with the billionaires’ “scheme to keep their efforts hidden and far removed from the political stage,” which they characterized as “deliberate, meticulous, and intended to mislead the public.”

“While it is uncertain why they operate in the shadows and what they are hiding, what is clear is that these individuals and foundations go to tremendous lengths to avoid public association with the far-left environmental movement they so generously fund,” the report authors wrote.

Highlighting the byzantine tax procedures used to cloak the various foundations and individual donors, the report used case studies of efforts targeted in several different states, including Colorado.

In the section on activism targeting hydraulic fracturing, the report singled out New York anti-fracking efforts that later manifested in Colorado:

The same billionaire foundations behind the New York anti-fracking efforts have also moved into Colorado through two coalitions – Local Control Colorado and Frack Free Colorado, which are directly affiliated with the NY-based groups already discussed. Local Control Colorado claims to be, “a coalition of community, consumer and public interest groups from across Colorado” promoting an anti-fracking ballot measure. However, they list DC-based Food & Water Watch, which is funded by CA-based Schmidt and Tides, and NY-based Park, as part of the coalition. Food & Water Watch is also listed as a partner to another member of the Local Control Colorado coalition, Frack Free Colorado (FFC). Self- described as a “collaborative, grassroots movement that works to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking,” FFC’s website states the group is “a people’s movement that consists of concerned citizens, companies … and organizations.” However, at least two of the organizations listed as a member of FFC – Artists Against Fracking and Food & Water Watch – are based in New York and Washington, DC. Interestingly, FFC has reportedly tried to hide its partnership with another NY-based organization, Water Defense.

The attempt to keep these connections secret include removing evidence from the group’s web pages, as first reported by CompleteColorado.com in November 2013.

But the connections are repeatedly clear and demonstrable, and include the names of several specific individuals:

In addition to the funding and partnership ties, these schemes have one key employee in common who binds these cross-country efforts: Russell Mendell. Mendell previously worked for three of the NY-based organizations – Frack Action, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Water Defense. While at Frack Action in November 2011, Mendell organized a rally of activists in front of the White House calling for the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Mendell was also active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, once stating that Occupy was “about linking arms between the various movements … there’s not a lot that separates the environmental movement and Occupy Wall Street.” In 2012, Mendell, along with another Water Defense employee, Ana Tinsely, left to move across the country and work for FFC in an apparent coordinated effort to apply the same activist tactics used in New York to the attack on fracking in Colorado. Overall, these schemes illustrate a model with FFC and Local Control Colorado “grassroots” coalitions that bind efforts via partnerships with billionaire-backed groups that are far from local.

The report included the following diagram:
ffc diagram

Simon Lomax, a Denver-based energy industry consultant and spokesman for Energy In Depth, told Complete Colorado that none of the revelations are particularly surprising.

“This report confirms yet again that national ‘ban fracking’ groups and their ultra-rich donors have spent years campaigning behind the scenes to wipe out one of Colorado’s most important industries. I don’t know who they think they are fooling any more, but I must admit, it’s kind of amusing to watch guys like Russell Mendell scramble to hide their ties to Occupy Wall Street, Water Defense, Food & Water Watch and other fringe political groups,” wrote Lomax.

But this is not just about eco-left activists pushing a few ballot measures, as they did in 2013. This year, the stakes are much higher.

“Believe it or not, Congressman [Jared] Polis is siding with this cast of characters against Colorado’s working families and practically the entire business community of our state. If he throws his millions behind the activists and their cause, he’ll be bankrolling the permanent expansion of an extreme and angry form of political campaigning in Colorado that isn’t just anti-energy, but anti-business and anti-jobs,” Lomax concluded.

crossposted from Complete Colorado

January 23 Energy Roundup: Fracking Dishonesty; Interior Sec. Jewell Boots Press

January 23, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, renewable energy 

Periodically, the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center will take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in energy stories from around the United States and abroad, and bring the best (and worst) of those stories to your attention.

1. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell may have violated Colorado Open Meetings Law under its sunshine statutes by shutting out members of the press while visiting Moffat County on Tuesday. The meeting in Colorado centered on the status of the sage-grouse, a species whose designation could affect energy projects in the northwest portion of the state:

As she was leaving, Leavitt Riley said she saw Jewell in a car in the parking lot and the driver-side door was open, so she approached Jewell “and she said the press was not allowed at this meeting,” Leavitt Riley recalled.

“I said, do you realize more than a dozen elected officials were in it? She said the tour was open to the press but this was a closed meeting” and then drove away, Leavitt Riley said.

She said the newspaper is pursuing the matter with the Colorado Press Association. No one with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s office was available for comment Tuesday night.

2. From Lachlan Markay at the Washington Free Beacona Politico column riddled with inaccuracies from anti-fracking activists:

A pair of prominent environmentalists penned a column Tuesday for Politico Magazine attacking hydraulic fracturing littered with dishonest and incorrect claims.

“If you calculate the greenhouse gas pollution emitted at every stage of the production process—drilling, piping, compression—it’s essentially just coal by another name,” McKibben and Tidwell wrote.

The claim is frequently sourced to Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, who have found significantly higher life cycle emissions than are found in other studies.

Numerous government agencies, environmentalist groups, and academics have panned Howarth and Ingraffea’s work on the issue and produced their own studies showing relatively low life cycle emissions from natural gas.

“Their analysis is seriously flawed,” according to three Cornell colleagues, professors in the university’s departments of earth and atmospheric sciences and chemical and biological engineering.

3. Michael Bastasch at The Daily Caller highlights a report on the social benefits of fossil fuels:

Burning off carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to provide cheap electricity may have affected the climate, but the benefits of a carbonized economy far outweigh the costs, according to a new study.

The pro-coal American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) released a study showing that the benefits of carbonized fuel, like coal, to society are 50 to 500 times greater than the costs. Over the past two-and-a-half centuries increased fossil fuel energy production has helped more than double global life expectancy and increase global incomes 11-fold.

4. North Carolina State University issued a study finding that increasing the use of electric vehicles “is not an effective way to produce large emissions reductions”:

“We wanted to see how important EDVs may be over the next 40 years in terms of their ability to reduce emissions,” says Dr. Joseph DeCarolis, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the new model. “We found that increasing the use of EDVs is not an effective way to produce large emissions reductions.”

The researchers ran 108 different scenarios in a powerful energy systems model to determine the impact of EDV use on emissions between now and 2050. They found that, even if EDVs made up 42 percent of passenger vehicles in the U.S., there would be little or no reduction in the emission of key air pollutants.

Fracking Bans: A Postmortem

November 8, 2013 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation 

A contentious battle between anti-fracking activists such as Our Broomfield and supporters of the energy gathering method, including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, will have to wait just a bit longer for the dust to settle in Tuesday’s election.

Broomfield’s Question 300, a 5 year prohibition on the use of hydraulic fracturing and associated activities, will go to an automatic recount some time next week depends on the outcome of settling the remaining outstanding ballots. The measure was defeated by a mere 13 votes in the initial count:

Yet there is a wild card in the recount process — there are still eight days for military and overseas ballots to be returned, and deficiencies in some Broomfield ballots, such as questions about signatures or first-time mail voters who did not include a copy of their ID — need to be addressed. Those ballots could change the final tally and impact a recount, said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

If such a small margin remains, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office told the Broomfield Enterprise an automatic recount would be triggered, using the “one half of one percent difference” rule.

The proposed fracking bans elsewhere across the state–Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder–amounted to public relations window-dressing for anti-fracking activists in areas where hydraulic fracturing typically has not occurred in the past, or where the possibility of new developments would soon take place.

“Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic votes. Lafayette’s last new well permit was in the early 1990’s and Boulder’s last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999,” Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Tisha Schuller told The Colorado Observer.

As for Fort Collins, The Coloradoan blasted the measure there in a pre-election editorial for making the city a “pawn” in a “potentially costly environmental position statement” that “smacks of agenda-based partisanship” in a city that has few natural resources and is already ninety percent off limits to oil and gas development, even before the 5 year moratorium goes into effect.

Following the passage of the three measures, the Denver Post expressed disappointment in what it dubbed an “irresponsible agenda” in the form of the anti-fracking opponents’ real desire for a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing, disguised as local grassroots referenda.

“Symbolism needn’t be coherent,” the Post said.

Neither was the reaction to support of hydraulic fracturing when Zev Paiss, part of Frack Free Boulder, equated families who depend on natural resource development to terrorists:

“The scientists and their families who work on weapons of mass destruction depend on that regular paycheck too.”

In addition, that irresponsible symbolism will likely trigger big dollar lawsuits from the state:

Gov. John Hickenlooper told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd he will sue any community that bans fracking. He says the state constitution splits surface and mineral rights and bans violate that. State law also gives the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission rule-making authority, not local governments.

That didn’t seem to faze anti-fracking activists like Josh Fox, who tweeted:

That the symbolic fracking war pitted David–grassroots, underfunded fracking opponents–against the Goliath known as the oil and gas industry became part of the campaign narrative in all four measures, something the Wall Street Journal noted:

Colorado, with its long history of energy extraction, would be a bigger test of whether the oil and gas industry and its supporters can surmount growing opposition from some communities and national environmental groups.

As Colorado Peak Politics concluded, the successes emboldened not a rag-tag coalition, but a mightily funded effort to launch “frack wars across Colorado.”

Those big dollars, in a post collected by Peak, point to under-the-table, “dark” money being spent to support the bans. The decentralized attacks on fracking in Colorado can be traced, in part, to smoke-and-mirrors, DC-based outfits like Center for Western Priorities, according to the Washington Examiner.

With both sides claiming victory–and with Broomfield’s results hanging in the balance for a few more weeks and possible lawsuits looming on the horizon–2013’s fracking bans may only be a prelude to more municipal proposals, and possibly a statewide measure in 2014, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Think of economic impact before banning fracking

August 28, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Hydraulic Fracturing 

By Brandon Ratterman

Around the nation, self-described environmentalists have made hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and their perceived negative impact on the environment growing points of contention. In Colorado this debate led to several community-based moratoriums and talks of a statewide ban on fracking. But if a few organized, anti-fracking organizations realistically want to shut down an entire industry, they need to acknowledge the economic effects of those actions. Luckily, the University of Colorado (Boulder) recently published the economic and fiscal benefits of Colorado’s O&G industry, which is summarized in the paragraphs below.

In 2012, the O&G industry contributed a total of $29.6 billion to Colorado’s economy in direct and indirect activities. Of the total,  $9.3 billion is directly related to oil and gas production, which requires the most efficient extraction technology (hydraulic fracturing) to be competitive.

The value added from the O&G industry supports 111,500 Colorado jobs.  Of those jobs, the 29,000 employees that are directly involved in drilling, extraction and support jobs earned over twice as much as the average Colorado employee. In total, the O&G industry paid almost $6.5 billion in wages to Coloradoans in 2012.

The oil and gas industry also provided benefits to those outside of the industry through state and local funding. In 2012, Colorado state and local governments, school districts, and special interests received a total of $1.6 billion in revenues from the O&G industry. Of that $1.6 billion, O&G severance tax—which is a fee for extracting a non-renewable resource—contributed $163 million alone.

The economic and fiscal benefits from the oil and gas industry need to be remembered as statewide actions are considered. If the plan to ban fracking across Colorado is implemented, tens of thousands of Coloradans will be without a job. Likewise, the Colorado economy will be without tens of billions of dollars in revenue, of which over one billion will be cut in state and local government(s), schools and special interests. With effects of this magnitude, it would be advisable for Coloradans to disregard documentaries in this matter and independently research the environmental effects of “fracking.”

Brandon Ratterman is a research associate with the Energy Policy Center.

Gasland Part II

May 23, 2013 by schafer · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing 
The audience at the "Gasland Part II" screening in Boulder standing with director Josh Fox, fists in the air.

The audience at the "Gasland Part II" screening in Boulder standing with director Josh Fox, fists in the air.

Fracking has been an incredible boon for everyone in the United States. For the first time in decades, heavy manufacturing companies, such as Nucor Steel, are coming back to the United States to take advantage of low energy costs. The rest of the world stands to benefit from fracking, too. Fracking has the potential to free eastern Europe from its dependence on Russia’s gas supply, and the political bullying that comes with it. Japan and China can lower their natural gas costs, which are currently four times what we pay in the United States. In Africa, where poverty and disease go hand in hand, cheap energy can help to fuel and build the water purification and modern sanitation systems we enjoy in the developed world.

What makes people like Josh Fox–the director of “Gasland”–so scary, is that they have found a way to fight this amazing, life-promoting technology while evading honest discussion. They have developed and mastered the art of making terrifying “documentaries” using film techniques straight out of Hollywood horror films. Let me explain.

Last night I saw the sixth-ever showing of Fox’s newest film, “Gasland Part II.” The sequel did not disappoint. Just like the first film, the sequel showed Fox’s mastery of the techniques used by modern low-budget horror films. Borrowing a technique from the famous zombie apocalypse thriller “28 Days Later,” “Gasland Part II” begins with a rapid succession of choppy, blurred TV clips, over a crescendo of deep base tones resembling an ever-accelerating heartbeat. Then, the moment the audio and visuals hits their climax and the audience could not possibly take anymore, there is a sudden, abrupt and eerie silence. This leaves the audience in temporary state of extreme psychological discomfort, like the feeling of someone groping around in a pitch-black unfamiliar room. Now they are ready for Josh Fox to show them the light.

These techniques are not limited to the beginning of the film; Fox uses them throughout. Later, while showing flames coming off the top of a water well, a deep rumbling base sound swept through the room like what you would hear while watching a space shuttle launch in an IMAX theater. It was a loud, deep rumble, making it feel like the whole room was shaking. Of course, the real sound of the flame had been dubbed over using film editing software, which just shows another way in which Fox effectively uses his “artistic license” to shade the truth.

Another technique that caught my attention was the way Fox juxtaposed images of children with images of heavy machinery, making it seem as though we have to make an either-or choice between children and industry. This was straight out of the Hollywood blockbuster “Terminator II,” where images of children’s playgrounds and the sound of children laughing are contrasted with those of an industrial wasteland future dominated by killer robots. Truthfully, Fox does not go to this extreme–that would be too obvious–but the sheer amount of footage showing children walking up to well sites and posing before bulldozers would be inexplicable if it were not meant to give a similar impression: “Machines or children? Which side are you on?” (There was even a unexplained clip showing a three-legged dog. How can you not feel sympathetic toward a three-legged dog? But how many audience members will stop to wonder what that has to do with fracking?)

What astounded me most was not the techniques themselves but seeing their effect on the audience. At one point the audience was so worked into a fervor that there was a sudden outburst of boos and yelling triggered by a clip of Obama announcing an “all of the above” energy strategy. For the first time in my life, I actually heard someone (sitting somewhere to my left) let out an angry hiss. When I first read George Orwell’s book, “1984,” I remember thinking, in response to a scene where fictional characters hiss out at images of a character Emmanuel Goldstein, “the Enemy of the People,” that it sounded absurd. “Hissing?,” I thought, “Who hisses? That’s weird.” But apparently some people do, and I’ve just been watching the wrong films with the wrong crowds.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do about these kinds of films or how to protect audience members from the kinds of psychological manipulation they employ. In this case, I stood up during the Q&A and urged people to watch “FrackNation,” a more honest pro-fracking documentary, but I’m not sure that alone was enough. Maybe I’ll have an actual horror film director take a look at Fox’s methods to verify and make clear that this is what he is doing. If anyone has some better ideas, please feel free to share.

Frack On!

Much Ado About Thumping: Denver Post one-sided story

March 26, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Hydraulic Fracturing 

By Simon Lomax

Be afraid. Be very afraid…

vibration

That was the Denver Post’s front page article on March 16, which profiled a couple – Mieko and Charles Crumbley – who claim seismic surveying near Brighton, Colo. damaged a groundwater well on their property and put cracks in some of the walls in their home. But the oil and gas company that commissioned the survey says its contractors did not cause the damage, according to the story by the Post’s environmental writer Bruce Finley. Sounds like one of those classic “he said, she said” situations, right?

Well, no, actually. In reality, the claims by the Crumbleys are very unlikely, based on readily available facts on the way seismic surveying works. But the reporter failed to include those facts, and painted a misleading and frightening picture for his readers.

The type of seismic surveying in question is carried out by vibroseis trucks, which are informally known as “thumper trucks.” The use of these trucks has greatly reduced the use of small dynamite charges in seismic surveying. Here’s how the reporter describes the way these vehicles work:

“[T]he trucks, weighing up to 30 tons, drop heavy, metal vibrator plates from their undercarriages to thump and shake the ground. Analysis of pressure waves, similar to ultrasound, generates data that companies use to determine where to drill for oil and gas.”

Sounds pretty ominous. But take a look at this video of some vibroseis trucks in action:

In fact, while these vehicles are unquestionably big, the vibrations they create are very small. For that reason, scientists with state and federal agencies, experts in academia, the geologists and engineers of the oil and gas industry, and even other media outlets have reaffirmed the safety of vibroseis trucks many times. Here are a few examples:

In an urban environment, vibroseis-generated waves are less than background noise generated by buses, trucks, and trains … At its source you can feel a vibroseis shake the ground but as you move away your ears will hear the airborne sound waves much longer than your feet can feel those in the ground.

Utah Geological Survey

Residents standing near a vibroseis truck … may be able to detect it, but this process will not cause any interruptions of daily life or damage to structures.

U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory

Despite their relatively benign operations, these big machines sometimes appear more daunting to the populace than the commonplace dynamite. To assuage any concerns in that regard, companies sometimes resort to public demonstrations prior to operations. … Two light bulbs and two raw eggs were buried eight inches under the vibrating pads. Following the demo, the eggs were retrieved unbroken and the light bulbs still worked – to the amazement of the crowd of onlookers…

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

“If you stand near the truck you’ll be able to feel slight shaking in the bottom of your feet, but the level of shaking is far below the levels required to cause damage to pavement or structures” said [USGS scientist Rob] Williams.

U.S. Geological Survey

The seismic imaging process does not damage the street or negatively impact the earth below ground.

Long Beach Post (Long Beach, Calif.)

[T]here is no reliable evidence of these trucks causing well problems or damage to buildings.

University of New Brunswick, Canada

Unfortunately, the Post story didn’t just leave out these expert opinions. The article went a step further and suggested the Crumbley claim was one of several structural damage complaints. From the news story:

“State records show that since 2000, residents have filed 16 formal complaints about seismic surveys.”

Given the statements by the USGS, NETL and others about the very low risk of structural damage from vibroseis truck, we asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to identify those 16 complaints, which include the Crumbley case. Then we reviewed the case files on the COGCC’s online database.

It turns out just three of the complaints allege any structural damage from vibroseis truck operations. The rest of the complaints mostly deal with disputes over property access, noise and the potential impact of these heavy vehicles on soil and crops. Besides the Crumbley case, there are no other complaints of damage to a house, and only two allegations of damage to water wells.

In the first water well complaint, from 2000, the COGCC concluded there was “no indication that oil and gas activities in this area impacted the well.” It turned out the well was located next to the burned-out shell of an old house, hadn’t been used in two years, and there was trash both around and floating inside the well.  In the second water well complaint, from 2002, the COGCC found“no direct evidence of impact due to oil and gas operation” and concluded “[t]he most probable cause is corrosion in the casing from a shallow aquifer.”

So, instead of state records showing 15 other cases that support the Crumbley complaint, there appear to be none. Which makes sense, of course, because state and federal officials, industry experts and academics have repeatedly said that vibroseis trucks are very unlikely to cause structural damage.

However, let’s play the reporter’s game for a moment and assume the worst possible interpretation of those state records. Even when you group together all the 16 complaints to the COGCC that mention seismic surveying over the last 13 years – and include some more from residents in Aurora, Colo., as the Post’s story did – it’s hardly evidence of a commercial activity run amok. In fact, the Post’s own reporting suggests an average of between one and two complaints a year. That’s not bad when you consider Colorado’s oil and gas production has more than doubled since 2000. And it’s not scary either.

Of course, only time and further investigation will tell whether the Crumbley’s claims – however unlikely – are correct or mistaken. We’ll also have to wait and see if the alarmist tone of this particular news report scares some other residents into blaming seismic surveying for cracks in their drywall. But we can say two things now without equivocation: The oil and gas industry will cooperate fully with the state regulators investigating this matter, and the business of seismic surveying is nowhere near as scary as reporter Bruce Finley would have you believe.

This column appeared originally on Energy In Depth, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America as a research, education and public outreach program “focused on getting the facts out about the promise and potential of responsibly developing America’s onshore energy resource base.”

For a well-researched, easy-to-read, factual primer on hydraulic fracturing, check out our paper Frack Attack: Cracking the Case Against Hydraulic Fracturing.

Country can breathe sigh of relief. We’re still stuck with him…

March 4, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365, New Energy Economy 

By William Yeatman and Amy Oliver Cooke

As Coloradans we thought we might have to apologize to the rest of the country if President Barack Obama nominated former one-term Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to head the Energy Department. If the President wanted to make electricity costs skyrocket and the eco-left community happy, Ritter was his guy, but the President didn’t pick him.

Today, the Denver Post’s Allison Sherry broke the news that MIT physicist Ernest Moniz got the nod and the environmental community is none too pleased according to Mother Nature Network:

Despite his dense résumé and desire to cut emissions, however, Moniz can be a polarizing figure in scientific and environmental circles. Few experts deny the value of a scientist as DOE chief, but many fans of renewable energy worry about Moniz’s gusto for natural gas and nuclear power — not to mention his financial ties to the energy industry.

‘We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster,’ Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a recent press release. ‘We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.’

And the Washington Post reports:

But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.

‘We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,’ Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday.

The Sierra Club doesn’t have much credibility because financially it was sleeping with the enemy, having taken $26 million from Chesapeake Energy to destroy the market for coal.  One place they enjoyed great success was in Colorado with HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and cornerstone of Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”

Governor Ritter coined the term New Energy Economy for his signature agenda. In practice, his New Energy Economy entails three policies: (1) a Soviet-style green energy production quota; (2) subsidies for green energy producers; and (3) a mandate for fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, and natural gas is twice as expensive as coal in Colorado, so these policies inherently inflated the cost of electricity.

Last month, the Independence Institute published the first ever line item expensing of Ritter’s energy policies, and the results were shocking. In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy (the state’s largest investor-owned utility) ratepayers $484 million, or 18 percent of retail electricity sales.

This princely sum purchased the equivalent of 402 megawatts of reliable capacity generation. By comparison, Xcel had a surplus generating capacity (beyond its reserve margin) in 2012 of 700 megawatts—almost 75 percent more than the New Energy Economy contribution. Thanks to Governor Ritter’s energy policies, Xcel ratepayers in Colorado last year paid almost half a billion dollars for energy they didn’t need.

In addition to implementing expensive energy policies, Governor Ritter also has experience picking losers in the energy industry. In May 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered to Secretary Chu a letter in support of a $300 million loan guarantee for Colorado-based Abound Solar, a thin-filmed solar panel manufacturer. In the letter Ritter claimed Abound would “triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.”

Taxpayer money couldn’t keep Abound afloat, which never reached production capacity. After its solar panels suffered repeated failures, including catching fire, Abound declared bankruptcy in early 2012 leaving taxpayers on the hook for nearly $70 million and even more at the state and local level. A former employee explained, “our solar modules worked so long as you didn’t put them in the sun.”

Abound Solar wasn’t the only pound-foolish Stimulus spending associated with Governor Ritter. During his administration, the Colorado Energy Office’s coffers swelled with almost $33 million in stimulus subsidies for weatherization efforts. According to a recent report by the Colorado Office of State Audits, the Ritter administration failed to even maintain an annual budget for the program. As a result, the audit was unable to demonstrate whether the money had been spent in a cost effective manor. All told, the auditor found that the energy agency could not properly account for almost $127 million in spending during the Ritter administration.

Ritter told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the scathing audit accusing the agency under his watch of shoddy management practices was not the reason the President passed over him for Energy Secretary.

The former Governor is especially proud of the job creation associated with the New Energy Economy. To be sure, throwing taxpayer money at any industry would create jobs. The problem occurs when the public money spigot runs dry. In this context, an October 22, 2012 top fold, front page headline in the Denver Post is illuminating: “New energy” loses power; A series of setbacks cost over 1,000 jobs and threatens the state’s status in the industry. To put it another way, in the two years since Ritter left office, his New Energy Economy has atrophied in lockstep with the reduction in public funding.

Ritter has taken to proselytizing for the gospel of expensive energy. He founded the Center for the New Energy Economy, the purpose of which is to, “provide policy makers, governors, planners and other decision makers with a road map that will accelerate the nationwide development of a New Energy Economy.” He even brought with him the former head of the beleaguered energy office Tom Plant to work for him as a “policy advisor.”

So far Ritter’s bad energy policy has remained largely within the Centennial State, and, for now, that’s where it will stay. With the choice of Moniz, the rest of the country can breathe a sigh of relief. For Coloradans, we’re still stuck with him.

William Yeatman is the Assistant Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Amy Oliver Cooke is the Director of the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute

NY Governor scared of his eco-left flank

January 9, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

For the last four years, the state of New York has imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing supposedly to give Governor Andrew Cuomo time to study the process before making a decision on whether or not to lift it.

Four years seems like a long time to study a process that has been around for decades and used safely and successfully in multiple states during that time. Now we may have some evidence as to why it has taken that long.

Last week the New York Times reported Gov. Cuomo, a democrat, buried a state analysis concluding that hydraulic fracturing can be performed safely in the empire state. According to the Times, Cuomo “has long delayed making a decision, unnerved in part by strident opposition on his party’s left.”

Coming from a politically savvy family (his father Mario Cuomo was Governor from 1983-1994), Cuomo is no stranger to party squabbles, which makes this situation even worse.  A seasoned politico, Cuomo is so frighten by his eco-left flank that instead he chose to bury the facts, bury the science that came from his own state agency.

Based on the degenerating fracking dialogue in Colorado, Cuomo’s fears are justified.  He may have read how the eco-left has attacked Colorado democrat Governor John Hickenlooper, a former geologist, for his support of fracking. Or Cuomo could have watched this scary video of protesters getting in Hick’s face and surrounding his car.  Or maybe he saw the “Faces of Hate” in Boulder.

These tactics are meant to intimidate and squash free speech. They seem to work in New York.

Next Page »