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

September 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Colowyo Mine survives WildEarth legal challenge; EPA stumbles in Congressional hearing

September 10, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Environmental Protection Agency, regulations, renewable energy, wind energy 

First up, the first of 4 free panels in September and October designed to highlight the impacts of EPA regulations–Clean Power Plan, ozone rule, and the Waters of the United States:

“The Coming Storm of Federal Energy and Environmental Regulations and their impact on Colorado families, business and economy”
Southwest Weld County Services Center
4209 WCR 24 1/2
Longmont, CO 80504
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (MDT)
Longmont, CO

Are you concerned about all the new regulations coming out of Washington, D.C.? Want to know more about how EPA regs on carbon, ozone, and water will impact you, your family, and your community? Want to know what you can do about them?

Then join us for a free panel event featuring:
Dan Byers, Institute for 21st Century Energy U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Amy Cooke, Independence Institute, Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy Policy Center
Tony Gagliardi, Nations Federation of Independent Business, Colorado State Director
Senator Kevin Lundberg, Colorado State Senate Republicans
Moderator: Michael Sandoval

We provide the lunch and experts. You provide the questions.
Questions: Cherish@i2i.org or 303-279-6536 x 118

Event Sponsors:
Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity, NFIB–The National Federation of Independent Business, and Colorado State Senate Republicans

Top Headlines

For folks in northwest Colorado, some much-needed resolution in the Colowyo mine legal challenge initiated by the WildEarth Guardians earlier this year:

A Colorado coal mine slated for closure due to a technicality has gotten a reprieve from the federal government in a move that could save hundreds of jobs.

The Colowyo coal mine, which has provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the economy of the city of Craig and the northwestern region of the state since 1977 was in danger of being closed because a renewal permit drafted eight years ago did not take into account the mine’s impact on climate change. An environmental group sued in a bid to invalidate the permit. A court-ordered review by the Department of the Interior and an environmental assessment by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) found there was no significant environmental impact and validated the permit.

“We are grateful to the staff at the Office of Surface Mining and the other cooperating agencies for their diligence and hard work to complete the environmental review within the short timeframe ordered by the judge,” Mike McInnes, chief executive officer of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns Colowyo Mine, said in a released statement provided to FoxNews.com.

But if you think the WildEarth Guardians are content to settle with this outcome, you’d be wrong:

WildEarth Guardians was satisfied with the new assessment, said Jeremy Nichols, the group’s climate and energy program director. They are not planning any further legal challenges to Colowyo.

“That said, we do see some room for improvement,” he said.

Nichols noted the new assessment estimates the mine could emit nearly 10 million tons of greenhouse gases every year. He said that doesn’t square with the federal government’s plan to fight climate change.

“If the Interior Department continues to give short shrift to carbon emissions and climate consequences of coal mining,” Nichols said, “There will be mines shut down. We’re not going to be so generous moving forward.”

The ultimate goal of Nichols’ group is to kill coal. They were simply unsuccessful here, trying to move forward on a technicality or improper paperwork. Make no mistake, this wasn’t about the agencies or the mine doing things by the book–this was an attempt to throw the book at the mine and hoping it would stick. It did not for Colowyo, but it might for Trapper, another mine in WildEarth Guardians’s path.

More on what Colowyo mine decision.

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid posted this short statement to Facebook following the decision:

I just got a personal phone call from Sen. Michael Bennet. He wanted to let me know that largely due to my efforts, Colowyo miners will be able to keep working and get on with their lives. He told me that I did a great job in advocating for northwest Colorado and getting the Secretary of Interior’s interest and help.

What a great complement.

However, you and I both know that many people worked very hard and effectively to achieve a positive outcome. Too many people to mention. And there was so much Divine intervention, as well. You know as well as I, that I’m not that smart and not that talented.

I’m so grateful for all of the assistance that we received. And yes, it was nice to get a complement from Michael Bennet. It just needs to be kept in perspective.

And of course the war on coal continues.

***

Video from yesterday’s House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Gold King mine spill:

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did not appear at hearing.

Cleanup projected to cost at least a buck per gallon spilled, or $3 million.

During the hearing, the EPA commitment to transparency was called into question almost immediately, due to what appeared to be selective editing of a video of the initial moments of the spill, when a worker at the mine exclaims, “What do we do now?”:

The Environmental Protection Agency replaced a doctored video from the Gold King mine spill with the original Wednesday after being called on the discrepancy during a House committee hearing.

Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, showed both versions during the hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, pointing out that the version posted on the EPA website covers up the voice of a worker as contaminated water spills from the mine saying, “What do we do now?”

EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the redacted video was “posted by mistake.”

“The unredacted version was meant to be shared on the EPA website,” Ms. Allen said in an email. “We’ve since removed the redacted version and replaced it with the unredacted version, as was originally intended.”

The quick change is admirable but the question remains–has other information released, including the videos and other documentation, been similarly redacted, edited, or manipulated? Even if it has not, the EPA’s misstep in “bleeping” the comment in the video surely doesn’t endear it to folks already suspicious of the agency’s own review of its conduct and handling of the August spill.

The Gold King mine’s owner was also not impressed by the EPA’s testimony, alleging the agency was, at the very least, misleading:

An Environmental Protection Agency official lied during a congressional hearing Wednesday when he said the agency responded to a Gold King Mine “cave-in” when in fact EPA contractors created the disaster by barricading the mine last summer, the owner of the mine has charged.

“This was a result of cave-ins and water buildup. That’s why we were there at the time,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. His boss, Administrator Gina McCarthy, did not attend the first congressional hearing into the Animas River Spill, held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Although Stanislaus was grilled on other issues such as transparency and double standards pertaining to non-government spills, none of the representatives drilled into Stanislaus’ claim that the Colorado spill was a result of natural forces.

But his comments weren’t lost on Todd Hennis, Gold King’s owner.

“It’s absolute baloney of the worst sort,” Hennis said immediately after the hearing. “They blocked off the flow of water out of the drain pipes and they created the huge wall of water in the Gold King by their actions last year.”

Two more hearings in different Congressional committees are scheduled for next week.

***

Speaking of the EPA in the limelight, Hollywood’s toxic avenger Erin Brockovich visited Navajo Nation in the wake of the Animas River spill:

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, made famous from the Oscar-winning movie bearing her name, on Tuesday accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of lying about how much toxic wastewater spilled from a Colorado mine and fouled rivers in three Western states.

Her allegation came during a visit to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation, where she saw the damage and met with Navajo Nation leaders and farmers affected by last month’s spill, which was triggered by an EPA crew during excavation work.

Brockovich said she was shocked by the agency’s actions leading up to the release of waste tainted with heavy metals and its response afterward.

“They did not tell the truth about the amount. There were millions and millions of gallons,” she said while speaking to a crowd of high school students in Shiprock, New Mexico.

Lack of communication by the EPA and its employees in the aftermath of the spill is a consistent theme, and this Durango Herald piece is no different:

In the wake of the Gold King Mine spill, many questions have been asked and fingers have been pointed at the EPA, the agency tasked with remediating the Silverton Caldera, when it underestimated the pressure behind the abandoned mine, triggering the spill.

One issue the event did expose is the EPA’s lack of protocols for notifying downstream communities in the event of a massive blowout – a point the agency has admitted it was not prepared for.

In a prepared statement, the federal agency said a crew of EPA personnel and hired contractors accidently caused the spill at 10:51 a.m., who were then trapped without cellphone coverage or satellite radios.

It wasn’t until 12:40 p.m., after a mad rush to find the correct personnel and reach an area with phone reception that the EPA contacted by two-way radio a state worker who was inspecting a mine in another area.

The EPA’s protocols mandate it must first notify state agencies in the event of an emergency situation. The EPA’s same statement said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment contacted local agencies by 1:39 p.m.

***

LINKS

Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producer, continues to thrive. This includes the county’s more rural parts, bucking a nationwide trend away from rural areas:

Grover and New Raymer are both surviving because of the energy industry, which is a justifiable reason for the residents to live farther out because there are different types of jobs available in the areas. Atop of oil and gas and wind, both towns have people living in their communities who work as ranchers and farmers.

“I think one of the things that’s unique about Weld County is there are multiple industries,” said Julie Cozad, Weld County commissioner and Milliken resident. “Agriculture, oil and gas, and a lot of other companies. The availability of the railway and land helps have any industry here.”

Even for communities like Grover, which is a lengthy distance away and has no gas station in town, the town’s people are not deterred from living there because to them the drive to Greeley or Cheyenne is a reasonable distance and worth the drive.

“There’s enough of a benefit here,” Beerman said. “They see many pros, then cons. People here realize they’re going to have to drive for amenities. We don’t have a gas station in town, but people understand that when you live out here.”

And as for the state’s second largest oil and gas area, Garfield County:

RIFLE — Garfield County has hit another milestone in oil and gas production, with its tally of active wells now topping 11,000, more than one-fifth of the statewide total.

At current drilling rates, though, it could take several years before that number exceeds 12,000. Drilling activity in the county hasn’t been this low in 15 years, and the total number of rigs punching new wells in the region is down to just five — three in Garfield County and two in Mesa County.

Garfield County still remains the second-busiest county in the state for oil and gas activity. Weld County leads the state in well starts this year, at 798. Mesa County is third among counties, with 52 well starts, and Rio Blanco County fifth, with 16.

***

Coloradans think a greater sage-grouse listing as “endangered” is unnecessary, with local efforts sufficient to maintain the species without precipitating more lawsuits:

The federal government will decide whether to list the greater sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act later this month.

Another species of the bird, the Gunnison sage grouse, was listed as threatened last November. That experience may offer some lessons about what type of public response the feds can expect.

The Gunnison grouse listing isn’t the strictest classification under the Endangered Species Act. Instead, the listing represented an attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize efforts in Gunnison to protect the bird. But in the end the decision seemed to please no one.

The state of Colorado and Gunnison County sued the federal government because they thought the listing went too far. Some environmental groups sued because they said it didn’t go far enough. Similar lawsuits are expected after the greater sage grouse decision.

***
What makes Denver’s eco-bike B-cycle successful? Apparently, fossil fuels (compressed natural gas):

The flood of red bikes begins shortly after 7 a.m. As the sun climbs, the tide of work-ready riders rolls into downtown, a pedaling wave threatening to overwhelm a handful of Denver B-cycle stations. But somehow, there are always empty docks. Even as the deluge peaks before 9 a.m., riders find spots for their bikes and everyone is in the office on time.

No one seems to notice the white trucks shuttling bikes away from the stations at the top of 16th Street at Broadway. The drivers swiftly load their trailers and pickup beds with as many as 24 bikes and move them up the hill to B-cycle stations around Capitol Hill.

This perpetual bike-shuffling is an essential balancing act that races against riders to keep Denver’s nonprofit first-mile, last-mile transit system flowing.

Without the efficient, technology-assisted redistribution of the fleet of 709 B-cycles across 87 stations, bikes will clog the wrong places at the wrong time, the system will falter, customers will drop off and sponsors will bail.

Rearranging B-cycles is a mix of art, science, craft and intuition. One bike is shuffled for every seven B-cycle rides.

***

This week’s “you can’t make this stuff up” entry:

Waste from animals and visitors “has to go somewhere,” Lopez said. “It’s very ingenious to be able to convert it into energy. This is safe. And it is not going to stink up anything.”

But the Sierra Club and neighbors are ramping up opposition, wary of increased noise, pollution, odor and other disruption of park serenity.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes combustion of municipal solid waste. It has proven impossible for industry to develop a combustion process, even with a large biomass proportion, that does not produce unacceptable toxic and hazardous air emissions,” said Joan Seeman, toxic issues chairperson for the club. “The zoo should recycle their paper, cardboard and plastics, as well as compost, instead of destroying these valuable resources.”

Alternate headline: ‘Sierra Club opposes alternative energy’.