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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the staggering numbers from Weld County:

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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’.