Big Step in Moffat County Toward Greater Sage Grouse Protection

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

A recent column in the Glenwood Spring Post Independent is correctly titled: “Clock ticking on greater Sage Grouse decision,” and it discusses how even though Congress attempted to defund efforts to protect the species, the federal government is compelled and still on track to make a decision on listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act by this September. Indeed, the clock is ticking.

But despite this, there is also hopeful news lately on the grouse, at least some signs of progress toward gains in meaningful and on-the-ground protections for this unique and important species. 

First, tangible measures to protect the grouse are being put in place on private lands through conservation agreements. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust recently completed a conservation easement on one of the largest working ranches in Northwest Colorado. Multiple partners contributed to the protection of 16,000 acres of key sage grouse habitat on the Cross Mountain Ranch in Moffat County, close to Dinosaur National Monument, as reported in the Steamboat Pilot:

In the easement document, reasons for conserving the land include a desire to preserve Moffat County’s infamous wide-open spaces. More importantly, it preserves thousands of acres of dense Greater sage grouse habitat.

Tim Griffiths, national coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ Sage Grouse Initiative, said this particular parcel should be able to help conserve about 5,000 Greater sage grouse birds.

He also said the biggest threat to the Greater sage grouse species is fragmentation and conserving this piece of land creates a quarter-million acre checkerboard of public and private conserved land woven together.

“We just removed the threat of fragmentation in the one place in Colorado that has more birds than anywhere else in the state,” Griffiths said.

This tangible progress is being made through the partnerships of nonprofit organizations like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, which secured the Moffat County agreement, with state agencies like Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the federal government programs, like the Sage Grouse Initiative.

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Something For Everyone In Hick’s 2015 State of the State

hicksos

As the Colorado Independent's Tessa Cheek reports:

Governor John Hickenlooper used his fifth State of the State speech today to paint his legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House, with a Colorado-ness that reaches beyond party priorities. He touted the new first-ever statewide water plan, quoting Thomas Hornsby Ferril, whose poetry is engraved in the Capitol and that emphasizes common interest: “Here is a land where life is written in water.”

“Representatives of urban areas recognized that locally sourced dairy and food is vital to all of Colorado; while the agricultural areas realized that they could not simply allow urban areas to dry up,” Hickenlooper said of the water plan, noting it involved “the largest civic engagement process in state history.”

Lawmakers and leaders should come together, Hickenlooper suggested, to apply similarly high standards of public input and cooperation to tackle tough questions surrounding topics like oil and gas development and government funding under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR)…

The Denver Post's John Frank on Gov. John Hickenlooper's measured comments on the controversial so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR):

Hickenlooper capped his speech by addressing the state's budget situation — which he labeled a "financial thicket" in his inaugural address Tuesday. It's a reference to the possibility of refunds under the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, despite underfunded state programs.

"There is a legitimate debate of whether government should be a bit bigger or a bit smaller," the governor said, according to prepared remarks. "But that misses the point. Regardless of size, government must work."
 
But he stopped short of asking for an overhaul of TABOR and avoided taking a direct stance on how to address the issue.

"Some people want to get rid of TABOR, some want to get rid of Amendment 23, others want to get rid of Gallagher. There is no shortage of thorns in this fiscal thicket," he said. "And while we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting. "

The Denver Business Journal:

Referencing the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper emphasized the number of environmental protections he has added through collaboration with the industry during his first term, then said he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that a task force examining the role of local government in regulating the industry will deliver later this session. But he did not give any parameters as to what kind of increased regulations he may be willing to back in the Legislature.

On the issue of local control of oil and gas drilling, an issue that caused intense infighting among Democrats last year, Hickenlooper didn't offer much in the way of specifics–but the language that he used to describe those proposals, and the competing interests of surface and subsurface property owners, is unlikely to make conservationists very happy. From the speech:

As part of a compromise to keep economically-devastating initiatives off the ballot, [Pols emphasis] we have worked with the Keystone Center and brought long-polarized interests to the same table…

I look forward to the recommendations of this task force, and pledge to work with you and other stakeholders in developing our energy resources, protecting property rights and our natural environment and public health.

The insistence that increasing local control over oil and gas drilling, in particular the setback and "environmental bill of rights" initiatives put forward during last year's debate, would be "economically devastating" broadcasts our Democratic governor's bias on the issue. There is a legitimate conflict between the rights of surface landowners and mineral rights holders needing resolution, but Hickenlooper still appears firmly on the side of mineral rights owners against local communities based on his comments today.

We wonder how politically tenable that position will be for Hickenlooper throughout his second term, as more research on the effects of "fracking" near residential neighborhoods comes out, and the plummeting price of energy caused by OPEC's price war on the frackers eats away at the already-overblown estimates of the economic impact of the industry in Colorado. Might the same changing economics that led Hickenlooper to endorse President Barack Obama's threatened veto of the Keystone XL pipeline soften Hick's hard line against communities worried about fracking in their boundaries?

That's one of the biggest of many questions awaiting Hickenlooper in his "legacy term."

Lies, Damn Lies, and Fracked Statistics

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The statement is ubiquitous.  Every time an oil and gas public relations type tries to downplay concerns that neighbors might have about the noisy, smelly, lit-up-like-Christmas 24/7, industrial traffic, activity, machinery, infrastructure and chemicals right smack in their midst.

“99.5% of fracking fluid is just water and sand.” 

But is it?  Has anyone in the media actually fact-checked this number?  With thousands of wells being fracked every year in Colorado, multiple times per well with millions of gallons of fluid that is a pretty stark, precise, and definitive claim, when you get down to it: “99.5% of fracking fluid is…”

There it was again yesterday, in a letter printed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel from a former longtime Grand Junction TV news anchor (now representing yet another recently formed oil and gas PR creation, the Piceance Energy Action Council):

“Fracking fluid (consisting of 99.5 percent water and sand)…”

No nuance, no context just a statement that it is so, like "my door opens onto my porch…".  In print even.  From a ‘trusted’ and familiar voice.  Rinse, repeat, transcribe.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to poke holes in the “99.5%” claim, such is often the case with such certain and precise numbers. According to FracFocus.org (the site where disclosure is mandated by state law) many fracking fluid recipes do in fact reach, or get close to, that number.  But here's the thing, others do not.  And that’s all it takes to turn a statistic into a lie.  Furthermore, the precise number itself is less important than the willingness of industry to dismiss any concerns out of hand with rote talking points and empty 'factoids.' 

It should also be noted that there remain questions about how well the FracFocus site captures what is really happening in a useful timeframe to inform citizens about what type of potentially dangerous activity is occurring in their towns and communities.  But setting that aside and just considering the data that are available to the public–and in this case, I admit, I only did a cursory review–I ask: Is the reality that “most fracks are up to 99.5% water and sand” the same as the claim “fracking fluid [consists of] 99.5%” water and sand?  If not then industry’s own spokespeople are either misinformed or dissembling. 

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KeystoneXL and New Energy Strategies in an Era of Abundance

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Just over 40 years ago the US economy experienced a first: an oil embargo by (then) OAPEC that quadrupled the price of oil.  It was our first 'oil shock', to be followed by a second 'shock' in 1979.  The US response, in part, was the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  Our national response, rational for the time, was rooted a mindset of scarcity. 

Like relics of Cold War mentality, it's time to move ourselves from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance.  SRP has the pumping capacity to bring a maximum of 4.4 million barrels/day in to the market place in a national emergency from it's maximum holding capacity of 727 million barrels.  To put that in perspective, our national fleet of ethanol plants today produce an annual equivalent of roughly one-half the total supply of what is the largest emergency oil supply in the world!!

In the past there have been Congressional attempts to manipulate the SRP for various reasons:  Democrats have sought to tap the reserve to lower prices in times of high prices, Republicans have hinted at doubling the capacity of the reserve in anticipation of continued Middle Eastern conflicts.  It all depends on what your definition of 'strategic' might be on any given day through a political lens.  One on hand, using the supply to lower prices robs the unconventional oils from market prices high enough to establish a legitimate economic model for extraction; on the other, as we are experiencing today, low oil prices are putting hundreds of millions of dollars daily in new, disposable income in Americans pockets.  Given the interconnectedness of global markets and global energy production today, our definition of 'strategic' must be increasingly understood in a more comprehensive systems approach: the economy, our national security, rural development and our soft power in international diplomacy.

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Hickenlooper: Veto Keystone XL

keystone-xl-southern-section-starts-transcanada-1-537x357

The Denver Post's Mark Matthews–didn't see this coming, did you?

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday afternoon that he supported the administration’s pledge to veto new legislation from Congress that would fast-track construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline…

Hickenlooper said Obama, a fellow Democrat, was making the right call in opposing the U.S.-Canada oil pipeline.

“He has not been persuaded that this something in the best interest — long-term — of the United States,” Hickenlooper said. “I know there are a lot of people in Colorado who disagree with that (but) … with the price of oil down as low as it is, I don’t think the Keystone pipeline makes sense.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would speed the passage Canadian heavy crude oil to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf Coast, has become an article of faith for just about every energy industry backer and surrogate in Colorado politics. This is despite the fact that Colorado already has a pipeline connection from Commerce City to Alberta, and the Keystone XL pipeline would never enter the state. In fact, the biggest quantifiable effect completion of the Keystone XL pipeline on Colorado would have is an increase in local gas prices, as Canadian crude is routed to global markets via the Gulf Coast. The campaign trail claims by Cory Gardner last year that Keystone XL would create "thousands of jobs in Colorado" were simply hogwash, unsupported by any objective evidence.

And of course, there is the tar sands are really bad for the planet angle.

With that said, and Gov. John Hickenlooper makes this pretty clear, the biggest reason why Keystone XL is quickly becoming a nonstarter is the plunging global price of oil–which changes the economics of exporting massive quantities of low grade Canadian crude oil, well, anywhere. Now that low oil prices and a glut of supply have taken the immediate pressure off, a rational conversation about this project reveals a high cost with dubious benefits at best to the American economy.

It may not be as satisfying, but sometimes the bottom line speaks louder than a million protesters.

Pipeline to Nowhere

Keystone XL Pipeline new

Here’s the new design of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

As Congress begins work (theoretically, anyway) on another legislative session today, President Obama is making it clear that he will not sign a bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As CNN reports, Senate Democrats believe they have the votes to sustain a potential veto:

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the first bill he'll move once the GOP takes charge of the chamber on Tuesday is one that would authorize construction of the long-delayed pipeline.

But many expect President Barack Obama would veto such legislation, given his criticism of the 1,179-mile pipeline's potential benefits. The project is currently in the hands of his State Department, which must green-light the pipeline since it crosses international borders. 

If Republicans follow through on their promises, and Obama is being read correctly, that would mean the GOP would need to win the support of enough Democrats to secure a two-thirds majority vote in order to override Obama's veto — putting the Keystone project's hands in the fate of Senate Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Schumer says flatly the project won't move forward — at least in its current form. "We will have enough votes to sustain a presidential veto," [Pols emphasis] the New York Democrat told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Schumer said Democrats plan to offer several amendments to the Keystone bill.

Congressional Republicans could go ahead and try to pass a Keystone Pipeline bill and essentially dare President Obama to veto the legislation, but to what end? Republicans made significant gains in both the House and Senate in 2014 while demonizing President Obama to attract voters to their side. But in case you haven't heard, Obama is term-limited; Republicans can't use Obama to win mid-term elections anymore, and it's hard to think that this issue has enough legs to still be important as a campaign issue in 2016.

Republicans could pass a Keystone Pipeline bill, Obama could veto the bill, and Senate Democrats could sustain the veto. And then what? There will be plenty of hooting and hollering from the pro-Keystone crowd, but there won't be anything left to do about it.

Top Ten Stories of 2014: Frackapalooza! (#7)

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Colorado has a long history as an energy-producing state, but the recent explosion of hydraulic fracture drilling to extract oil and natural gas from previously uneconomic deposits has spread the impacts of drilling to communities that have never seen it before. Urbanization of the Front Range of Colorado has put residential communities in direct conflict with subsurface mineral rights owners, making energy development an up close and personal issue for large population centers in addition to the heavily drilled areas of the rural Western Slope and Weld County.

In 2013 and 2014, Front Range cities continued to pass bans and moratoria on "fracking" within their municipal boundaries. Though they enjoyed popular support, these bans have generally not fared well in court challenges. In 1992, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a similar ban in Greeley, and in 1996 ruled that subsurface mineral property rights have the same validity as surface property rights. These precedents have resulted in most of these recent measures being thrown out in court.

The result, say local governments and conservation activists, is inappropriate heavy industrial land use in residential areas. They argue the rights of subsurface mineral owners to extract their holdings is directly impacting surface property values–and to a degree yet to be fully determined, the health of affected residents. In the absence of conclusive studies on the impact of fracking, but with much evidence to suggest considerable harm being done, New York state has banned the practice altogether.

Into this contentious atmosphere stepped Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder this year. Polis, a wealthy young internet entrepreneur and one of the major architects of the "Blueprint," owns property in Weld County. In the summer of 2013, a drilling operation was set up on adjacent property that was later found to be in violation of setback rules from existing structures, and fined tens of thousands of dollars. That experience contributed to Polis' activism on the issue subsequently, and his support for ballot initiatives then being developed to give local communities greater control over oil and gas drilling.

Fracking fluid.

Fracking fluid.

The threat of Polis' wealth behind initiatives to regulate the oil and gas industry led to what can best be described as a wholesale freakout by the industry and its vast army of well-paid PR flacks, surrogates, and politicians on both sides of the aisle. This leads to an extremely important fact that everyone needs to understand: in addition to basically total control of the Colorado GOP, the oil and gas industry also wields significant influence in the Colorado Democratic Party. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was elected in significant part due to a belief that he could bring pro-energy and environmentalist Democrats together, and on some occasions he has done so–like the state's new air quality management rules. At other times, though, Hickenlooper has been nothing short of oafish on energy issues, enraging the left with his wildly deceptive claims to have "drank fracking fluid."

The power wielded by the energy industry behind the scenes in Democratic politics led to an ugly period this summer, in which Rep. Polis was attacked publicly and privately by fellow Democrats for daring to push these "divisive" local control ballot measures in a tight election year. Industry-friendly Democrats "concern trolled" the party with dire warnings of the oil and gas money that would flood the state to defeat these measures, absolutely certain, despite evidence to the contrary, that this would result in devastating collateral damage to Democrats up and down the ticket.

To counter those biased predictuions, supporters pointed to their own polling, showing local control ballot measures enjoyed broad support, and likely would pass in a statewide vote–just as fracking bans and moratoria have fared well in local votes. Among rank-and-file Democrats, support for environmental and health protections over unbridled drilling is a lopsided no-brainer. In fact, there's a pretty good argument to be made that Democrats in Colorado have weakened their core base of support by consistently running–and governing–to the right of base Democrats on energy development.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

In the end, as we reported in August, Polis, Hickenlooper, and stakeholders on both sides reached a temporary compromise that resulted in the withdrawal of the drilling setback and "environmental bill of rights" initiatives Polis was supporting. Polis' compromise, it's fair to say, was not received well by the more strident anti-fracking activists in Colorado, though mainstream groups like Conservation Colorado praised it. The commission created by their agreement to make recommendations on enhancing local control legislatively is set to report in February of next year. For his part, Polis has said that he will go back to the ballot if the commission doesn't come up with effective proposals, or the legislature doesn't pass them. Everything we know about this compromise suggests that Polis made the deal in good faith with his fellow Democrat Gov. Hickenlooper, and that he will indeed be back if it doesn't make tangible progress.

Meanwhile, the energy industry has funded a lavish public relations campaign to promote fracking as a safe source of domestic energy. This campaign has consistently relied on deceptive claims about the effects of a statewide ban on fracking, even though nothing Polis supported in 2014 comes anywhere close. Perhaps most importantly, this issue is not playing out in a vacuum: the shale energy boom in the United States has awakened the global energy export cartel OPEC, and a global price war driving energy prices down to levels that make extraction unprofitable could do more to curtail fracking's local growth than anything else–at least for the near-term future.

Bottom line: the conflict between the Old West's mineral wealth and the New West's quality of life has grown with the scale of both, and with greater understanding of the consequences of our actions. A great metropolis has grown up over minerals that used to be either inaccessible or accessible without impacting residential populations, creating new questions our old laws may not be equipped to settle. If the final chapter of this conflict is written in our lifetimes, we'll be very surprised.

But we believe our descendants will judge us on our protection of the surface over the minerals beneath it.

New York’s Fracking Ban–Of Course It Matters To Colorado

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

The Denver Business Journal's Cathy Proctor has a great story published yesterday with local reaction to the decision by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration in mid-December to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas entirely. New York state does not have the kind of widespread frackable energy deposits found in Colorado, but the region's rich Marcellus Shale formation stretches into some less-populated counties in the southern part of the state.

New York's reputation as an East Coast liberal stronghold is the first and most obvious line of defense for Colorado's growing army of energy industry spin doctors, but Proctor's story today demonstrates that the fight over fracking in Colorado is going to be impacted by New York's decision one way or another:

Asked about Cuomo's decision, [Gov. John] Hickenlooper said, via an email from his spokeswoman, that "Colorado is not New York and every state has to find the approach to energy development that makes sense for their communities."

"Colorado is fortunate to have an abundance of energy resources and a long history of environmentally responsible energy development, he said. "The work of our task force will ensure we continue to develop in a way that is safe for our residents, supports jobs and the economy, respects private property rights and protects our environment."

At the other end of the spectrum, [Rep. Jared] Polis criticized Colorado's existing regulations because they don't allow individuals and communities to decide where oil and gas operations should take place.

"While the state of New York has concluded the risks are too great to allow fracking at all, in Colorado homeowners aren't even allowed to stop oil and gas companies from drilling on their own property, despite potentially being only a few hundred feet from their home or school," Polis said in a statement. [Pols emphasis]

"I hope rather than banning it as a state, we let each homeowner and community decide if they want fracking or not," he said.

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Here's something we've said before, and that even the leftiest anarcho-primitivist yurt dweller (you know who you are) needs to understand: there will be no statewide fracking ban in Colorado. When Gov. John Hickenlooper says that "Colorado is not New York," he's stating the obvious. There is only a very small percentage of fairly radical voters who will disagree with unabashedly pro-fracking Gov. Hickenlooper's view that energy development in Colorado is important, makes a lot of people in Colorado money, and has a long history. There is lots of debate over the degree of energy's importance to the state's economy, but it certainly does matter more to Colorado than to, say, New York.

But that's not really the point, because there will be no statewide ban on fracking in Colorado.

Fracking is not a new technology, but its widespread recent use to recover previously inaccessible oil and gas underlying a large area of Colorado's Front Range has brought mineral rights owners and the energy industry into direct conflict with densely populated residential communities. The industry's asserted right to operate their dirty industrial process anywhere there are mineral rights to do so results in horrendous land use conflicts that would never be allowed otherwise: heavy industry in neighborhoods, and next to schools. This is what has led to several Front Range cities passing moratoria and bans on fracking within their boundaries, directly challenging the state's hegemony over energy development.

We'll have more to say about the battle in Colorado over fracking, a battle with Democratic champions on both sides now in Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis, as we continue to recap the year's biggest stories in Colorado politics. New York's decision to ban fracking is just one new discussion item in a debate that raged furiously in 2014 in Colorado, and is set to intensify early next year as the commission brokered in the uneasy truce between the energy industry and environmental groups allied with Rep. Polis makes policy recommendations on local control over drilling.

Here's the full report from the New York Department of Health. You'll notice pretty quickly that it asks more questions that it provides answers. But in large part, these are the same questions the people of Colorado are asking about fracking–and we're going to have to reckon with them here too. The absurdly shrill attacks on Polis and environmentalists this year for daring to challenge the status quo on this issue are severely discredited by New York's action–especially when you consider than none of the measures backed by Polis would have done what New York just did.

And the bottom line is, there won't be a statewide fracking ban in Colorado. We think it's important to say that over and over, since the energy industry's high-dollar PR campaign revolves around the hypothetical consequences of a fictitious proposal.

But having said that, New York's fracking ban is going to factor in Colorado's debate over fracking. And it should.

Tilting the Keystone

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Webster defines keystone as "the central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends." Being an ardent opponent of the KeystoneXL in rural Colorado isn't a popular position. The vision for this 21st-century pipeline has been sold as a necessary component of our energy challenges and a massive job creator. Unfortunately, the pipeline is neither and would be better characterized, through the lens of American rural landscapes, as an assault as opposed to an asset.

Giving credit where credit is due, KeystoneXL is someone's vision; when political will combined with that vision the opportunity moved from 'paper to pipeline'. This grand scheme dictates the destruction of  the boreal forest, extracting hydrocarbons formed millions of years ago, forced in a pipeline and moved thousands of miles to Gulf refineries where the final product will be shipped to foreign lands.  It promises thousands of temporary construction jobs and a handful of permanent jobs; it holds the possibility of polluting the nation's largest underground fresh water supply, the Ogallala, and most economists predict the pipeline will increase the cost of gasoline in the Rocky Mountain region 10 to 20 cents per gallon.

From a Colorado perspective there seems to be little upside, and the proposed pipeline project only magnifies our own lack of commitment to a vision of a robust and resilient 21st-century American economy.  In the absence of our own vision, the void is being filled by someone else's.  

But lets for a moment revision the foundation of the Canadian project:  the 1,379 miles of pipe laid horizontal and pointing towards Texas.  Let's  turn it 90 degrees vertical and apply an American idea to the proposal.  Slicing the pipeline into 212 foot segments (the average height of a wind turbine tower, and turning the pipe upwards gives us 34,337 opportunities for wind development across our midwestern landscape.  Using a Colorado-made Vestas product, those sticks transform themselves into 72 gigawatts of wind energy potential, nearly enough generation capacity to displace the 329 coal plants in the United States that face retirement from age or inability to meet new air standards.  Instead of creating a carbon bomb, we've created the infrastructure to displace hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually.  

From a fresh water perspective, something important to each and every one of us in the West, displacing 72 megawatts of US coal generation could save over 1,000,000 acre feet of fresh water annually.  Through the lens of job creation,  converting Keystone to kilowatts is the real job creator.  Using industry statistics of an average, 250-megawatt wind farm, simply turning the horizontal pipe upwards would create 150,336 construction jobs, 124,416 positions in manufacturing, 23,040 jobs for planning and development and 7,776 permanent jobs in operations.  From an rural economic perspective, having this scale of infrastructure investment from North Dakota to Texas would give us the platform to create a real, lasting rural renaissance across the Great Plains.

As a part-time creature of Washington, DC mired in rural policy issues, I have little faith that grand visions are possible in today's poisoned political well. My example of slicing the pipeline into wind towers was merely illustrtive but to prove a point on how my personal perspective judges the Keystone plan quite differently from my neighbors. The structural challenges in todays money-soaked, two-party system are daunting.  January will bring us a new majority in Congress that conventional wisdom instructs us will be antagonistic towards alternative forms of energy.  For now I'll hold that criticism until it is earned: Teddy Roosevelt gave us the National Park System; Richard Nixon the EPA, George H.W. Bush gave us the nation's first cap-and-trade program (acid rain) and George W. Bush gave us our nation's Renewable Fuel Standard after putting in place, as Texas Governor, one of the most aggressive wind energy portfolios in the nation.  Unconventional wisdom might better instruct us that new opportunities are just around the corner.

I will remain the optimist.

 

Air…Water…Health…and Accommodation.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Today and tomorrow Governor Hickenloopers' Blue Ribbon Panel on Oil and Gas policy is meeting in Rifle to discuss the future of drilling and fracking in Colorado. Not many people I know have high hopes this will result in any groundbreaking policy suggestions, but it could. If the Commissioners are willing to set aside a century old principle for a few minutes and consider that we are living in 2014 and not 1872…and that consideration points the way to only one conclusion.

It is time to effectively incorporate the Rule of Reasonable Accommodation into COGCC policy, taking into consideration the advances in technology and practices used by the modern extraction industry.

When Congress split mineral and surface estates in the 19th century, it was done for reasons that seemed appropriate and necessary, at the time. But times have changed, and it is imperative that the "Blue Ribbon Panel" understand and act upon those changes. Since the beginning of the separation of the two estates, the mineral estate has generally considered to be dominant. The rationale for the mineral estate being dominant was that the ownership of minerals would be meaningless if the mineral owner could not access and extract those resources through the surface. That seems reasonable enough, and for a very long time, difficult to argue.

With advanced technology, specifically directional drilling, the Rule of Reasonable Accommodation becomes a much more flexible vehicle. The Rule, as set forth in CRS 34-60-127, states:

"An operator shall conduct operations in a manner that accommodates the surface owner by minimizing intrusion upon and damage to the surface of the land."

As used in this section, "minimizing intrusion upon" can include "selecting alternative locations for wells" among other measures as long as they are "technologically sound, economically practical, and reasonably available to the operator". With modern drilling practices providing the industry with the capability to reach out, literally and laterally, for miles, there is no longer any need for an operator to sit atop or even close to a mineral resource in order to gain access.

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Another Fake “Concerned Citizen” Celebrates Fracking

Longtime oil industry employee Michelle Smith.

Longtime oil industry employee Michelle Smith.

A press release from energy industry advocacy group Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development yesterday discusses a pro-fracking ad (above) that's been playing for a couple of weeks in Colorado:

Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) has released a new television commercial featuring Michelle Smith, an organic based farmer from Elbert, Colorado, who relies on income from oil and natural gas development to help sustain her family farming operations. In the advertisement, Smith shares with viewers: 

“Mineral rights make all the difference to our small organic based farm.  Like many Colorado farm-to-table businesses, if we can’t offset operating costs with our minerals, then we’re out of business. Organic operations are expensive. People like us rely on those payments for their family’s healthcare or their kids’ education. An attack on fracking is essentially an attack on landowners like us. Those who would ban fracking ignore our rights, and that just gets my goat.”

…Beyond her message in the commercial, Smith has shared that “as a rancher in Elbert County, Colorado, my family’s livelihood relies on the quality of the pasture that our livestock grazes on. That’s why every decision I make, I make with my ranch’s future in mind,” she says.

Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post gave this ad favorable treatment in a blog post last month:

A new ad promoting fracking in Colorado features an Elbert County couple who raises goats and farms organically.

The idea of pairing organic farmers and fracking comes from Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.

But there's more to the story of Michelle J. Smith, registered Republican of Elbert County, than either CRED or Bartels saw fit to explain:

The Quiat Companies is an innovative investment company, which is comprised of approximately fifty real estate and oil & gas holdings throughout the United States…with over 33 years of professional experience in the oil and gas business, Ms. Smith has been with The Quiat Companies since 1992 focusing on acquisitions, divestitures, and coordinating successful drilling joint ventures. [Pols emphasis] As Land Manager, she is instrumental in managing the nationwide assets of our fifteen oil and gas limited liability companies.

Ms. Smith’s professional experience includes Davis Oil Company (Denver, Colorado) and Anderman Oil Company (also in Denver) as well as acting as an Independent Land Negotiator. She is the president of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) Rockies chapter, a member of the American Association of Petroleum Landman (AAPL), Denver Association of Petroleum Landmen (DAPL), board member of Vital for Colorado and a graduate of Cypress College (California).

Just a salt-of-the-earth Colorado farmer–an organic farmer at that–trying to hold down the farm, right? Wrong. Much like the Republican political activists trotted out by Americans for Prosperity to tell their dubious "Obamacare horror stories," "organic farmer" Michelle Smith is about as unbiased a source on fracking as an oil and gas industry lobbyist–which makes sense, since she basically is one.

Your friends seeing this ad on TV probably ought to know that.

Clock Still Ticking on the Greater Sage-Grouse

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Among the news-you-didn’t-hear leading into the holiday weekend, which got buried by other things—some worthy of attention and reflection, others the typical media noise—was a recent poll on the Greater Sage-Grouse.  It shows sportsmen in Colorado (and across the other 10 western state where the bird occurs) favor protecting its habitat. 

This is noteworthy as the federal government just announced it is listing the bird’s smaller relative the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  This story was posted online by the Public News Service – Colorado:

Earlier this month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is classifying the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened. Under a court-ordered agreement, the agency will decide by next year whether to list the greater sage grouse.

Meanwhile the online news service ‘Environmental Protection’ reports:

The National Wildlife Federation on Nov. 19 released results from a poll of sportsmen and women in 11 states in the heart of greater sage-grouse country, with a majority of the respondents supporting efforts to protect the bird and the sagebrush landscape that supports it. A majority backed restrictions in important habitat to save the bird and avoid its placement on the federal Endangered Species List. Such a listing probably would lead to more stringent, long-term constraints on activities as hunting, fishing, recreation, and grazing, said John Gale, NWF's national sportsmen's campaign manager.

"First and foremost, it's critical that we save this iconic Western wildlife species," he said. "We can do that with strong conservation plans that protect key greater sage-grouse habitat while allowing responsible energy development, grazing, and other activities on other public lands."

He pointed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement last week that it is classifying the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened to keep it from going extinct. The Gunnison sage grouse is smaller than the greater sage-grouse and now is found in portions of Colorado and southeastern Utah, which represent only 7 percent of its historic range, according to NWF.

The Durango Herald reported on the Colorado angle

According to survey results, nine out of 10 hunters believe it is important to take action to protect sage-grouse habitat. Almost as many believe protecting the animal will benefit other game species.

(more…)

Oh Frack! OPEC Calls Shale Bluff, Sends Oil Prices Into Free Fall

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

It seems that faced with declining profits of their own, as the frenzy to drill in American shale plays sent stockpiles skyrocketing and prices crashing, that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to call the shale drillers’ bluff.  Reuters is reporting:

Saudi Arabia's oil minister told fellow OPEC members they must combat the U.S. shale oil boom, arguing against cutting crude output in order to depress prices and undermine the profitability of North American producers.

For at least a couple of years a few observers have pointed to how over-leveraged most shale-heavy oil and gas drillers are, that shale oil–no matter how abundant hydraulic fracturing makes it appear–is an expensive prospect that cannot sustain itself.  Over-leveraged with a need to drill more and more and more at an ever higher ‘break-even’ cost, some astute observers have noted that shale bears all the hallmarks of a classic ‘bubble.’

“In 2016, when OPEC completes this objective of cleaning up the American marginal market, the oil price will start growing again,” said Fedun, who’s made a fortune of more than $4 billion in the oil business, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The shale boom is on a par with the dot-com boom. The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.” 

As with bubbles in the recent past, shale contrarians have been met in the manner of all naysayers during halcyon days of hype and hucksters.  But many have nonetheless steadily insisted that shale is not the panacea and ‘revolution’ its barkers want those seemingly born daily to believe.  And now, it appears likely, that the other shoe is about to drop: the shale bubble is about to POP

Investors have wiped more than $50 billion off the value of Europe’s biggest oil companies after OPEC members rejected calls to cut their oil output. 

Go ahead, seems the message sent by OPEC, make our day: See how long you can “Drill, Baby, Drill” with a mountain of high-interest debt and oil prices collapsing. And as with bubbles in the past—like booms in the western energy fields—any observer of history should already know how it ends. 

The only question: will this be the time we learn better?

 

 

 

GOP Majority’s Priority One: Killing Colorado Jobs!

Sen.-elect Cory Gardner.

Sen.-elect Cory Gardner.

As the Pueblo Chieftain's Peter Roper reports, a story with great significance to Colorado's economy:

The federal wind power tax credit, which Vestas and other windturbine producers rely on to support sales, is back in the cross hairs of conservative energy groups that want it eliminated…

The wind credit was one of the high-profile issues President Barack Obama campaigned for in 2012, the last time it was set to expire, and bipartisan supporters in windpower states extended the tax credit through 2013 after that election.

That extension allowed Vestas and other windpower companies to enter multiyear production contracts that are still fueling production at their factories, including the Vestas plant south of Pueblo.

The Hill reports that national conservative organizing group Americans for Prosperity, which has a large budget in Colorado, is leading the charge against the renewal of the wind production tax credit:

The conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is publishing advertisements pushing individual Republicans to oppose tax credits for wind energy.

The ads launched Monday in the hometown newspapers of 15 GOP representatives in eight states who have not given clear positions on the wind energy production tax credit since it expired at the end of last year…

“It’s important that these members go on the record to let their constituents know that even during the little-watched lame-duck session of Congress, they’re committed to opposing needless corporate handouts at taxpayer expense,” Brent Gardner, AFP’s top federal lobbyist, said in a statement Monday.

Americans for Prosperity played a significant role in get-out-the-vote operations for Republicans this year, and funded a lavish ad campaign in support for Sen.-elect Cory Gardner. With that said, at least on the issue of renewing the wind production tax credit, Gardner is not quite giving this Koch brothers-funded organization their money's worth:

A spokesman said Gardner noted the congressman backed the 2012 extension and still supports extending it again — but ramped down over time.

At least not yet! This isn't the first time that Gardner has had to thread the needle between supporting Colorado's renewable energy industry, which he is obliged to do as any kind of responsible representative of the state, and conservative dogmatic opposition to any kind of "government subsidy" of this or that particular energy source. Groups like Americans for Prosperity say they're for eliminating all tax credits and so-called subsidies of energy production and "letting the free market decide." It's a convenient position to take as long as actually stripping the traditional energy industry of its many tax credits and subsidies remains politically impossible, which it of course is. In the meantime, AFP can make their hypocritical case against wind power tax credits without appearing so colossally hypocritical.

All of which works fine in states that do not have thousands of jobs tied to the wind power industry. Here in Colorado, these tax credits have a direct, tangible value in high-paying manufacturing jobs–the kinds of jobs that support many more jobs. Jobs we can't afford to lose.

That is why Gardner wants to "ramp down" these tax credits to keep his benefactors happy–just not right now, for the sake of pesky constituents back home who depend on them. That might make mortgages and college educations harder to plan for, but now that he's Colorado's junior U.S. Senator, Gardner can straddle this issue without conseqeunce for at least a few years.

And that appears to be what the voters want, folks.

People Testify to Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force

 "Our children should not be expected to be test subjects," said Angela Kirkpatrick, mother to a Greeley elementary school student. Greeley has allowed numerous oil and gas wells next to public schools, even while  COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) admits that there are "data gaps", and no long term health studies about the effects of breathing benzene and methane on children's health.

In Loveland, Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper's Oil and Gas Task Force heard public comments from noon until 8 pm. I took notes on the last hour and a half of the public comments. Around four hundred people packed the Meeker Building in the Ranch Events complex, to listen and to speak.

(Below, fracking rig located next to Greeley Weld School District 6 stadium in Greeley, CO)

Testimony that I heard ran about 2:1 for slowing oil and gas production until public health impacts are known, for stronger regulation and enforcement, and for  communities to control how much oil and gas production they will allow. The tradeoff in quality of life vs. the economic boom was a continuing theme. Many expressed concern about earthquakes in Weld County, probably caused by injection of fracking fluids under pressure. Audio links to public comment are here and here

Denver Post "Colorado oil, gas task force gets earful from elected officials" by Mark Jaffe

Durango Herald article, "Gas and Oil Task Force Looks at Local Control, "by Peter Marcus

Greeley Tribune article (behind paywall)

My notes on public comments:

"Privatizing the profits, socializing the costs" – Martin Lind

Maydean Worley: Northridge HS site in Greeley, with leaks near the school. At the proposed elementary school site, the drilling company was "stunned into silence" when residents requested an air quality monitor.

Nick Johnson: concerned member of Lafayette community. (which voted to ban fracking) " We understand that it's an economic boon – we also understand that it's a public health issue.We need to give more authority to our local communities."

What is being proposed is a land plan- set up land use standards before communities are built. – He's talking about how earthen berms were built to shield neighborhoods from noise and . (unknown speaker)

Rod Brueske – This commission, if they want to have legitimacy, needs to have a grand jury investigation of the COGCC, COGA, b/c of their interpretation of state regulations. These orgs have allowed reduced or no fines or fees for violations. They are acting with criminal negligence, and I highly recommend an investigation of this pattern of violations.

Jennifer ? – personal story about living next to holding tanks. I feel that I live in an industrial area now. Lights, sound, natural gas, open flames, truck traffic. Ugly, smelly, bright, noisy. Little info about long term exposure – I feel that my family are test subjects.

Shane Davis: I’m a miner. There are epic failures of the state and COGCC to abide by its mission . 40% of all spills in Weld County have already resulted in groundwater contamination. And contamination statewide.  You have to look at the failures to know what you have to do in order to keep them from happening again.  Please recuse yourselves because of a conflict of interest.

Mizraim Cordero: C3, representing business interests across the state. Mission is to keep state’s economy going. All industries, ag, construction, etc, not just oil/gas. Much discussion about local control. Regulating business on a municipal level results in unstable and inconsistent policies. “Patchwork of regulations”.

Chris Guttormsson

Property rights, mineral rights, etc. People don’t understand who actually owns the minerals. They don’t have control of surface. When you make recommendations, please consider helping public be better informed on this.

Dr. Judith Boyle I live in Highland Farms. I’m not against anyone’s right to develop their minerals. I am disturbed by the increased rampant drilling which seems to be happening without apparent forethought or a plan in place.  Regulations of oil and gas haven’t kept up with the technology. EX horizontal drilling.

Kristen Allen – homeowner in Windsor. Near proposed site with drilling within 500’ of people’s homes. Impact on their property values was negative per realtor’s appraisal when they wanted to sell.

Earl Pittman: – I’m Republican, pro-drilling. Brags about how low his gas mileage is.  I ask the task force to recommend local control. (cites long numbered rule). Great Western is the driller at issue. Colo State Dept of Health wants GW to move well site away from residents, but GW is ignoring it. It’s not a political issue, it’s a safety issue, and quality of life issue. They’ve lost our trust.

Robert Winkler: risk management consultant: I’m concerned about health and quality of life issues associated w oil and gas development.  We’ve voiced our concerns to local officials. They are unwilling to evaluate independent research data. Please recommend a comprehensive health impact assessment at the next legislative session.

Maggie Burns: sharing a story.  Grew up on Western slope. Economics does matter. There is a way to balance the interests of health and all the other concerns, but don’t forget that economics matters.

Andrew Browning: with Consumer Energy Alliance. We’re a national organization. We want to increase production of domestic energy, to promote jobs and increase energy security. Banning energy production not viable, not collaborative, bla bla.

Steven Olson: Loveland resident. Lot of rhetoric, movie Gasland was sensational, misleading. Loveland energy project, pro-development group. Technology has advanced to enable safe and responsible development.

Karen Dike: Retired RN from Loveland. Here on behalf of my grandchildren. Gov Hickenlooper, you are making those of us who live in Colorado into lab rats for the oil and gas industry. You are asking us to prove that breathing benzene, methane, et, are not harmful to our children. Your moral and ethical responsibility is to …..It is time to say enough to this industry.

Steve Juhan  My grandfather did a lot of mining and development. Long-ass bio, with no discernible point.  Oil and gas creates jobs. Thank you.

Michelle Smith –  I’m on the board of (two organizations) runs an organic farm. We are losing small farmers in CO. Our hay costs tripled.  Leasing our mineral costs 2X helped us pay for our hay. Better education on MOU is the answer. Property rights should be respected.

Michael Lozinski  Disgruntled homeowner in Firestone area. Noise level was unbearable. I support America being self-reliant, but we can’t do it being irresponsible. COGCC didn’t do anything to ENCANA. I’m a homeowner without any rights. Rules are not enforced. This favors big oil. Need to fix COGCC so they will enforce the rules.

Kaye Fissinger from Longmont. President of Our Health, Our Future. In reading the directive, B1 and B2 has made health and wildlife subservient to the interests of the oil and gas industry. This is a moral issue. A constitutional and statutory and regulatory error. Task force has an opportunity to correct these wrongs.  Can make regulations more stringent than those adopted by local government. Should be able to place moratoria as Longmont did.

Judith Blackburn –  Also from Longmont, a “ban promoter”. Current laws and precedents need to be challenged. Because its legal doesn’t mean that its right. It’s impossible to promote oil and gas and still protect the rights of workers and neighbors. Disingenuous ads from energy companies do not promote trust. Questions of inspection and enforcement aside, we are all in some sort of experiment here. No one knows the long term effects…….

David Quave  During the oil embargo, I learned how important it is to be energy independent. When I moved, I loved working my farm, living in nature, safe haven. I propose that we all work together for optimal pad placements, respect rights of surface and mineral rights owners.  I want to enjoy sitting on my porch.

John Clarke: Former Larimer County Commissioner, former Ft Collins —- No municipality has tools they need to properly regulate oil and gas. Costs to taxpayers would be high. Talks a lot, says little. Fracking is just like construction. Right…..

 Ken Stone:  I work for a local O&G production co. Story of his life. Without O&G production, this economy won’t hold up.

Angela Kirkpatrick parent of a Greeley elementary school student. COGCC agrees that there are “data gaps” which “warrant further study”. We know the effects of benzene. Children are more vulnerable. The effects of being exposed to multiple volatile compounds are still unknown. Our children should not be expected to be test subjects. It’s COGCC’s responsibility to prove to safe to the community. It is not the community’s responsibility to prove that it’s safe to the COGCC.

Tim Reams from Earth Guardians. We need to know what the fracking chemicals are. When there is demonstrated risk to health standards, shut the wells down. There is violation after violation, one company 70 different times. When the state is not doing its job, local communities have to have the private right of action. This guy got the most applause of anyone yet, prompting a stern “no applause” warning from the moderator.

I took video of the last half hour of testimony, and will add it to this diary as time permits.

The task force will continue meeting  today, Friday, November 21, until 12 pm. The task force is  expected to recommend legislation in the next legislative session.

The public made its wishes known. Overwhelmingly, people want public health and quality of life prioritized over oil and gas profits. We know that the task force members will listen, as they did just that for over twenty hours so far. But will they hear? And hearing, will they act to protect public health and the environment?

Will public concerns about health and quality of life have a greater impact on policy than energy dollars? That remains to be seen.