Fed. appeals court snarls Trump’s directive to rollback environmental regulations — @HighCountryNews

Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Federal rules aim to lower risks of natural gas development. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

From The High Country News (Elizabeth Shogren):

A federal appeals court today dealt a setback to the Trump administration’s broad effort to rollback environmental regulations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s 90-day delay on an Obama administration rule that requires the oil and gas industry to find and clean up leaks that send methane into the air.

The decision reinstates the methane rule but will not end its peril. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt last month proposed delaying the rule for two years while his agency goes through the process of permanently rewriting the rule.

Under the EPA’s Methane rule, the industry had until June 3 to detect leaks on new and modified wells and then 30 days to fix them. Then industry has to detect and repair leaks four times a year.

In general, the Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to go through a full rule-making process to rescind a rule. That means they have to draft a proposed rule and take public comment before writing a final one. That takes many months. With this and other rules, the Trump administration has tried to temporarily delay them while going through the longer process of erasing them.

“(The) EPA was basically trying to do an end-run around that,” says David Doniger, a lawyer for Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked on the case. “The agency wanted to do anything in its power to keep industry from having to comply.”

In response to questions about how the court’s ruling will impact industry’s requirements under this rule and the agency’s strategy to rollback this and other rules, the EPA press office offered only a brief statement: “We are reviewing the opinion and examining our options.”

@EPA’s methane rule back on — DC Circuit Court

Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Federal rules aim to lower risks of natural gas development. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

From The Hill (Timothy Cama):

The Trump administration cannot delay an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting methane pollution from oil and natural gas drilling, a federal court ruled Monday.

In an early court loss for President Trump’s aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the EPA didn’t meet the requirements for a two-year stay of the Obama administration’s methane rule.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to delay enforcement of the provision was based on arguments that when the Obama administration wrote the rule, it violated procedures by not allowing stakeholders to comment on some parts of what became the final regulation. The agency used that reasoning to formally reconsider the rule and to pause enforcement.

But the court said the argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

“The administrative record thus makes clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on all four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and indeed, that in several instances the agency incorporated those comments directly into the final rule,” two of the judges on the three-judge panel wrote.

“Because it was thus not ‘impracticable’ for industry groups to have raised such objections during the notice and comment period [the Clean Air Act] did not require reconsideration and did not authorize the stay.”

Environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund had sued the EPA after its delay, asking for quick emergency action from the court on the matter.

Colorado joins lawsuit to maintain @EPA methane regulations — @GovofCO

Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Federal rules aim to lower risks of natural gas development. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

The State of Colorado today joined 13 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking implementation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules to reduce methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants produced from oil and gas facilities. The State asked the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to join plaintiffs and other intervenors in a recently filed lawsuit challenging the decision of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to stay the effect of these rules. Colorado is participating in this lawsuit to help assure comprehensive federal regulation of methane emissions, as authorized by the EPA in 2016.

Colorado has a vested interest in the federal government regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas industry across all 50 states. Colorado led the way in 2014 by becoming the first state in the country to regulate methane leaks. These regulations were developed in concert with the oil and gas industry. As a result, this type of regulation is a win-win: it improves the environment and helps reduce leakage and lost revenue in the production and transportation of oil and gas. The EPA used Colorado’s regulations as a template for the federal approach to this issue. Without these rules, Colorado’s methane levels will increase due to pollution from neighboring states, which is why federal regulation is so important.

In today’s action, Colorado urged the Court to require the EPA to implement these important regulations.

View the motion here.

The American West from the air — @publicbooks @EcoFlight

From Public Books (Laura Pritchett):

I recently found myself 1,500 feet above ground, traveling at 180 mph. When I wiped away the breath-mist from the window, I could see the American West in the chill of November: snowy mountain ranges, high alpine, high desert, waves of blue mountains, the shocking red rocks of Utah, the undulations of landscape as it bore out its transformation from range to basin and back again. If I peered closer, the details revealed themselves: the way snow had blown itself into watersheds, the paths I’d hiked winding up mountains, the glint on the curves of some of the nation’s best cutthroat trout streams.

I also saw the unbeautiful: spiderwebs of fracking roads, missing mountainsides, uranium mines, orange ponds for storing tailings and dust, stands of felled trees, the white puffs and yellow haze from coal-fired power plants.

My ticket to this view was a program called “Flight Across America,” which gives college-age and early professional folks the chance to see the West from the air. It’s a program of EcoFlight, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for environmental issues from the air. Ecoflight was started by Bruce Gordon (good friend to the late John Denver, another pilot-conservationist) 13 years ago; since then, EcoFlight has flown politicians, conservation groups, media, scientists, and celebrities.

In three small Cessnas, we took off from little airports in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico: Grand Junction, Farmington, Cortez, Durango, Moab, Walden. We crammed into these 1970s-era planes with recording gear and notebooks and cameras, with hats and gloves, with headsets for communicating both within the plane and to the other planes, and with curiosity.

Below, we saw Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming; saw the Navajo nation, site of the most polluting coal-fired power plant in the United States; saw the West’s many rivers and diversions; saw the Roan Plateau of western Colorado, a major drilling site. We flew over the proposed Hermosa Wilderness Area in southern Colorado; we camped in freezing temperatures at the Hovenweep National Monument near the ruins of the ancestral Pueblo; we hiked in the heat of Moab and in a blizzard at the Maroon Bells. We also met with an array of experts representing Colorado’s politicians, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists, and photographers.

The amount of information we absorbed from our pilots and guest speakers was immense. But perhaps the most important discovery—for those of us who hadn’t flown like this before—was the simple but essential confirmation that the landscape is a whole. Despite the state lines, designations, management agencies, political jurisdictions, and roads, the planet Earth is the planet Earth, a continuous entity. As the snowy peaks morphed into plateaus and into high desert, it was clear that the natural world does not segment or cut herself up at all…

Every day, we witnessed yet more instances of ecological and political interconnectedness; each night, the students would gather around and discuss the questions these examples raised: How can we see the West as a whole, and act accordingly? And how does one action influence others? Indeed, was this very trip culpable in some way? Was using up fuel to see these areas worth it? When I posed that question to Bruce Gordon, the program founder, he said, “That’s always a tough question, but we do our best to offset our carbon footprint as much as possible through various carbon savings in other areas. We work diligently to minimize flight times. We ensure that on each and every mission the value added of empowering our passenger participants and the subsequent outreach is worth the cost in adding to a carbon footprint. We aren’t against oil and gas, but we feel it can and should be done properly, and there are some places it just shouldn’t be done.

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

Energy Pipeline: Produced water from drilling sites may have other beneficial uses — The Greeley Tribune

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

From The Greeley Tribune (Tracy Hume):

Most of the produced water coming out of exploration and production operations in Weld County ends up being disposed of in one of 39 injection wells in the county. The produced water is injected back into the earth, thousands of feet deep, never to be used again.

Water quality expert Gary Beers thinks that’s a waste, and he is on the front lines of a growing movement to examine the economic and environmental benefits of treating and re-using produced water from oil and gas operations. Beers’ company, Industrial Water Permitting and Recycling Consultants, LLC, helps operators navigate Colorado’s complex regulatory environment and permitting processes to find better uses for produced water than just throwing it away.

“I was born and raised in southern Arizona, where water is very scarce,” Beers said, “I guess that planted the seed of being very concerned about not wasting water.”

Beers’ interest in water led him to pursue several degrees in the field, including a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of Arizona and a doctorate in aquatic ecology from Utah State University. He established his consulting firm after a long career in the water quality field, including stints with the Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver and nearly 10 years in the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. His extensive experience on the regulatory side helps him to help operators identify and navigate the obstacles that impede beneficial use of produced water.

One of those obstacles is the public perception of produced water as “contaminated.” According to Beers, a lot of people “don’t understand that E&P (exploration and production) waste is just a category that’s used to identify any type of waste material generated while they’re drilling and producing oil and gas.

“But just because it is labeled ‘E&P waste’ doesn’t mean the water is polluted or anything; it just says that’s where it came from,” Beers said, “You can have E&P waste that’s very clean, or you can have E&P waste that’s contaminated. There is a lot of variability.”

Produced water comes in two main types, each with distinctive characteristics that have implications for beneficial use. The first type of water to return from a well, called “flowback,” is the water used to facilitate the initial drilling process, and may include traces of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. The second type, “formation water,” is the water that is part of the original geological formation and is brought to the surface in the course of oil and gas production.

“Most of the produced water people talk about is the long-term formation water that’s brought up as the well is producing oil and gas,” Beers said. “The quality of the initial flowback water can change, because of the different chemicals used in drilling and other factors, but the quality of the formation water is pretty consistent, depending upon the original geological formation.”

Some operators in the DJ Basin have taken steps to treat and re-use produced water, including flowback water, for hydraulic fracturing. Flowback water may include chemical additives and total dissolved solids, but it typically includes fewer salts than formation water, making it easier to treat for industry re-use.

Concord Produced Water Services is a produced water treatment provider that Beers has worked with in the DJ Basin. Among the services Concord offers is mobile recycling units, which can be taken out into the field to treat flowback and produced water for re-use.

Re-use of produced water within industry operations is, in some ways, the most straightforward beneficial use to implement. When operators re-use produced water within their own organizations, it minimizes the number of regulatory hoops that have to be negotiated. Furthermore, the public typically supports industry re-use of produced water because it reduces the industry’s impact on public water supplies.

“There’s a lot of controversy around the issue of using fresh water supplies, such as surface water or shallow ground water, for hydraulic fracturing,” Beers said. “The use of public water to supply the oil and gas industry is a continuing issue in Weld County.”

The possibilities of treatment and re-use could make it possible for the industry to decrease its reliance on municipal water sources.

“There have been significant efforts to ramp up re-use practices in Weld County,” Beers said, pointing out that “in theory, the demand for water for hydraulic fracturing in Weld County could be met by recycling all the produced water five times over.”

Another possibility for beneficial use of produced water is dust suppression. Many rural communities with high numbers of dirt roads use significant amounts of water to mitigate dust and maintain roads. Some communities have begun exploring the idea of using produced water, particularly formation water, for this purpose.

“The deeper formations were laid down when the land was almost totally dominated by oceans,” Beers explained, “so produced water from these marine sediments typically has a high concentration of salts.” Interestingly, the composition of these briny produced waters is similar to the composition of common commercial magnesium chloride solutions municipalities use for dust control on unpaved roads. Beers sees an opportunity there.

“Many counties in Colorado spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for commercial magnesium chloride solutions,” Beers said, despite the fact that the produced water coming out of the oil fields might serve the same purpose.

However, this particular beneficial use is quite a bit trickier to implement. The beneficial use of produced water is overseen by a complex network of regulatory agencies including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and county permitting processes. Which regulations and permitting processes apply is contingent upon variables such as the produced water source; the composition of the water; whether the water has been treated, how it has been treated, and by whom; and the proposed use.

Beers finds irony in the fact that despite the similarities in composition between commercial magnesium chloride products and produced water (brine), there are virtually no regulatory hurdles to using a commercial magnesium chloride solution for dust suppression, but there are numerous regulatory hurdles to using produced water for the same purpose, because it is classified as industrial waste.

“Let’s say you’re going to buy ‘Compound X’ for dust suppression,” Beers said. “The company is required to disclose what chemicals they put in their solution. If you look at that, they’ll say so much magnesium chloride, etc. Then they’ll say ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ ingredients and they won’t disclose what they are. So you don’t know.

“But if you were going to use produced water,” Beers said, “you would have to get state approval to do that. You would have to analyze hundreds of compounds and disclose what each of those were. So if you were going to buy the magnesium chloride solution from a commercial guy, he would say, ‘Well, it only has salt in it and a bunch of stuff which I can’t tell you.’ And then you look at the produced water and say, ‘Look at all of the things they found in it!’ Whether those components are harmful or not.

“Nine times out of ten the buyer will say, ‘I’m not going to get that produced water because it’s got all these weird things in it.’ But I’ve done some side-by-side testing and there are a lot of materials in the commercial products that they should tell you about, but they don’t, because they don’t have to,” Beers said.

The bottom line is, “it’s an uneven playing field, because recycled products, like produced water, have regulatory baggage and they have to disclose everything, unlike commercial products,” he said.

Beers sees the possibility of change on the horizon.

The industry is starting to acknowledge the economic benefits of water re-use. Treating and re-using water in the field cuts down on the cost of purchasing water and transporting it to the site. Treating produced water and using it for dust suppression, or similar beneficial uses, even holds the potential of turning an industry expense, such as disposal of produced water, into a revenue stream, such as selling treated produced water to municipalities.

Stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies, are also beginning to discuss streamlining permitting processes to make it easier to recycle produced water and use it for beneficial purposes. In January of this year, the Colorado Energy Office and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University convened 65 stakeholders from the Grand Junction community to talk about re-use projects on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Beers said he believes that with enough education, the public, too, will begin to see the benefits of treating and using produced water.

“A lot of people are looking at beneficial uses for produced water,” Beers said, “it’s just a matter of having a few on-the-ground projects to show people that it does work and that it can be done.”

More oil and gas coverage here.