Lawsuit targets O&G exploration on public lands in #NV #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Reno, Nevada photo credit Wikipedia.

From the Associated Press via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity say the U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally failed to consider potential consequences of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, ranging from harm to the greater sage grouse to contamination of fragile desert water sources and emission of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The suit filed last week in federal court in Reno seeks an order forcing the bureau to rescind oil drilling leases it sold in June for as low as $2 per acre on three land parcels covering about 9 square miles (23 square kilometers).

The groups are asking a judge to forbid permits on an additional 103 parcels totaling 296 square miles (767 square kilometers) until the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws they say require a thorough examination of the potential effects of fracking.

“The Trump administration wants to turn public lands into private profits for the fossil fuel industry at the peril of local communities and wildlife,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute in Oakland, California.

President Donald Trump has taken other steps to open up federal lands to energy production, including proposals to eliminate national monuments designated by former President Barack Obama.

Patrick Donnelley, the center’s state director in Nevada, said the drilling leases in Nevada mark the first time the Trump administration has reversed a draft proposal by the previous administration to keep some otherwise unprotected lands off limits to drilling. He says the government is flouting environmental rules “to push their oil and gas agenda.”

Fracking has led to a boom in natural gas production but raised widespread concerns about possible groundwater contamination and even earthquakes. The method uses huge amounts of pressurized water, sand and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from rock formations deep underground.

The lawsuit says it can release carcinogens and other hazardous pollutants into the air and water while emitting massive amounts of methane, a significant driver of climate change.

@EPA delays coal plant wastewater rule #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Diagram of a typical steam-cycle coal power plant (proceeding from left to right). Graphic credit: Wikipedia.

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The rule requires steam electric power plants to control the amount of coal ash-contaminated wastewater flushed from their plants.

The water contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury, and while it’s pumped to holding ponds it often ends up in rivers and lakes. The rule sets the first specific limits on those toxins.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says postponing the rule for two years would give utilities relief from deadlines to upgrade pollution-control equipment while the agency revisits the requirements.

Environmental groups sued over an earlier effort to postpone the rule. They say they’ll challenge this move as well.

COGCC fines Encana for spill near Parachute

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission imposed the penalty for a leak discovered in June 2016 on the 320-acre Bishop Ranch. It is part of a consent agreement that clears Encana and Hunter Ridge from further state penalties for degrading water quality.

Encana spokesman Doug Hock on Monday couldn’t say how much liquid leaked but stated company crews “eliminated the source of the release within hours of discovery” and that “the impacts have been contained.”

COGCC officials did not respond to queries about whether the leak has been stopped or continues to threaten health and safety.

The hydrocarbons degraded a ranch where land managers count on pristine conditions to sustain deer and elk, essential for Colorado’s increasingly lucrative business of recreation.

Bishop Ranch operators filed a civil lawsuit July 18 against Encana in Rio Blanco County claiming the pipeline leaked huge amounts of hydrocarbons that continue to contaminate springs, streams, underground water, vegetation and soil. The lawsuit alleges the environmental damage ruined a planned $5 million sale of the ranch.

The court case hasn’t been resolved. Encana has sold off its Colorado oil and gas assets. Denver-based Caerus Oil and Gas took over wells in northwestern Colorado in June.

Bishop Ranch owner Mike Bishop on Monday scoffed at the COGCC penalty, calling it pathetic and highly unlikely to deter future violations of state environmental rules…

Bishop Ranch attorneys acknowledged an effort by Encana to contain and filter contaminated water and move it into a cattle pond on contaminated land nearby that the company purchased.

“It has been 58 weeks since the spill was discovered. Encana continues to recover condensate from the contaminated springs at a rate of about 2 barrels (84 gallons) every day,” attorney Mark Mason said. “This environmental nightmare does not end with the payment of a nominal fine by a company that has now essentially left the state. Mr. Bishop … will not let them quietly sweep this one under the rug.”

Last year, COGCC officials notified Encana subsidiary Hunter Ridge that they were considering penalties for a failure to manage waste in northwestern Colorado in a way that protects water, among other violations.

A state document provided to the Denver Post Monday says that as of Aug. 1, Hunter Ridge had spent $2.7 million and recovered 1,195 barrels, or 50,190 gallons, of condensate from the release that contaminated Bishop Ranch and is continuing “to pursue the necessary remediation work.”

State documents didn’t include any estimate of how much liquid leaked from Hunter Ridge’s underground pipeline.

Morgan County Commissioners give green light to #solar farm #ActOnClimate

Photovoltaic Solar Array

From The Fort Morgan Times (Paul Albani-Burgio):

The Morgan County Commissioners voted 3 to 0 Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit and variance for the construction of a solar farm on 20 acres of land near the intersection of County Road 21 and County Road N southeast of Fort Morgan.

The farm is being built by Starlight Energy Corporation on land owned by Peter V. and Karen V. Anderson. Commissioner Mark Arndt said Starlight is proposing to sell the electricity that is generated from the farm to the Morgan County Rural Electric Association to provide power for Morgan County residents but a power purchase agreement has not been finalized. Arndt said Starlight has also talked about Fort Morgan Light and Power as a possible buyer of the electricity that will be generated.

The facility is expected to generate about 2 megawatts of solar power per year and a half of a megawatt of natural gas power. Though the number of homes powered by a megawatt of solar energy depends on average sunshine, electricity consumption, temperature and wind in a given area, it is estimated that one megawatt can power about 650 homes.

Starlight Energy CEO Brian Bentley said the company was hoping to have the solar farm constructed and operational in the first quarter of 2018. Bentley said a portion of the facility that will generate natural gas when not enough solar power is being generated should be operational by the fourth quarter of this year.

Erie, Broomfield, Thornton and Lafayette are all developing oil & gas rules

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado residents fed up with what they see as the state’s failure to protect people and the environment are fighting fossil-fuel development inside their towns by making new rules requiring odor control, bigger setbacks and company disclosure of underground oil and gas flowlines.

But the industry and state government are ready to fight back.

An odor-control measure in Erie, letting police hit companies with tickets for foul fumes, takes effect next week.

Erie, Broomfield, Thornton and Lafayette are each developing map submission rules, with leaders saying the fatal April 17 house explosion in Firestone makes this a no-brainer. Broomfield residents also will vote on whether to change their charter to require protection of health, safety and the environment as preconditions before drilling inside city limits can be done…

“The odor ordinance? We will see how that is applied in Erie,” COGA president Dan Haley said in an interview at a fossil-fuels energy summit in Denver. “It clearly was an effort to go after oil and gas. It will have broader impacts if it is applied aggressively.”

And Thornton’s latest 750-feet setback and flowline-removal rule, Haley said, is a case where “you have a City Council passing illegal regulations after a very limited stakeholder process.”

[…]

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday that an existing 811 notification system will be used to give site-specific underground flowline information to residents, planners and builders — instead of a public website. COGA favors that approach because pipeline information quickly becomes outdated as new lines are installed, Haley said. Industry leaders and Hickenlooper invoked the potential for terrorism or monkey-wrenching, too, should flow line network maps be made public…

But Lafayette mayor Christine Berg bristled at “loopholes” favoring oil and gas companies and said locals must be able to protect health, safety and the environment within urban boundaries.

“We are putting something on our books saying we want to know where the flowlines are. The city does not have a good sense of where the existing lines are,” Berg said. “This is within our purview. We have fought before. We are not averse to working through the judicial system.

“What has happened is that local control issues have not made it onto a statewide ballot. And we haven’t gotten traction with state lawmakers. This is what the communities want.”

Not only are industry groups prepared to challenge local rules they see as restrictive, but state COGCC officials are asking the state Supreme Court to review and reject the Martinez decision. State Supreme Court rulings already have buttressed COGCC power by striking down moratoriums and bans on drilling inside municipal limits such as those attempted by Longmont and Fort Collins.

But as oil and gas drilling gets closer to communities, the more Front Range residents are compelling elected leaders to set limits, using land-use and zoning codes to control industrial operations.

Mining jobs at West Elk without methane emissions? — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #keepitintheground

West Elk Mine. Photo/WildEarth Guardians via The Mountain Town News.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Solomon-like wisdom in methane emissions or something else?

One of Colorado’s larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions is something few people see, a coal mine located an hour or two from both Crested Butte and Aspen.

There, invisibly, methane wafts into the atmosphere, trapping heat. That methane has now become a major issue as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tries to balance economic and environmental goals.

He did so last week with a Solomon-like gesture. He endorsed a proposal to approve a royalty rate reduction at the West Elk Mine from 8 to 5 percent for operations in a new coal seam that Arch Coal, the operator, says will be economically challenging.

But in return for that royalty reduction, Hickenlooper wants to see a “good-faith commitment to dedicating significant time and resources” to an effort to capture methane vented from the mine and possibly put it to beneficial use.

Arch plans to bore holes from the surface into the mine to release methane gas. Without venting, miners would be endangered.

A precedent exists for methane capture. In a complicated financing deal, the methane coming from the nearby Elk Creek mine was captured several years ago and is being burned to generate electricity. It still produces carbon dioxide, but methane as measured over the course of a century has 23 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Craig Station is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, behind Comanche station at Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

The West Elk alone is responsible for 0.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, according to the calculations of Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents various groups that oppose the mine expansion. The North Fork mines are said to be among the gassiest in the world.

As of 2015, West Elk’s methane emission were the equivalent of half a million tons of carbon dioxide. Colorado’s largest CO2 producers that same year were the Comanche and Craig power plants, which produced 8.4 million tons and 8.2 million tons of CO2.

This royalty reduction will cost the state, but just how much will depend upon how much coal ends up being mined. Hickenlooper estimated $4 million over a five-year period. Environmentalists, however, calculated lost royalties of up to $12 million.

The Crested Butte-based High Country Conservation Advocates expressed frustration with Hickenlooper’s stance. Matt Reed, the public lands director for the HCCA, said the governor’s office holds that it has little power to limit methane pollution from the mine in cases such as this one, where the federal government is the ultimate decision-maker.

Reed tells the Crested Butte News his group disagrees. The state has power under current law to require permits for coal mine emissions because of its authority to regulate emissions of both volatile organic compounds, which are ozone (smog) precursors, and hazardous air pollutants. They are emitted along with methane. As recently as January, state health regulators said they reserved the right to undertake enforcement action.

The Crested Butte group also points to state law that it says authorizes rules be created to control for emissions of hydrocarbons … and any other chemical substance.”

But Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner sees the Hickenlooper letter sending a “strong message that the analysis, development and implementation of a methane capture and utilization plan is to be expected in the North Fork of Gunnison County and the key word here is that it is to be implemented.”

For the coal mine expansion to go forward, Arch Coal will need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build temporary roads into what is now a designated roadless area. That agency’s decision will be posted Friday, Sept. 8, in the Federal Register.

In an editorial a week before the governor’s letter was released, the Grand Junction Sentinel said the “coal industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” It urged him to take exactly the position that he took.

The newspaper—located in a fossil-fuel-friendly-town—went on to urge Hickenlooper to “use the mine as an example of why Colorado needs a carbon credit cap-and-trade market to monetize waste methane.”

In an editorial a week before the governor’s letter was released, the Grand Junction Sentinel said the “coal industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” It urged him to take exactly the position that he took.

The newspaper—located in a fossil-fuel-friendly-town—went on to urge Hickenlooper to “use the mine as an example of why Colorado needs a carbon credit cap-and-trade market to monetize waste methane.”

Ironically, California’s cap-and-trade is partly the reason why electricity is now being generated from the Elk Creek Mine. Tom Vessels, who put the generating system together, secured money from California, because he is reducing a greenhouse gas. But Holy Cross Energy—which serves Aspen and Vail areas—also is paying a premium for the electricity, and Aspen Skiing Co. provided money to ensure that deal happened.

About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

Agreement conveys @CWCB_DNR funded equipment to Pagosa Springs

The dome greenhouse gleams in the Sun at the center of the park. To the right is a new restroom and on the far left is the Community Garden. Along the walk way is a small paved amphitheater like space for presentations and entertainment. Photo credit The Pagosa Springs Journal.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Marshall Dunham):

The Pagosa Springs Town Council voted to enter into an operating agreement with the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) regarding Centennial Park during its regular meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17.

The agreement states that structures in place at Centennial Park that were funded by various grants will be owned by the town…

[At a recent meeting of the Town Council, Greg Schulte] talked of a grant that was awarded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA) to the town.

“As a virtue of receiving that grant, the things that were paid for by that grant become town property,” explained Schulte. “On the same token, the GGP received a CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) grant and essentially, as the recipient of those funds, the things that were purchased with that become property of the GGP.”

Continued Schulte, “In a very, sort of, general sense, the CWCB money was paying for the stuff that was below the ground, we paid for most of the stuff above the ground.”

Schulte went on to explain that, in a conversation with GGP board of directors, the question was posed of whether the GGP really cares if the town was in possession of underground pipes or not, with the GGP responding that they didn’t mind.

“So, basically this operating agreement does detail how we operate together, but it’s going to move forward on the premise that, essentially, the GGP is going to convey to the town their interest in the infrastructure that was paid for by the CWCB,” explained Schulte. “So, essentially, what this means is that … the town does have a land lease with the GGP for a significant period of time along with the geothermal water … the infrastructure becomes part of the overall land lease.”

Schulte added that the town doesn’t anticipate one day owning the domes or foundations on the property.

“What we’re intending to do is to move forward with the premise that the DoLA money and the structure funded by the CWCB will essentially be owned by the town going forward,” said Schulte.