@CBCNews: U.S., Canada ban offshore drilling in Arctic waters

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it's melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From the Associated Press via CBC News:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.

“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.

The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s directive will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to “unwithdraw” waters from future lease sales.

The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing, which hold the volume equivalent of 31 Grand Canyons, stretches off the coast of New England south to Virginia.

The administration cited environmental concerns to justify the moratorium. The president also issued a statement noting the minimal level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1 per cent of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.

“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said…

In issuing a permanent ban, Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor. Trump has vowed a domestic energy revolution and is filling his cabinet with nominees deeply opposed to Obama’s environmental and climate change actions.

Environmental groups were calling for a permanent ban even before the presidential election, but Trump’s victory has provided greater urgency for them and for businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he intends to use all available fuel reserves for energy self-sufficiency — and that it’s time to open up offshore drilling.

“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice-president at the advocacy group, Oceana.

@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

@ColoradoStateU researcher studying use of ‘produced water’ on crops and livestock — Sterling Journal-Advocate

producedwaterllcgraphic

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Farmers and ranchers who work in close proximity to oil and gas production, especially if that extraction involves fracking, need to be aware of the effects of that process on their operations, according to a presentation made Tuesday morning during the Eastern Colorado Crop Production Conference in Fort Morgan.

While the boom in hydrologic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” began a decade ago, researchers are just now asking serious questions about the impact of fracking fluids on crops, livestock and people. Molly McLaughlin, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University, told the 80-plus attendees at the Fort Morgan conference that she hopes her research will answer some of those questions.

The most surprising revelation from McLaughlin’s presentation is that some “produced water” from oil and gas wells is actually used to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The researcher explained that there are two kinds of fluids involved in fracking. The first is the fracturing fluid that is forced into the drilled well to widen fractures in the bore hole. The fluid consists mainly of water but also contains chemicals to reduce friction of fluids against the well casing, biocides to kill bacteria that may grow in the warm, wet environment, and “proppants” that hold the fractures open so oil and gas can flow into them to be extracted. McLoughlin said wells in eastern Colorado use an average of about 3 million gallons of water per well during the fracturing process, mixed with about 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

The other fluid is the produced water, or fluid that flows back out of the well during the extraction of oil and gas. McLoughlin said most of the fracturing fluids are expelled from the well in the first few years of production, but that water will flow out for the life of the well, or about 30 years in most cases. During later years, most of the water is what was already in the geologic formation that contains the oil or gas being pumped out. She pointed out that this is not water from aquifers that supply water for human consumption. As oil and gas production decreases, she said, water production increases.

Most of the exposure to fracking fluids and produced water happens during spills, McLoughlin said, and virtually all spills must be reported to state authorities. She said contamination can come from spilled chemicals getting into surface water, such as nearby lakes and streams, or by leaching through soil into shallow aquifers.

McLoughlin said most of the chemicals used in fracking will degrade fairly rapidly if they are spilled into soil, but that combinations of chemicals degrade at different rates. She said the presence of salts in the produced water can retard degradation by six months or more. Her research is aimed at determining the degradation rates of various chemical combinations, and the effects those combinations have on soil, crops, livestock, and people.

Wastewater from oil and gas wells is treated, McLoughlin said, by skimming pollutants off of the top of holding ponds, by heating the wastewater, or by adding neutralizing chemicals. She said increasingly, treated water is being used to irrigate some crops and water some livestock.

McLaughlin showed research being done at the University of California at Davis that uses produced water to irrigate switch grass for biofuels or cotton for textiles.

An online article from the California Environmental Protection Agency states that produced water from oil and gas wells there is treated and then blended with other water to irrigate crops in the arid inland areas of the state. The CEPA closely monitors that water, the article said, and the state’s Food Safety Expert Panel monitors the crops grown with that water.

McLoughlin concluded her presentation by saying that much more research needs to be done on potential impacts of oil and gas wastewater on food production.

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. - Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

From MarketPlace.org (Scott Tong and Tom Scheck):

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

Future of Denver’s South Park watershed up in air, BLM planners need another 5 years — The Denver Post

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

For more than two years, BLM officials who manage much of South Park have been developing a plan to balance conservation with economic activities including oil and gas drilling that can degrade the environment. The work begun in 2014 was aimed at setting out where companies could drill, where wildlife would prevail, and where houses could be built to maximize protection of delicate ecosystems across South Park, an inter-mountain valley southwest of Denver…

At a public meeting this month, no draft was available.

“Planning and public involvement does take a considerable amount of time,” Hall said. “It’s not going to be completed in the next two months, certainly.”

[…]

Current target date: 2021.

BLM officials at first refused but eventually agreed to hash out a master plan after controversial leases were issued to oil and gas companies to drill for oil and gas adjacent to reservoirs that hold drinking water for residents of metro Denver. The South Platte River — northeastern Colorado’s main waterway, essential for cities and agriculture — forms in South Park.

A broader BLM plan guiding land use across eastern Colorado, which will incorporate South Park oil and gas leasing, also is in the works. A current regional plan is more than 20 years old.

BLM Colorado director Ruth Welch said grassroots sentiments of South Park residents drove the planning in progress. “I know they are anxious,” Welch said…

Among those keen to implement protection are the three Park County commissioners, all Republicans, who have pressed for federal foresight to ensure appropriate development.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, has pushed better landscape-scale planning to guide smarter land use and balance competing interests.

“There are benefits to this type of planning and, as we saw from the major opposition to the thoughtless attempts to lease lands in this area, which set off a lot of the community concerns, those benefits include directing leasing and development to the right places,” Wilderness Society spokeswoman Anastasia Greene said.

Setting out rules in advance for where oil and gas wells could be drilled “just makes more sense,” Greene said.

Interior Secretary Nixes Drilling Leases on #RoanPlateau, #ThompsonDivide — Westword #keepitintheground

From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

In the twilight of the Obama administration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came to Denver yesterday to announce the adoption of long-range plans to protect the Roan Plateau and the Thompson Divide — two spectacularly scenic and environmentally fragile areas on the Western Slope — from oil and gas drilling. The deals have been years in the works, and despite the uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump’s energy policies, won’t be easily undone by a simple regime change.

The compromise announced by Jewell, which involves canceling 25 drilling leases in the Thompson Divide and resolving litigation over energy development on the Roan Plateau, ends efforts to exploit oil and gas resources in areas teeming with wildlife and rare plant species. As we reported in “Raiding the Roan” way back in 2004, energy companies have been salivating over the prospect of tapping into the Roan’s rich gas reserves since the early days of the George W. Bush administration.

In 2008, shortly before Bush left office, the Bureau of Land Management, over strong protests from much of Colorado’s congressional delegation, opened up areas on top of the plateau to gas leases. The BLM’s plan projected up to 1,500 wells over the next twenty years, but other sources estimated that as many as 4,000 wells could be drilled. Hunters, outfitters, tourism interests and environmental activists feared that the impacts of so much industrial activity, including new roads and clearing vast areas for well pads, would be devastating to wildlife habitat.

Legal and administrative challenges to the BLM’s plan — notably, litigation brought by Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation and others, represented by Earthjustice and Western Resource Advocates — kept the leases tied up in court for years. A settlement agreement, first announced in 2014, canceled numerous leases and designated key areas of the plateau as off-limits to development. The Thompson Divide battle has also raged for years, as locals challenged leases in precious watersheds and roadless areas.

“This resolution strikes the right balance by protecting one of Colorado’s most spectacular places and important watersheds, and ensuring that any future development is done responsibly and held to high standards,” said Secretary Jewell yesterday, as a beaming Governor John Hickenlooper looked on.

Given the slow pace of environmental review and other bureaucratic processes within the BLM, it’s doubtful the deal that was finally hammered out can be undone by another shift toward the drill-baby-drill mantra in the White House. Economic forces have also lessened the push to drill on remote public lands in recent years; a glut of natural gas from widespread fracking, tapping into reserves previously considered inaccessible, has kept prices low and eased the demand for new drill rigs. These days only 35 percent of leased public lands are actually producing at any given time; with so many leases sitting idle, who needs more?

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.

Gov. Matt Mead: Clean Power Plan Case Heard Before the U.S. Court of Appeals

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Wyoming and 26 other states, industry groups and others presented arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday in opposition to the Clean Power Plan. The states argued the proposed rule goes far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Wyoming would be particularly impacted as the rule requires the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 44%.

“Federal regulatory agencies continue to push the boundaries of their legal authority. This results in unreasonable and onerous burdens on industry, businesses, individuals and states,” said Governor Matt Mead. “The Clean Power Plan is just such a situation. I am pleased the Court stopped the implementation of the rule pending a decision in this case.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit denied a petition from states to halt implementation of the rule while litigation was pending. The petition was then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court which ultimately granted the stay and stopped implementation of the rule. The petition argued the EPA did not have the proper authority, the Clean Power Plan would take authority away from states to regulate in-state power generation and transmission and the final rule was substantially different from its draft version, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.