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.

Oil & Gas folks find 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines <= 1,000 feet (300 meters) of occupied buildings

Photo credit Croft Production Systems.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered energy companies to identify and test all pipelines near occupied structures after a natural gas explosion killed two people and injured a third in April…

The data reported to the state by Friday showed more than 7,700 pipelines had at least one end inside a city or town.

The house that exploded was within 200 feet (60 meters) of the gas well, and the pipeline was severed about 10 feet (3 meters) from the house, officials said. The well and pipeline were in place several years before the house was built.

Anadarko Petroleum, which owns the well, said it would permanently shut it down.

The pipelines are known as flow lines and connect wells to tanks or other collection points. A well can have multiple flow lines of varying lengths. Some carry petroleum from the well to a separator, which removes water and divides oil from the gas. Other lines carry the water, oil and gas from the separator to tanks.

Many are 1 or 2 inches (2.5 or 5 centimeters) in diameter…

Oil and gas companies reported 128,826 flow lines within 1,000 feet of buildings, although a few companies included lines up to 1,500 feet (460 meters) away, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

About 113,000 of the pipelines are in use.

The purpose of the inventory is to see whether any inactive lines still protrude above the ground, where they might mistakenly be put back in use, Stuart Ellsworth, engineering manager for the commission, said in an interview.

“My goal is to get rid of this guy,” Ellsworth said, pointing to a diagram showing the above-ground section of a flow line, called a riser. “I do not want the opportunity for an error.”

Since 2001, the commission has required companies to disconnect and purge flow lines when they are abandoned. They also have to be cut off 3 feet below the surface and sealed at both ends.

Ellsworth said the owners of abandoned pipelines identified in this year’s inspections will have to comply with that rule, even if the lines went out of use before the rule was enacted.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and some lawmakers suggested after the April explosion that Colorado could compile a map of all flow lines. Ellsworth said the data the state is collecting now is not enough to create a map because it shows only the end points of a flow line, and the path from one end to the other is not always a straight line.

The puzzling push to allow pollution and waste on federal lands — The Mountain Town News @MountainTownNew

A drilling rig in the Piceance Basin, southeast of Rangely, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Donald Trump, in running for president, vowed to make public lands more accessible for oil-and-gas drilling. He also promised to roll back regulations. When it came to methane emissions, his anti-regulation agenda failed thanks to three Republicans in the U.S. Senate who walked across the partisan divide to preserve the Methane Waste Prevention Rule.

The rule, adopted by the Obama administration last November after three years of public review, requires companies operating on federal and Indian lands to look for and repair leaks, allows only minimal burning, and prohibits direct venting into the atmosphere. Proponents said the regulations can result in 40 to 45 percent of the gas otherwise wasted being captured.

What motivated this push to allow a valuable public resource to be wasted in a way that pollutes? Are we really desperate for the energy? The stock market was barreling along even before the election, and after the election it became delirious.

Energy is cheap. A decade ago, the peak oil argument was credible. A book about the same time was called “High Noon for Natural Gas.” It looked like end times for our fossil fuel-enabled civilization. Natural gas ran as high at $14.50 per million Btu and the gas we buy to fuel our cars ran over $4 in metropolitan Denver.

Now natural gas is running a little over $3 and the oil prices are running about $50 a barrel, meaning gas prices at Denver-area stations run about $2.30 per gallon for standard unleaded. Hydrocarbons have become so plentiful globally that OPEC continues to hold back production in an effort to raise prices.

Cheap energy enables waste. I see it almost every day. As I live near a busy commercial area, strangers park in front of my house constantly. Returning from yoga or shopping or the bar, many get in cars, turn on the engine, and then just sit there, idling, while scrolling through Facebook or whatever. Sometimes they sit idle for a half-hour while stinking up the neighborhood.

More unnerving was my recent visit to a nature-science school in Eagle County. The building housing the school has a LEED platinum certification, the very highest attainment for environmental performance. But in the parking lot was the very worst of environmental performance. A Cadillac Escalade pulled up next to me. It gets 15 miles per gallon in the city, 22 on the highway. Idling in a parking space, it gets even worse: zero miles per gallon. But that is what the driver was doing, thumbing through her smart phone on the best of spring days, neither warm nor cold. Cost was no issue.

In winter, on even the chilliest days, I see store doors constantly left wide open, to make them more inviting to shoppers. Ditto in summer, when the air conditioner is blasting. We heat the great outdoors in winter and cool it in summer.

The federal regulations were modeled on those adopted by Colorado in 2014. [ed.emphasis mine] A survey by Keating Research issued in April 2016 found that 8 of 10 oil and gas company representatives interviewed said that they were profiting, coming out even, or paying out just a little more than they collected in new revenue. Certainly not onerous.

I consume both natural gas and oil, and I recognize that all energy extraction and production has impacts. So does renewable energy. But to let methane be wasted to pollute the atmosphere when we’re awash in cheap energy is puzzling.

Why did Congress nearly repeal these regulations? The disagreement seems to be over whether states should make the rules, even those on federal lands. It’s similar to the dispute about water.

But what a bizarre flag to battle under, the right to allow waste and pollution. Whatever were Rep. Mike Coffman, Sen. Cory Gardner and Colorado’s other Republicans in Congress thinking?

Thanks goodness for the three senators who crossed the aisle: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.

Oil and gas operators deliver inspection data to the COGCC

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Energy companies have inspected thousands of local oil and gas flowlines near homes and provided the state with an inventory of the lines following an order to complete those tasks, and now face a second deadline to test those lines.

The companies are responding to a directive by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after investigators determined that an April explosion that killed two people in a home in Firestone was caused by gas emitting from a flowline from a nearby oil and gas well. The line had been abandoned but never was disconnected from the well or capped, and was somehow severed near the home. Flowlines connect oil and gas wells to tanks, larger gathering lines that collect gas from multiple wells, or other equipment.

Based on a directive from Gov. John Hickenlooper, the oil and gas commission required that by Tuesday of this week, companies inspect any flowlines and other pipelines within 1,000 feet of a building unit and provide the commission with flowline inventory and location data.

Companies also had to take steps including making sure that all flowlines not in use, regardless of distance from buildings, are marked and capped.

Under the second phase of the order, with a June 30 deadline, companies must pressure-test all lines within 1,000 of buildings, and take steps including properly abandoning or removing any lines not in use, or putting them back in use after testing them.

Laramie Energy, with close to 1,300 producing wells in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, identified about 900 flowlines closer than 1,000 feet from buildings. Local Laramie official Chis Clark noted by email that the definition of flowlines under the order “was very broad and included lines which normally would not be accounted for such as water lines and low pressure dump lines.”

He said that in addition to a gas flowline, a typical well may have an additional four to six lines “for produced liquids, fresh water, fuel gas or chemical treatment lines.”

He said of 899 lines identified under the inventory, 43 will be abandoned or removed by the June 30 deadline, and the rest pressure-tested.

A number of the Laramie lines within 1,000 feet of buildings are in the Collbran or Rifle areas. But Bob Hea, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Laramie, said the company’s holdings are still generally in fairly rural areas, and not near towns.

Terra Energy Partners submitted inventories to the state Tuesday on more than 2,700 flowline segments meeting the criteria for building proximity under the first phase of the state’s order.

Terra is the largest gas producer in the Piceance Basin, operating several thousand wells.

Complying with the state’s order has been no small task for Terra or Laramie.

“The large quantity of flowlines in our inventory required a substantial effort on the part of Terra employees to meet the deadline and was only possible by beginning with an already well-maintained database,” said Terra spokesperson Susan Alvillar.

She said Terra has more than 15 crews working to comply with the phase-two requirements.

“We meet challenges from a regulatory standpoint every day in our work and this effort is no different,” she said.

Hea said Laramie has hired contractors to help it with its compliance effort. He said the company began work within a day or two after the order came out and worked some long days to meet the first deadline.

He said the second phase will be a different kind of challenge. The company ordered digital pressure gauges that can record data, which will help it in carrying out pressure tests and providing results to the state. Doing the tests will probably involve an even greater workload than the first phase of the state’s order did, he said.

“Some lines require 15-minute tests, some lines require one-hour tests, and you can only do so many at a time,” he said.

He said the first-phase work turned up no surprises with the company’s lines. Most are fairly new, and either were put in by Laramie, or involved wells that it purchased from companies whose local employees it ended up hiring, so it already knew about most of the lines.

Don Simpson, a vice president with Ursa Resources, said it’s already nearly finished with the second phase of the required flowline work.

“We found no problems with any of our pipelines or anything like that,” he said.

He didn’t know offhand how many of its lines fell within the 1,000-foot building threshold. Ursa has fewer wells than some other local energy companies but has drilled closer to homes in places such as the Battlement Mesa area.

Much of Ursa’s drilling in that area is fairly new, so it had a lot of its flowlines identified already, Simpson said.

It also has wells in the Silt area, including ones that it acquired when it bought Antero Resources’ Piceance Basin assets years ago. While some of the Silt-area wells are older, Simpson said Ursa doesn’t have abandoned wells or abandoned flowlines, such as the line at issue in the Firestone explosion.

Information wasn’t available from the oil and gas commission as of late afternoon Wednesday about the level of compliance by companies with the first phase of the flowline order.

Ursa Resources Battlement Mesa injection well gets GarCo commissioners approval for zoning change

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A split Garfield County Commission on Monday approved a zoning change needed for Ursa Resources to continue pursuing a controversial wastewater injection well proposal in the residential community of Battlement Mesa.

But while Commissioner Mike Samson was part of the 2-1 vote approving the change, he said he has a lot of questions when it comes to injection wells and will be seeking a better understanding of the proposal from Ursa when it comes back to ask the county for a special-use permit for the well. It will need to get that permit under the new zoning…

Ursa currently has county and state approvals for two well pads in Battlement Mesa, and has said that if it gets the injection well pad approval, that could help eliminate the need for another pad by the community’s golf course and cut its overall planned number of pads in Battlement Mesa from five to four.

But some activists and Battlement Mesa residents fear that groundwater and surface water contamination, induced earthquakes and other impacts could result from an injection well, jeopardizing nearby residents…

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky voted against the zoning change. He said he’s been a fairly strong supporter of oil and gas development in the county, and the county’s decision to let Ursa drill in Battlement Mesa reflected the fact that mineral rights are a property right…

He said while he’s relatively comfortable with injection wells, Ursa’s proposed well is something that residents have sought relief from, and that’s a request he feels he can honor.

Commissioner John Martin said he doesn’t like injection wells because he thinks water brought up from underground during oil and gas production should be able to be filtered and put to agricultural and other surface uses, but the industry is only allowed to recycle it for oil and gas uses. If leftover water is not disposed of in injection wells it is sent to evaporation ponds, a form of disposal that raises health concerns, he noted.

Both he and Samson reiterated that the commissioners’ vote Monday doesn’t authorize Ursa’s operation of an injection well, but just lets the company proceed with seeking the permit to do so.

But their vote frustrated some residents, including Betsy Leonard, who said afterward that Martin and particularly Samson showed “no backbone” on the issue…

Resident Carol Fallon said she thinks the injection well is just designed to save Ursa money by avoiding truck hauling costs…

Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operating superintendent, said he’s happy Ursa will get the chance to move forward and show why it believes its plan is a good one. He said he expects the company will apply for the special-use permit within the next month or so.

He also responded to an argument from some residents that Ursa should be recycling the produced water in its operations rather than disposing of it. He said it does use its produced water from wells in its hydraulic fracturing operations, but has to have a place to dispose of the water that wells continue to produce after the fracking is done.

Ursa’s injection well also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It also has yet to receive county or state approval for the pad where the well would be located.