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.

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.

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.

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.