#ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of 2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline under the existing agreement.

The bureau’s officials will examine how the 2007 guidelines have worked as the agency prepares for negotiations among the seven states on a new set of rules that will take effect after 2026.

“It makes sense to review how well something worked before determining its replacement,” Bernhardt said Friday during a speech at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas. “We think that starting now and not waiting until the deadline a year from now makes sense.”


David Bernhardt answers a question about climate change from Luke Runyon, December 13, 2019, Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

Climate change, energy development

He didn’t mention the words climate change during his speech at the conference. But during a press conference afterward, reporters asked Bernhardt about the role of climate change.

“I certainly believe the climate is changing,” Bernhardt said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists, and I spend a lot of time with our models. And you know, what the scientists tell me is that the best thing we can do is make sure that if we’re using a model, we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model. And so that’s what I’ve insisted on when we’re looking forward to the future.”

In projecting the river’s flows into the future, he said, “we absolutely follow best practices all the time.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has begun pulling out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, and has promoted oil and gas drilling.

In California, the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that could open up about 1.2 million acres to new oil and gas drilling. When asked about environmental groups’ opposition to the plan, Bernhardt said: “We have really strong policy guidance and laws that say that we’re supposed to develop energy, and we will develop energy responsibly.”

Before joining the Trump administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry in the West.

“The president was very clear when he ran for office on his position on energy. He’s for an all-of-the-above approach,” Bernhardt said. He pointed out that oil development on federal lands has generated revenues in New Mexico for schools and other state programs.

“And so, when people tell me that they want to stop oil and gas development on federal lands, I say call the governor of New Mexico,” Bernhardt said.

A ‘disconnect’ in Trump policies

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said Bernhardt’s comments reflect a dichotomy within the federal government in which officials are taking steps on climate adaptation but not on combating planet-warming emissions.

On the one hand, water managers at the Bureau of Reclamation are working with scientists and using climate models to assess risks and project the river flows into the future, Fleck said.

“They’re absolutely taking climate change seriously. It’s built into the modeling work they’re doing,” Fleck said. “You don’t find water managers doubting the reality of human-caused climate change and its effects. They’re seeing it in the flow in their systems, and they’re dealing with it.”

On the other hand, he said, there is a “disconnect” in that the Trump administration isn’t taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“So that increases our risk,” Fleck said. “That’s a problem because we need to reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate the effects on the Colorado River.”

One of Lake Mead’s spillways the last time water lapped at the top of the spillway was 1999.

Bernhardt said the government’s review will focus on “what’s worked, what’s not worked.” He said that will include looking at lessons as the water cutbacks kick in next year under the drought deal.

Bernhardt said while the Colorado River Basin faces growing challenges, he is optimistic that parties across the region will continue working together to solve problems.

“We have a legacy here of states cooperating in a way that is absolutely incredible,” he said.

BLM halts leases after sage grouse, climate legal brawls #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

From E&E News (Niina H. Farah):

Federal officials have withdrawn thousands of acres of land slated for sale to the oil and gas industry after courts demanded that the government take a closer look at greater sage grouse habitat protections and climate change impacts.

Conservation groups opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s actions say a recent slate of deferred lease sales in Colorado, Nevada and Utah illustrate the problems with the Trump administration’s aggressive push to encourage energy development on public lands…

“The broader pattern we’ve seen from this administration has been a headlong rush to get as much remaining sage grouse habitat under lease as possible,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program.

He said the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” approach has led BLM to violate federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act.

“That needs to stop,” Saul said. “They are not simply a real estate sales agency. Under congressional statute, they have multiple obligations, which include duties to conserve wildlife habitat.”

BLM yesterday added to its growing list of delayed leases when it deferred its Dec. 19 Colorado sale in response to a federal court order temporarily blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s greater sage grouse plan.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill, a Clinton appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, required BLM to revert to evaluating leases under sage grouse plans the Obama administration finalized in 2015…

The six parcels covered 4,259 acres and were subject to sage grouse habitat restrictions.

Conservation groups lauded the move, while urging BLM to take more permanent action to stop lease sales on the birds’ habitat. Other state offices could defer or cancel leases as more sales approach next month…

The BLM office was responding to a lawsuit filed in September by the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which raised claims that the agency had not adequately considered the impacts of climate change from leases in the central and northeast portions of the Beehive State.

The lawsuit encompassed eight different parcels finalized between 2014 and 2018. The leases fit into a pattern of BLM failing to adequately consider climate impacts, said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Altogether, Utah has had over 300,000 acres of leases suspended in response to similar litigation…

In addition to challenges over sage grouse protections and climate change, Dascalu-Joffe said concerns about analysis of cumulative water withdrawal impacts could also become an area of legal vulnerability for BLM.

She noted that while the preliminary injunction forced BLM to look at sage grouse impacts in a more programmatic way, the same was not true for assessing climate impacts.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drive any programmatic analysis of climate impacts from the entire oil and gas program because that’s not how this agency works right now,” Dascalu-Joffe said.

Aurora Organic Dairy commits to 100% carbon-neutral energy in its fourth Sustainability Report #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Here’s the release from Aurora Organic Dairy:

Aurora Organic Dairy today published its 2019 Sustainability Report. The report provides a detailed and transparent update on the Company and its progress toward goals to improve its sustainability performance around three core pillars of Animals, People and Planet.

The Company announced updated goals that encompass three key areas:

  • Caring for the comfort and well-being of its cows and calves, always putting animal care at the forefront of farming practices.
  • Employee safety and wellness, and local community support.
  • Commitments to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, water efficiency and waste reduction, and one important new goal to commit to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “At Aurora Organic Dairy, we have a longstanding commitment to continuous improvement when it comes to our animals, people and planet,” said Scott McGinty, CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. “While we are proud of our achievements, in today’s world, we cannot rest. We must continue to do more to support our animals and people, the environment and our local communities. Our updated sustainability goals strengthen this commitment.”

    The Company’s sustainability goals – established against 2012 baseline data – include many initiatives that have bolstered Aurora Organic Dairy’s sustainability performance:

  • Aurora Organic Dairy farms improved the overall welfare of its animals through goals to reduce lameness, to perform fewer dehorning procedures, to used paired calf housing and to increase video monitoring.
  • Significant progress against People goals was made with increased training programs, communications around the value of benefits, bilingual communication and community centers in remote farm locations. Going forward, Aurora Organic Dairy will continue its focus on safety and on employee volunteerism.
  • For the Planet, Aurora Organic Dairy achieved significant reductions in water and energy. Its milk plant achieved a 71% solid waste landfill diversion rate, and normalized GHG emissions were down 11%. The Company is committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30% by 2025. Given the urgent need to address climate change globally, Aurora Organic Dairy has made an important commitment to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “This last year was a milestone for Aurora Organic Dairy in terms of environmental stewardship,” said Craig Edwards, Director of Sustainability for Aurora Organic Dairy. “We installed solar arrays at our High Plains and High Ridge Dairies in Gill, Colo. and we committed to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020. To get there, we will invest in renewable energy projects directly and will support additional projects by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates and Verified Emission Reductions to address 100% of our electricity and fuels use across our Company farms, raw milk transport, milk plants and headquarters.”

    Collapse of drilling industry in #Colorado? It hasn’t happened yet, despite fearful comparisons to Black Sunday — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Drilling rigs along the northern Front Range in 2013. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    A year ago Colorado voters rejected Proposition 112, the proposal to sharply curtail oil-and-gas drilling. But it was clear that legislators would take up the issue of further restraints on drilling, if not as Draconian as those outlined in Proposition 112.

    But what would be the economic effects of clipping the wings of this business sector just a bit? That was the good question I set out to answer. The obvious comparison was to the giant economic shudder of the early and mid-1980s, one triggered by what is still remembered on the Western Slope as Black Sunday.

    There had been a boom of rare proportions as Exxon and other oil companies threw money at the hope that the vast kerogen deposits of the Piceance Basin would finally be squeezed successfully (and economically) to yield hydrocarbons. That effort had begun in 1918, but with little success.

    Then, the Saudis opened the spigot, prices plunged, and Exxon pulled out. One result: In 1985, when I moved to Vail, I got a condominium that was very affordable. If Vail’s real estate got pricey in coming years, the hangover in Glenwood Springs lasted longer. And in Denver, although I was not living there then, my impression was of a certain darkness. Cities altogether struggled in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denver may have had a darker edge to it.

    A year ago, my journalistic question was just how dependent Colorado was on oil-and-gas extraction? Colorado Biz magazine commissioned the inquiry.

    The answer, published in late December under the heading of Addition by Extraction, indicated that if all the drilling rigs went away, there would be great pain in some areas, Greeley more than Fort Collins, but even in downtown Denver, a lot more vacant offices. But in no way was the comparison to the oil shale bust valid. Colorado’s economy had become far more diversified in the almost 30 years since Black Sunday. Predictions of economic collapse were just ridiculous.

    (Just the same, I saw exactly those sorts of prediction in February as state legislators considered rules to give local governments more say in regulation and, inevitably, restriction).

    Now, some months since the restrictions have gone into place, I don’t know their effect. My impressions, though, is that the oil-and-gas sector is doing just fine. The bigger problem, one similar to that of the early 1980s, similar to that of the early 1980s, when the Saudis turned on the spigot. But this time the plentitude is from domestic sources, particularly the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico

    Let me add this: I had an interesting conversation with somebody at a conference this week. He had been in the oil-and-gas sector, made good money, and moved on. Given what we know about climate change, he said, it was immoral of the oil and gas company executives to keep plunging ahead, business as usual.

    Now, I can’t get into that dimension in a business magazine that favors cheerleading stories about economic growth, at least not in that direct way. For them, I can sing the praises of alternatives, such as economic opportunities for electric cars (and I have a story in the current issue of Colorado Biz on that very topic). But that’s an important discussion to have.

    Bill McKibben has been pushing that discussion since at least 2012, when he passed through Denver on one of his many “Do the Math” stops. His 6,000-word piece in Rolling Stone about “the terrifying new math of global warming” had been published the previous year. At the time, I called it, with understatement, “brilliant and and disturbing.”

    “Those fossil fuels, if they are burned in the same way others have been burned, will produce five times the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be absorbed if rise of global temperatures is to be kept within a two degree increase. In other words, as McKibben put it, if the fossil fuels sector carries out its business plan, the planet tanks.”

    Almost eight years later, we’ve made much progress. The coal plants are being shuttered rapidly, and we’re now on the verge of a big, big increase in electric cars. but oh so much work remains. And McKibben is right. Unless we figure out a way to sequester the carbon from the emissions, we can’t burn these fossil fuels. — Allen Best, Nov. 9, 2019

    Oil and gas wastewater used for irrigation may suppress plant immune systems — @ColoradoStateU #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas drilling derrick. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    From Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

    The horizontal drilling method called hydraulic fracturing helps the United States produce close to 4 billion barrels of oil per year, rocketing the U.S. to the top of oil-producing nations in the world.

    The highly profitable practice comes with a steep price: For every barrel of oil, oil and gas extraction also produces about seven barrels of wastewater, consisting mainly of naturally occurring subsurface water extracted along with the fossil fuels. That’s about 2 billion gallons of wastewater a day. Companies, policymakers and scientists are on the lookout for new strategies for dealing with that wastewater. Among the most tantalizing ideas is recycling it to irrigate food crops, given water scarcity issues in the West.

    A new Colorado State University study gives pause to that idea. The team led by Professor Thomas Borch of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences conducted a greenhouse study using produced water from oil and gas extraction to irrigate common wheat crops. Their study, published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, showed that these crops had weakened immune systems, leading to the question of whether using such wastewater for irrigation would leave crop systems more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal pathogens.

    “The big question is, is it safe?” said Borch, a biogeochemist who has joint academic appointments in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Have we considered every single thing we need to consider before we do this?”

    Produced water experiments

    Typically, oil and gas wastewater, also known as produced water, is trucked away from drilling sites and reinjected into the Earth via deep disposal wells. Such practices have been documented to induce earthquakes and may lead to contamination of surface water and groundwater aquifers.

    The idea for using such water for irrigation has prompted studies testing things like crop yield, soil health, and contaminant uptake by plants, especially since produced water is often high in salts, and its chemistry varies greatly from region to region. Borch, who has conducted numerous oil and gas-related studies, including how soils fare during accidental spills, wondered if anyone had tried to determine whether irrigation water quality impacts crops’ inherent ability to protect themselves from disease.

    The experiments were conducted in collaboration with plant microbiome expert Pankaj Trivedi, a CSU assistant professor in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, and researchers at Colorado School of Mines. The team irrigated wheat plants with tap water, two dilutions of produced water, and a salt water control. They exposed the plants to common bacterial and fungal pathogens and sampled the leaves after the pathogens were verified to have taken hold.

    Using state-of-the-art quantitative genetic sequencing, the scientists determined that the plants watered with the highest concentration of produced water had significant changes in expression of genes plants normally use to fight infections. Their study didn’t determine exactly which substances in the produced water correlated with suppressed immunity. But they hypothesized that a combination of contaminants like boron, petroleum hydrocarbons and salt caused the plants to reallocate metabolic resources to fight stress, making it more challenging for them to produce disease-fighting genes.

    “Findings from this work suggest that plant immune response impacts must be assessed before reusing treated oil and gas wastewater for agricultural irrigation,” the study authors wrote.

    Read the study: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.9b00539

    Colorado residents near oil and gas sites have long worried about health impacts. A new state study bolsters their concerns — @COindependent #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    Study says drilling can increase risks of short-term health problems under worst-case scenarios.

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

    Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a pharmacist and organic farmer from unincorporated Boulder County, said she can see oil and gas companies burning off excess gas into the air across the county line.

    “You can smell it. You get a burning sensation,” Jaquez Lewis told The Colorado Independent.

    She suspects the emissions from these oil and gas operations have caused the nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and respiratory issues her neighbors experience. Some have had their blood tested to find high levels of toxic chemicals, such as benzene, she said.

    Residents living atop Colorado’s reserves of oil and gas have for years contacted state health officials to report these ailments. And now, a study published Thursday further bolsters what they have long argued: Living near oil and gas drilling could put their health at risk.

    The $600,000 study conducted by the consulting firm ICF International showed people living within 2,000 feet of oil and gas drilling could be exposed to short-term health risks under worst-case scenario conditions, such as in the early stages of drilling when emissions are highest or when the wind blows toward a home.

    The study estimated the risk and potential health impacts of exposures based on emissions data. The estimates are used to predict, or “model,” how pollutants might move through air.

    Oil and gas operations emit volatile organic compounds, including benzene, a known human carcinogen. The study found cancer risks fall within acceptable federal exposure limits.

    In response to the peer-reviewed, 380-page study, which former Gov. John Hickenlooper commissioned, state health officials and oil and gas regulators said more monitoring is needed to determine a causal relationship between exposure to oil and gas emissions and health impacts. A key limitation, state officials said, is that the study used data dating back to 2014, prior to Colorado’s adoption of limits on methane emissions. The study also did not measure health impacts near multiple well pads.

    “The study indicated the possibility for short-term health impacts,” Jeff Robbins, the director for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told reporters in Denver Thursday. “We will undertake efforts to determine causation.”

    Robbins said he would put in place “stricter review measures” for all drilling location permit applications that fall within 2,000 feet of an occupied structure. Robbins also wants to ramp up monitoring of current drilling activity to test emissions.

    Regulators made clear that they do not plan to halt drilling in light of the new study. In the near term, it remains unclear what will change for residents living near oil and gas operations.

    “I think today’s study is at least an acknowledgment by the state of what people living with oil and gas already knew,” said Sara Loflin, the executive director for the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Citizens (LOGIC), a nonprofit organization representing residents near oil and gas drilling.

    In 2018, residents filed 548 complaints over drilling near their homes, citing noise, odor and air quality concerns, according to state data. There are more than 53,000 active wells in Colorado, and the state has approved more than 1,800 drilling permits so far this year.

    Several environmental groups have been advocating for a drilling permit timeout until the state updates its rules for issuing permits to reflect new protections for public health, safety, welfare and the environment, as required by Senate Bill 181, which was signed into law in April. The rulemaking process is expected to take until the summer of 2020.

    In light of the report, Colorado Rising, the Sierra Club and Earthworks called for drilling permits to be put on hold.

    “If more research is needed to determine the level of harm how can Jeff Robbins ensure new permits are ‘sufficiently protective?’” Anne Lee Foster, communications for Colorado Rising, said in a statement. “This study also highlights the insufficiencies of oversight and enforcement of oil and gas extraction in Colorado.”

    Lawmakers who wrote Senate Bill 181 responded to the study by calling for more monitoring and studies.

    “This new CDPHE study is valuable, but what we really need is a comprehensive epidemiological study that looks at real health impacts on real people who live near oil and gas wells,” said Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder.

    Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers, including Fenberg and Jaquez Lewis, want to see permits that fall within 2,000 feet of a home delayed until new rules for permitting are completed.

    Jaquez Lewis stopped short of calling for greater setbacks.

    “I think many of us are watching this issue closely and waiting to see the final rulemaking. Then we will be making some final decisions,” she said.

    That neither lawmakers nor state officials pitched the possibility of increasing the state’s current setbacks for drilling rigs, currently at 500 feet from occupied buildings, speaks to how politically dicey the subject is. The industry touts its $30 billion contribution to the state’s economy.

    Environmental groups attempted in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to pass ballot measures to increase setbacks up to 2,500 feet. All were voted down. Protect Colorado, an industry-backed political campaign committee, has spent about $60 million on advertisements and messaging in order to defeat the measures.

    Such an outcome at the ballot box has likely spoiled any prospects of lawmakers passing setbacks at the state Capitol anytime soon. When lawmakers were writing new oil and gas laws earlier this year, oil and gas representatives said they were usurping the will of voters.

    The study is a follow up to a 2017 health impacts study that concluded there is a low risk of harmful health impacts when living more than 500 feet from a well. That study was not peer-reviewed.

    A separate 2018 peer-reviewed study by researchers with Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found that people living in the Front Range within 500 feet of an oil and gas were at risk of cancer. When lawmakers were hearing testimony on Senate Bill 181, a representative of an oil and gas trade group cast doubt on the 2018 study, criticizing its sample size.

    The oil and gas industry likewise has concerns about the study published Thursday. Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said the group will evaluate the results.

    “Thorough review of existing scientific research shows that the current, robust standards and stringent state and federal regulations are in place to protect public health,” Granger said. “Using modeled exposures instead of measured air quality data introduces uncertainties and limitations that may result in erroneous estimates of risk for a population.”

    #Climate Lawsuit Targets 130 Oil Leases on #PublicLands in #Utah — @CenterForBioDiv #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Here’s the release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Steve Bloch, Landon Newell, Diana Dascalu-Joffe):

    Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for failing to consider the climate pollution from 130 oil and gas leases spanning 175,500 acres of public lands in Utah.

    Today’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, says the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving five lease sales from 2014 to 2018 without accounting for the climate pollution that would result from oil and gas development. It asks the court to invalidate all five approvals and their 130 leases.

    The lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution over the coming decade. New oil and gas leases, whose production can last decades, commit public lands to more pollution. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution results from fossil fuel development on public lands.

    “The climate crisis is being exacerbated by the BLM’s reckless and uninformed oil and gas leasing and development on public lands,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The development of these leases will push us closer to the point of no return on climate, while sacrificing some of the most wild, scenic and culturally significant public lands in America.”

    Most of the challenged leases resulted from the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. In addition to slashing environmental reviews to hasten oil and gas leasing, the administration has attacked federal development and reliance on climate science in agency decisions and reports.

    “Each new oil and gas lease commits us to more greenhouse gas pollution that our planet can’t afford,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are already more fossil fuels under development in the world than can be safely burned. New leases dangerously disregard urgent climate warnings from scientists. These leases were irresponsible and illegal, and we’re hopeful that a court will agree.”

    The leases also threaten public lands and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Fracking sucks up enormous amounts of water and threatens to pollute the Colorado River and tributaries where the fish live.

    “Several accidents involving water pollution have already happened on the Green River and its tributaries,” said John Weisheit, a professional river guide in eastern Utah and a representative of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Combined with diminished flow volumes for these rivers, the multimillion-dollar investment already made to ensure a successful endangered fish program must not be further compromised.”


    Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

    Federal fossil fuels that have not yet been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution. Those already leased contain up to 43 billion tons.

    Existing laws provide executive authority to stop federal leasing on public lands and oceans. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.

    Map of challenged oil and gas leases. Credit: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance/Esri ArcMap