Water Line: A Creative Exchange August 4 – October 21, 2017

Images: Natascha Seideneck, Uncanny Territory, 2017; Cannupa Hanska Luger, We Have Agency VII, 2016; Anna McKee, WAIS Reliquary: 68,000 Years (detail), 2016, image by Joe Rudko.

I had the time today to tour Water Line: A Creative Exchange at the Metropolitan State University of Denver Center for Visual Art. Make some time to go see the artwork if you haven’t already. The exhibit closes next Saturday.

Three reasons for optimism about climate change — The Mountain Town News

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide

U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.

Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.

Brian Deese photo credit Wikipedia.com.

“I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.

The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.

But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.

“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”

That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”

The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.

Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.

A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.

To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.

He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”

More science needed to assess the safe treatment of oil and gas operations produced water #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas evaporation pond

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

The U.S. produces about 900 billion gallons of wastewater per year from oil and gas development, such as hydraulic fracturing. Some of the reuses proposed for this water include irrigation or discharging into surface water, but the chemical content and potential health implications of this water are still largely question marks to the scientific community. Currently, this wastewater is disposed of, either through evaporation, into pits or through underground injection.

But according to recent research out of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the question at this point isn’t even about what is in the water or if it is safe. It’s about coming up with the methods necessary for science to even tackle those questions.

Karl Oetjen, Mines doctoral candidate and one of the lead authors on the paper, published in August in “Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry,” said there’s no adequate way to measure the chemical makeup of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. All of the current methods used to test the quality of water — such as surface water, ground water and even wastewater from other sources — don’t take into account the high saline content of the water or the numerous chemicals in it. These methods weren’t intended to test water so complex, he said. And since there’s a high level of variability in the water resurfacing from each well, it’s difficult for researchers to even pinpoint what they should be testing.

“If you’re worried about introducing this water to places where it could interact with the environment or human health, it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous or not dangerous because we simply don’t know,” Oetjen said.

He describes the process of looking for certain contaminants in surface water as looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you’re looking for contaminants in oil and gas wastewater, you’re looking for a needle somewhere in a million haystacks.

@SenBennetCO Leads Effort to Standardize the Cost of Climate Pollution #ActOnClimate

Rush hour on Interstate 25 near Alameda. Screen shot The Denver Post March 9, 2017.

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today led 11 colleagues in introducing the Pollution Transparency Act to standardize the metric used by federal agencies to measure the cost of climate pollution. This counters a directive from the Trump administration to agencies to ignore existing metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty-and an attempt made yesterday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the revised BLM methane rule to change his department’s metric without any prior consultation or transparency.

Cosponsors of the Pollution Transparency Act include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

“We cannot stand by idly as the Trump administration blatantly disregards broad scientific consensus and economics,” Bennet said. “This irresponsible ploy to upend years of progress is playing fast and loose with the health of our nation’s children. Although we cannot avoid all of the effects of climate change, we can create market certainty about how much those effects harm our children and our economy. This legislation would ensure the federal government runs a transparent process-grounded in science, with public and industry input-to quantify those effects.”

A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA-4).

“The next generation will have a better opportunity for a healthy economic and environmental future with the implementation of this bill,” McEachin said. “There are clear and undeniable costs of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in our economy: the cost of poor air quality in our neighborhoods, the loss of a day’s work when taking an asthmatic child to the doctor, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and sea-level rise – we have had enough. We need to ensure that the federal government is accurate and consistent in calculating the price of greenhouse gases when issuing regulatory and substantial procurement decisions. We can best address the root-cause of climate change by taking an intellectually honest and evidence-based approach to quantify its impact. This method will allow us to build a more resilient infrastructure and leave a better Earth for our children and our children’s children.”

Background on the Pollution Transparency Act:

Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has been required to consider the economic damages that result from climate pollution in the rulemaking process. This metric was developed through a rigorous process, using the best available economics and science and revised when necessary. In March, the Trump administration directed federal agencies to ignore the existing metric and instead select their own metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty.

The Pollution Transparency Act would codify a scientifically-developed value for the cost of climate pollution across all federal agencies. The requirement to consider this cost already exists; this legislation would simply streamline the regulatory process by standardizing the metric and re-establishing a process to revise it through a public process. Ultimately, it would create greater market and regulatory certainty by ensuring federal decisions are transparent, standardized, and grounded in facts.

A Fact Sheet can be found HERE. A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.

Statements in support of the legislation:

“Quantifying the true cost of GHGs helps tell the full story so that we can make more informed policy decisions. This bill move us in an appropriate direction so that we can better review how GHGs impact Colorado communities.” – Larry Wolk, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment

“I applaud Senator Bennet’s leadership in bringing forward the Pollution Transparency Act to ensure full and accurate consideration of the cost of carbon pollution in decision-making. Ignoring proven science and clear economic risk will not make climate change disappear. Only consistent and transparent accounting for the impacts of climate change can prevent waste of taxpayer funds on subsidies for shaky infrastructure and obsolete technologies.” – Mary D. Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (Full letter of support can be found HERE)

“The social cost of carbon is a linchpin of national climate policy, providing a guidepost to balance the costs of climate change to our economy today with the damages that have started to arrive and are projected to grow. This bill ensures that this critical guidepost continues to be robust and grounded in the latest available science and economics, while providing certainty to businesses eager to have a consistent regulatory process.” – Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago

“It is critically important for policymakers to account for the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions in their policy decisions. These costs should be quantified using the best available science and economics, in order to inform decisions that affect public wellbeing.” – Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus and Director of the Institute of Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law

“Proper evaluation of the benefits and costs of regulations that affect emissions of greenhouse gases requires that the federal government use the best available estimate of the damages that such emissions cause. This bill would guarantee that this happens. It is consistent with a recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. We, the undersigned, strongly support the Pollution Transparency Act.”

– Maureen L. Cropper, Distinguished University Professor of Economics, University of Maryland
– Robert Litterman, Former Head of Risk Management, Goldman Sachs
– William Pizer, Susan B. King Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
– Richard Schmalensee, Professor of Management and Economics, Emeritus, MIT, Member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1989-1991
– Glen Hubbard, Dean of Columbia School of Business, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush

Groundwater testing perimeter around Rulison site reduced

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The area subject to testing has been reduced from 25 square miles, encompassing a circular area extending three miles in all directions from what’s known as the Project Rulison blast site, to an oval area of just under 6.3 square miles, and ranging from 1.5 to two miles away from the site.

The revised plan also gets rid of a limit on the number of drilling rigs concurrently operating in the monitoring zone “because this has not been an administrative problem in recent years,” it says.

Project Rulison involved the explosion of a nuclear bomb more than 8,000 feet underground in the mountains south of Rulison in a federal/private experiment to try to boost natural gas production in the Williams Fork sandstone formation. The project succeeded in producing gas, but it was radioactive and was flared off as part of the experiment.

More recently, energy companies have extensively produced gas in the Williams Fork formation through the use of hydraulic fracturing to crack open the sandstone and foster gas flow.

The federal government restricts drilling deeper than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area at the blast site. Currently there are no wells within a half-mile of Project Rulison, and any applications to drill that close would be subject to a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing process.

The state also subjects companies to two levels of sampling and testing requirements for radioactivity when it comes to things such drilling cuttings, produced gas and produced water. One level has applied to wells within a mile of the blast site, and it continues to apply under the new plan.

The second level had applied to an arbitrary circular testing area having a three-mile radius, but the revised plan says it now applies to a smaller ellipse aligned with the pattern for fractures in the Williams Fork formation in the area of the blast site.

The plan also eliminates an environmental monitoring program for ground and surface water, stating that “there is no credible mechanism to transport Rulison-related activity to the surface except through natural gas production,” which the sampling plan already covers.

The plan says numerous monitoring studies conducted by federal agencies and oil and gas companies show that “no known release of radionuclides has occurred from Project Rulison,” except during natural gas flaring and production tests immediately following the blast.

The monitoring program is intended to protect workers, the public and the environment during oil and gas operations, the plan says.

COGCC 7-point plan to modify rules in aftermath of Firestone explosion public hearings in December 2017

Photo credit Croft Production Systems.

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Filling abandoned pipelines with yellow-colored cement, ensuring small flow lines connected to wells are secure, and clarifying which agency has jurisdiction over oil and gas pipelines are the goals of new rules the state is considering in the wake of the deadly Firestone home explosion on April 17.

The new rules— slated for public hearings in December — is part of the seven-point plan rolled out by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Aug. 22…

[Matt] Lepore said the effort has several goals — updating existing regulations as well as adding new requirements. Several of the goals focus on the circumstances that surrounded the explosion that killed two men and seriously injured a woman…

Part of the rulemaking is to ensure there’s no confusion about active and abandoned pipelines in the future…

Lepore said the proposed rules will ensure all pipelines are tested to find leaks — including the smallest lines that previously had been exempted from routine, annual testing.

The pipeline at the center of the investigation into the explosion was a 1-inch flow line.

Lepore said the state also will look at how pipelines are abandoned, with the initial thought that it’s OK to leave them in the ground, as long as they’re severed from the well, the ends cut off below the ground, and the pipeline filled with a “cement slurry type material.”

Lepore said the rule is likely to call for that cement to be yellow colored, the same color the 811-Call Before You Dig program uses to mark oil and gas lines…

Lepore said he hopes to ensure oil and gas companies are not only part of the state’s 811-Call Before You Dig program, but that they’re Tier 1 members. Tier 1 members work more closely with the 811 organization than Tier 2 members…

One area of concern is the industry’s use of pipelines to transport oil from wells in the field to processing facilities.

Local governments and neighborhoods have clamored for energy companies to invest in pipelines to transport the oil or water pumped from the well to a larger processing facility. It’s a way to reduce dust and traffic from tanker trucks that traditionally have pulled the mix from storage tanks at the well site.

But there’s a question over who has jurisdiction over those pipelines — the COGCC, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission or the federal government, Lepore said.

Similar questions surround the pipelines used to carry produced water from the well site — water that flows up through the well and often is mixed with oil and natural gas, he said.

The COGCC also is asking other states how they handle the issue, he said.

How Colorado can get real serious about reducing its carbon footprint — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In Colorado, as elsewhere, recent polling by Yale University shows strong recognition that climate change is real, the result of human activity, and something that we must address.

But do it now? Really shake things up? Well, maybe it can wait. It ranks very low on the list of priorities for most people. Kick that can down the road.

A report released [September 20, 2017] by Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado called Colorado’s Climate Blueprint argues that Colorado must seize very tool available to do its part in holding temperature increases to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

“We need to reduce our carbon pollution very quickly,” says Stacy Tellinghuisen, a co-author of the report. “We can’t wait for the federal government to take action. So we have laid out a blueprint for a three-legged stool of action.”

Colorado has been doing things. Emissions in the electrical sector has fallen, since 2007, the result of switching from coal-fired generation to cleaner-burning natural gas but also as a result of the deepening penetration of renewables. Transportation sector emissions have also declined.

But the growing evidence uncovered by scientists argues that, if anything, their assessment of the risk has been conservative. Temperatures are rising, and so are sea levels. Coral reef is disappearing. If the hurricanes and bark beetle epidemics are not directly a result of the warming climate, their severity may well be exacerbated.

And if they’ve tended toward conservative predictions, what does that say about when they believe the spit really hits the fan within a few decades?

All of this argues for rapid reduction, not just stabilizing, of emissions.

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July announced a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 as compared to 2005 base levels. He did not, however, identify exactly how to achieve this, as I wrote in an article for the Colorado Independent. See: “What will it take to reach the climate change goals set by Gov. Hickenlooper?

Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane. Photo/Allen Best

These two groups, arguably Colorado’s most influential environmental organizations, want significant reductions beyond Hickenlooper’s 2025 goals. By 2030, as compared to 2005 levels, they want a goal of 45 percent reduction in emissions and a 90 percent reduction by mid-century.

Unlike Hickenlooper’s order, they go into depth. Some are the the usual suspects. For example, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission can push the shift already underway from coal, in particular, to renewable sources. Colorado legislators need to ensure new buildings better maximize energy efficiency.

But the report points to several levers that the Air Quality Control Commission can pull to achieve action. One is advanced regulations that reduce the venting and flaring of methane, as is commonly done in the Wattenberg and other natural gas fields.

Tellinghuisen says the gasfield emissions of methane are among the most difficult areas for regulation. In 2010, they represented almost 8 percent of Colorado’s total carbon pollution. Colorado subsequently became a national leader in its regulation of methane emissions after the state’s two largest operators, Anadarko and Noble, working with the Environmental Defense Fund, emerged with an agreement. But more methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, remains to be captured instead of being allowed to be wasted. If prices of natural gas were higher, producers would have more incentive to attend to leaks and capture what is now being flared. Methane has 22 to 28 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide.

The two groups would also like to see more stringent fuel economy standards for vehicles, similar to what California and 10 other states have adopted. Colorado, they say, should adopt policies that yield one million electric cars by 2030. It ranked 12th in the nation in sales of EVs from 2011 through 2016.

What may be most notable about the report is the embrace of market-based solutions. The power of markets has been proven frequently in solving environmental problems. Markets, by definition, must have incentives, in this case a price on carbon in this case. This could be achieved through a cap-and-trade regime or the more straight-forward carbon tax.

California has adopted a cap-and-trade system, and several states in the northeast have cap-and-trade as it applies to electrical production. British Columbia has a carbon tax. That province adopted a tax of 410 in 2008 and, as previously planned, elevated it to $30 in 2012. As the New York Times noted in a March 2016 story, that was then the equivalent of $22.20 in U.S. dollars. Economists at Duke University and the University of Ottawa in a 2015 study concluded that the carbon tax had reduced emission by 5 to 15 percent with “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.”

The tax proceeds are rebated to the public in the form of other tax reductions. A group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates the same revenue-neutral approach in advocating for what it calls a carbon fee and dividend.

From her study, Tellinghuisen believes a higher tax is needed to motivate changes in the transportation and other sectors. A tax of $20 per ton of CO2 emissions would result in a price increase of only 20 cents per gallon on gasoline. That, Tellinghuisen points out, would likely be lost in the noise of price fluctuations at the gas pump. It’s not enough to motivate changes such as, for example, cause people to ride light rail.

A constitutional provision in Colorado would also pose a challenge to automatic price increases in carbon prices if Colorado should follow the British Columbia model. The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, requires specific voter approval for many specific tax increases.

Many economists say the minimum starting price for a carbon tax would be $40, if it is to produce significant changes, elevating to about $75 a ton.

Voters in Washington state, belying their reputation for liberal instincts, rejected a proposed carbon tax there last November. Among the arguments was that the tax is regressive, hurting poor people more than other sectors of society.

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.