#Denver Completes Divestment From #FossilFuel Companies — Westword #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

A spokesperson for Denver’s Department of Finance confirmed that the city’s fossil fuel investments have been sold. As of earlier this year, its various portfolios had included about $50 million in corporate bonds issued by fossil fuel giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron, though in previous years that figure had been higher.

“This is a powerful statement to our children, grandchildren and future generations that we care about them and want to invest in their future,” said 350 Colorado boardmember Barbara Donachy.

2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations)

Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

“Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over, and the winner is all of us,” said Polis, a Democrat.

The state has struggled for years to balance the interests of the booming industry against growing concerns of people who live nearby drilling rigs, wells and tanks.

Colorado ranks fifth nationally in crude oil production and sixth in natural gas. The industry says it contributes $32 billion annually to the state economy, including taxes and 89,000 direct and indirect jobs.

But fast-growing communities north of Denver are spilling into the state’s most productive oil and gas area, the Wattenberg field, sparking complaints about noise and pollution and provoking fears about explosions…

Supporters said the law brings much needed protections for Colorado’s booming population, its environment and its growing recreation industry.

Opponents warned the law could stifle a major industry, kill jobs and shrink tax revenue.

#Colorado native David Bernhardt confirmed as @Interior secretary — The Colorado Sun

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Colorado native David Bernhardt as secretary of the Interior Department.

Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner was a “yes” vote while Michael Bennet, his Democratic counterpart, was a “no.”

Bernhardt’s nomination cleared the chamber by a 56-41 vote.

Bernhardt, from Rifle, worked as an oil and gas lobbyist before he was initially tapped to be the Interior’s No. 2 official.

When former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned last year, Bernhardt was chosen to be the agency’s interim leader. In February, President Donald Trump picked him as Zinke’s permanent replacement.

Democrats and environmental groups have lambasted Bernhardt as being too close to drilling interests. Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said Thursday that letting Bernhardt lead the Interior is like “letting the fox guard the henhouse.”

Bennet previously supported Bernhardt’s nomination as deputy secretary of the Interior in July 2017, but switched his vote this time around citing Bernhardt’s support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He said the earlier decision “is a vote I regret.”

“The Zinke ethics hurricane was bad enough. America should not be harmed again by a Bernhardt ethical typhoon,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

Citing figures from the Office of Government Ethics, Wyden said at least 27 former clients representing the oil and gas industry, coal, water districts and agriculture pose “unlimited numbers of conflicts of interest” for Bernhardt.

Republicans say Bernhardt is well-prepared for the job. “David knows how important public lands are to our state and has a keen understanding of the issues Coloradans face every day,” Gardner said in an earlier statement.

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Climate cases set the stage for oil and gas leasing reform — @HighCountryNews #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

Over the last few years, residents of the western Colorado town of Paonia, the longtime headquarters of High Country News, have planted yard signs, skipped ultimate frisbee to attend public meetings, and embarrassed themselves and each other during a karaoke-themed fundraiser — all in the name of preventing oil and gas development in their watershed. Despite their efforts, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service approved major fracking projects, in 2015 and 2017, just above this small community, where agritourism and a renewable energy training facility are growing as coal jobs fade.

What public pushback didn’t stop, a federal court in Denver has temporarily halted. In late March, Colorado U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock ruled the agencies failed to fully consider climate and wildlife impacts in approving the projects, and ordered them to rework their environmental reviews. It is the latest in a string of decisions regarding federal environmental planning for oil and gas development and leasing on public lands. Another judge also recently rejected oil and gas leases in Wyoming, citing an inadequate analysis of how they would harm the climate; together, the rulings have blocked development approved by both the Obama and Trump administrations.

Environmentalists see the decisions as major victories and an opportunity to slow down the “energy dominance” agenda of the Trump administration. At the same time, they’re aware that courts alone can’t prevent the administration from increasing leasing and drilling on public lands. But in the details of the decisions, and in growing public awareness and activism around climate action, they see a chance to slow or stop oil and gas development on public land.

Oil and gas drilling has been delayed above Paonia, Colorado because agencies didn’t adequately analyze climate and wildlife impacts. Courtesy of EcoFlight via The High Country News.

The courts are merely delaying, rather than actually preventing fossil fuel development over climate concerns. That’s because the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) governs process, not outcomes. The law requires disclosure, “but NEPA doesn’t have the kind of teeth to force agencies to act on climate change,” said Clare Lakewood, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Practically speaking, (BLM) will do the analysis the court directed,” and likely continue with the fracking project in western Colorado, said Laura King, a lawyer for the Western Environmental Law Center. Steven Hall, the BLM Colorado communications director, said the agency will work with the groups that sued to address the issues identified by the court.

While it would be foolhardy to expect the Trump administration to change its plans based on a climate analysis, just a few years ago the Interior Department appeared to be taking climate change more seriously. In 2016, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a moratorium on federal coal auctions and initiated an environmental review of the entire federal coal-leasing program. Though that review was never completed — and the moratorium was overturned in short order by Trump’s then-secretary, Ryan Zinke — the data collected during it were published late last year in a report by the U.S. Geological Survey. That report shows that the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels from federal lands is responsible for approximately one-fourth of the carbon dioxide emissions produced in the United States.

The report not only showed that federal lands are a major contributor to climate change, it also demonstrated that tools exist to track and estimate how they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Now, federal judges are keen to see those tools employed to inform agency decision-making. In a ruling that is delaying 303,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that by omitting analysis of the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, the BLM failed to abide by environmental laws. He also wrote, “BLM could decline to sell the oil and gas leases at issue here if the environmental impact of those leases — including use of the oil and gas produced — would not be in the public’s long-term interest.”

The judge’s assertion is critical for activists who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The Interior Secretary is directed by law to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales. But if the BLM has the power to decline to issue the leases based on their ultimate contribution to climate change, that could pave the way for future administrations to phase-out or even eliminate fossil fuel leasing on public lands. “We think the agencies have complete discretion,” to issue a moratorium on new federal fossil fuel leasing, said Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.

Climate action is not coming from the current partisan Congress, an Interior Department led by former industry lobbyists, or a president who blames wind turbines for cancer while praising the beauty of coal. But recent court decisions are giving future administrations a legal footing to phase out fossil fuel development on public lands, and bolstering environmental activists like the karaoke-singers in Paonia by posing an important question: Is fossil fuel development a sensible way to manage public land for future generations?

Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, WA. Email him at carls@hcn.org.

Water treatment hub to bridge research, commercialization — @coschoolofmines

From the Colorado School of Mines:

Colorado School of Mines celebrated today the grand opening of a new 10,000-square-foot research facility in Denver that will pave the way for greater collaboration with industry, government and academia to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing society today – access to clean water.

The WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) Water Technology Hub will accommodate large-scale research focused on developing innovative treatment technologies for produced water from oil, gas and mineral production, groundwater contaminated with emerging contaminants (including toxic poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances), saline and hypersaline streams, municipal water, wastewater and more — leading to sustainable water reuse.

“Colorado School of Mines was founded almost 150 years ago to help industry grow and thrive and since those early years, solving water and wastewater treatment challenges have been a key part of its research mission,” said Stefanie Tompkins, vice president of research and technology transfer. “As we approach our next 150 years, we want to continue to be a go-to place for the use-inspired research and innovation needed for society’s big challenges. This new facility is an important step in that direction, allowing our amazing researchers – in partnership with other research institutions, industry and government – to bridge the gap between lab-scale and commercial-scale water treatment technologies.”

Located off Interstate 70 and Quebec Street in Denver, the WE2ST Hub includes full analytical and wet labs for water analysis, a fabrication facility and a flexible research bay, with capacity for 30,000 gallons of water and rail line access for bringing in those water samples from anywhere in the U.S.

The industrial facility was previously operated by NGL Energy Partners, a midstream oil and gas company, which donated the entirety of the facility’s equipment to Mines, a gift valued at approximately $800,000.

“For over a decade, NGL Energy Partners has been treating oilfield waste water, creating clean water for use in irrigation, municipal and industrial applications, and, in addition, returning substantial amounts of clean water to the surface for beneficial use,” CEO H. Michael Krimbill said. “We are proud to be a part of this project and look forward to an ongoing collaboration with Colorado School of Mines through serving as a partner to assist in efforts to pilot and commercialize innovations that flow from the WE2ST Water Technology Hub.”

A gift of $1.5 million from the Colorado-based ZOMA Foundation will seed the facility’s operations and support several undergraduate and graduate research fellowships.

“ZOMA is excited to support the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and hopes the facility can help accelerate innovations that improve access to clean water and further sustainable water reuse,” said Luis Duarte, chief philanthropic officer of ZOMALAB.

The hub’s inaugural projects include a U.S. Department of Energy-funded collaboration with UCLA on solar desalination and a smaller project in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on hydrokinetic – or ocean wave – energy desalination. The hub is also one of the core research facilities of NAWI, the National Alliance for Water Innovation. Dr. James Rosenblum, a former postdoctoral fellow at CU Boulder and staff scientist at Jacobs Engineering, will oversee daily operations of the facility.

“We want to thank NGL Energy Partners and the ZOMA Foundation for their help in making possible a facility of this size dedicated to developing innovative technologies for the treatment and reuse of municipal and industrial wastewater,” said Tzahi Cath, director of the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines.

“To better partner with industry and municipalities and help them solve the real-world water treatment challenges they face, we needed more space than is typically available on a college campus,” Rosenblum said. “We’re excited to get to work at a much larger scale than ever before.”

2019 #COleg: SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations) is on it’s way to Governor Polis’ desk

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The new rules would give local governments more tools to regulate where wells go. It would also make health and safety a top priority for state regulators.

The bill does include more than a half dozen amendments, some of which were requested by the state’s oil and gas industry in the final days before the legislature passed it.

Democratic sponsor Steve Fenberg of Boulder said it’s “in the best interest of the communities impacted by oil and gas extraction as well as the communities that have industry that supports their economies to accept these amendments,” and at the same time move forward with health and safety protections.

Opposition from Republicans and industry groups has been fierce. The Colorado Petroleum Council voiced their support for the amendments but remains opposed to the bill. Some opponents, like Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, have filed statewide ballot issue paperwork in an effort to repeal the new oil and gas regulations.

One adopted amendment request by the industry includes changes to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, the state regulator is a volunteer or part-time job. The industry wants the role professionalized and it will become a full-time position under the COGCC.

Another industry-requested amendment specifies that efforts to protect both health and environment at the state and local level must be to “the extent necessary and reasonable.” That was a disappointment for the environmental group Colorado Rising, which labeled the amendment as a “loophole.” In the last election, Colorado Rising advocated for the failed Proposition 112 ballot measure that sought a 2,500-foot setback between energy development and homes and schools.

Most environmental groups, however, praised the passage of the oil and gas reform bill.

A final signature by the governor on SB 19-181 will be the first of many steps to completely implement the bill. It’s expected to launch a half dozen rulemakings on such matters as flowline regulations and methane controls. Those efforts will take months, even years, for the state to fully adopt.

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The Senate voted 19-16 — all Democrats said “yes” and all Republicans said “no” — for Senate Bill 19-181, a repeat of the party-line votes through most of the bill’s journey.

The bill makes protecting public health and safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas projects. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, would no longer be charged with fostering development.

It also allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development under their planning and land-use powers, something communities have requested as drilling has increased in and near the growing cities and counties north and east of Denver…

Polis “is thrilled to see” the bill pass, according to a statement from his office. He thanked the sponsors and Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother died in 2017 when odorless gas from an uncapped flow line that was attached to a well seeped into the family’s home in Firestone.

Martinez, who was severely injured, spoke to the media and testified in support of the bill.

Since the bill was introduced March 1, hundreds of people spoke for and against it during Senate and House committee hearings. The oil and gas industry and its supporters, including several business organizations and elected officials from energy-producing areas, called on lawmakers to slow the bill down to give people more time to weigh in.

The Colorado Petroleum Council aired TV ads saying a handful of politicians were trying to pass the bill “in the middle of the night to shut down energy production in Colorado.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said many of the amendments approved through six committee hearings and debate in the House and Senate were in response to the industry’s concerns…

Language was changed in the House to try to allay the industry’s fears that cities and counties will pass regulations leading to drilling bans or drastically slowing growth in one of the state’s largest industries. Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker, another of the bill’s prime sponsors, have said nothing in the bill would allow bans and that regulations need to be rational and fair. Amendments revising some of the bill’s language were aimed at making that clear, Fenberg said.

The revised language says state and local regulations must be reasonable and necessary. An earlier version of the bill said the state couldn’t act “arbitrarily or capriciously” when regulating oil and gas, which is considered a higher legal hurdle if the regulations are challenged…

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney said Wednesday they will try to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to annul the changes and create a nonpartisan state regulatory body…

The legislation changes the commission from a part-time, volunteer body to a full-time, professional one. The amendment reduces the number of members to seven from nine, five of whom will be appointed by the governor. The heads of the state health and natural resource departments will be nonvoting members.

If Polis signs the bill into law, a lot more work lies ahead. The state oil and gas commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will have to write rules to implement the law, including new air-quality regulations, new rules for monitoring well flow lines and pipelines and new financial requirements to ensure there is enough money to take care of inactive and abandoned wells…

Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, the failed ballot measure on bigger well setbacks, has been critical of amendments it views as “major concessions” to the industry. Development of the rules will be key, spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster said in a statement.

Several conservation and community groups with members along the Front Range and in western Colorado said the bill’s approval gives the public a much-needed voice and will better protect public health and safety.

“Grand Valley Citizens Alliance members past and present have been working on health and safety issues in Garfield County’s gas patch for over 20 years,” Leslie Robinson, the group’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “We want to thank both House and Senate legislators who made our vision reality — that people will finally have an equal voice about oil and gas development in their neighborhoods.”

Fears about drilling’s impacts have intensified as development has increased and moved closer to homes, schools and public places. The 2017 house explosion in Firestone galvanized the push for tougher regulations after investigators said the blast was caused by a leaking flow line…

One of the bill’s major provisions deals with forced pooling, which allows a company to drill oil and gas if just one of the mineral owners in an area agrees. A House amendment says at least 45 percent of the mineral owners must agree before a company can drill, lowering the bill’s original threshold from a majority.

2019 #COleg: SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations), continues to advance #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Senate Bill 19-181, which would put in place additional regulations on oil and gas development in Colorado, passed Monday out of the House Finance Committee.

It was a 7-4, party-line vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against.

The bill, which would change the mission and makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, change forced or statutory pooling regulations and provide more local control over oil and gas development, has already passed three Senate committees and now two House committees…

Perhaps the biggest question about the bill is how it will impact the industry, particularly in Weld County, which produces more oil and gas than all other Colorado counties combined.

Industry groups and the bill’s sponsors are at odds over the impacts, and the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council staff has said there are too many unknowns to accurately predict the impacts — aside from a near $1 million increase in expenses, to go along with seven new employees and an increase in fees that would generate $3 million in revenue annually.

“The measure’s future impact on tax revenue will depend on the type of regulations that state agencies and local governments implement, and the effects those regulations have on business decisions to develop oil and gas resources,” according to the Colorado Legislative Council’s fiscal report. “Since the future actions of state agencies, localgovernments and business operators are unknowable, a change in state tax revenue cannot be estimated.”

Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker, a co-sponsor of the bill who joined local legislator Rep. Rochelle Galindo, D-Greeley, at a roundtable discussion this past Saturday, provided a statement of her own.

“Oil and gas drilling is happening in neighborhoods at unprecedented levels and if industry continues to ignore the Coloradans who are raising issues around drilling — as they have been for years — they will continue to be in the same position,” Becker said in a news release. “I’m proud of this bill and the stakeholder work that has gone into it because it will finally put health and safety first, protect our air, water and enhance our way of life.”

Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

Here’s an opinion piece from Pete Kolbenschlag that’s running in The Aspen Daily News:

Here are some of the things that SB-181, the Public Health and Safety oil and gas reform bill, would do. That bill recently passed the state senate and is now being debated in the house.

SB-181 gives local government the ability to require additional bonding, which helps make sure that unscrupulous operators don’t leave taxpayers responsible, as has happened before.

It strengthens property rights and improves due process by reforming “force pooling” law to require a majority of owners, rather than one, to force others into a “pool” for development.

SB-181 gives local government land-use oversight , which is equivalent to the same authorities they have over other industrial operations.

It requires that a state agency doing public business put the public interest first. The new law would clarify that the COGCC mission is not to foster oil and gas development but to oversee and regulate it.

Despite these sensible reforms, like all regulations before, industry predicts SB-181 will bring devastation upon it. And by proximity, upon all of us. Regulations are “placing an intolerable burden on the economy,” and whatever benefit they may bring, the consequences will be too severe, threaten “economic chaos,” bring the possibility “entire industries could fold.”

But as familiar as this refrain, the fear-mongering around SB-181 is legion: “And then before you know it, you have a ghost town, and tourism doesn’t happen here,” one official predicted.

In the end it often is that industry gets its way — until people say enough. Then we get seat-belts, in cars that still exist; we get lead paint off shelves, that are still painted brightly; and we still have refrigerators and shelves of hair products, without ozone-killing chemicals.

Airbags did not kill the automobile (the first quote above), nor did chaos reign when we phased out CFCs (the other quotes). Similarly oil and gas will not disappear because of SB-181.

Despite all the industry hand-wringing, it’s rather simple. If a company can’t ensure its operations don’t threaten health and safety; if it needs special rules and one-of-a-kind permissions to operate; if it acts under a sense of entitlement so pervasive that a company working with a single mineral owner can force frack all the nearby owners; and if an industry cannot even provide hard financial assurances that taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag; then we don’t need that company here. Which is why we need SB-181.