A statewide anti-fracking group looked to Aurora when crafting more efforts to keep fossil fuel drilling away from homes and schools — and now, Superfund sites.
Activist group Colorado Rising submitted six possible ballot initiatives to the Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. Voters could decide in November on one these six proposals. All are variations of Colorado Rising’s earlier ballot initiative to increase drilling setbacks in 2018, Proposition 112, which voters turned down by a wide margin.
The next year, however, Senate Bill 181 was passed into law, ceding regulation to local governments, now able to increase setback distances and more…
Currently, the statewide setback between drilling and homes is 500 feet, but local governments, such as Aurora and other counties or municipalities, have the power to increase that distance.
Now, Colorado Rising wants to protect Superfund sites from drilling — a move partially inspired by drilling around the Lowry Landfill Superfund site in Aurora, said spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster.
The 507-acre Superfund site contained about 138 million gallons of toxic waste dumped there for decades, although some has leaked out in what scientists call a “plume.” Activists fear more drilling could disrupt the area geology and release waste.
Aurora Councilwoman Nicole Johnston, who represents the region near the Lowry Landfill, said she supports the decision to include Superfund sites in the list of possible ballot initiatives. Of the six proposed initiatives, four would create a 2,500-foot buffer zone between well pads and Superfund sites.
A Sentinel review did not find active oil and gas wells within the proposed buffer zone from the Lowry Landfill border.
The closet oil and gas well is about 2 miles away from the site boundary, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. However, the buffer zone proposals would still allow for horizontal drilling underneath the Lowry Landfill surface and toxic waste if the well was drilled outside the buffer.
For two decades, hydrogeologist Lee Pivonka has monitored toxic waste at and around the Superfund site for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
He’s one of the most prominent voices in the state calling for more scrutiny of the site.
Pivonka told Sentinel Colorado that pollution testing wells — not private wells for drinking — north of the Superfund site boundary were found to have unacceptably high levels of contamination as far back as 1995, when city councillors gave Murphy Creek the green light. Chemicals in many wells have never returned to acceptable levels, he said.
In 2002, EPA became concerned with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. The stuff is widely found in trace amounts in household products such as detergents and shampoos. It is probably a carcinogen if ingested in high-enough concentrations through drinking contaminated water, the EPA says, but most people will not be exposed to it that way in their lifetimes. The New York state legislature recently passed a ban on products with more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane. The bill is pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
For Murphy Creek golfers teeing off and residents, the danger is low, the WSDs said.
Further to their point, it’s unheard of for golfers to drink the creek water. The course itself, like the Murphy Creek neighborhood, is irrigated with clean City of Aurora water.
But scientists have also monitored 1,4 dioxane because it moves quickly in water. They believe that tracking the chemical could indicate other toxic waste following it.
As the state government’s lead researcher for the site, Pivonka has watched for the last 20 years and conducted more evidence about the leaking waste. In 2015, he co-authored a lengthy analysis to try and spur new fixes.
That paper mapped underground chemicals spreading down the Murphy Creek wash past East Jewell Avenue, below the edge of the Murphy Creek Golf Course and the community itself.
The paper estimated that 425.6 million gallons of contaminated water has leaked from the site in the plume, according to data from about a decade earlier. It’s a worrisome prospect for homes near the plume and on well water, such as the Raders’.
In the paper, Pivonka recommended that the EPA and the polluters try something new. The EPA recently heeded his suggestion that EPA stop injecting huge amounts of treated water north of the site.
Water was treated for various chemicals except for 1,4 dioxane, and pumped north of the site until the early 2000s. The WSDs then began treating water for 1,4 dioxane and injecting that north of the site until October 2018.
But while Pivonka and others conduct their own studies, the EPA and polluters have relied on separate studies and often come to separate conclusions. The debate over how and when the pollution has spread is rooted in a parallel universe of research at the EPA.
That agency’s conclusions, however, are often based on research commissioned by the WSDs.
The WSDs told Sentinel Colorado that, based on their information and EPA conclusions, the plan for containing the waste is currently protecting the public.
Karen Crummy of public relations firm BluePrint Strategies responded to Sentinel Colorado as the WSD spokeswoman. Crummy is routinely a spokesperson for oil and gas industry political causes.
The group believes the plume exists but is shrinking, pointing to data from a commissioned 2018 study indicating decreases in 1,4 dioxane levels at various locations north of the site.
Dave Wilmoth, a City and County of Denver official and environmental engineer, recently toured the site. He is a site expert representing Denver in the WSD group…
Wilmoth said the plan in place is working effectively. The contamination north of the site is little more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane, he said, blaming the outdated practice of dumping water contaminated with the stuff beyond the site’s northern barrier wall.
“No regulations,” he said of 1,4 dioxane. “No one knew.”
But that was almost two decades ago.
EPA spokesperson Rich Mylott said the containment plan is “working effectively to prevent off-site exposure to contaminants.”
However, the EPA is not sure that shallow and deep groundwater is safe from contamination, and directed the WSDs to commission their own studies of possible contamination. Two years ago, the agency declined to say in a multi-year study and report whether the site was adequately protecting the public.
The possible contamination of aquifers is a huge concern for Pivonka and Rader.
Two aquifers, the Denver and Dawson, overlap just north of the site where the plume is contaminating surface waters. The Dawson formation lies above the Denver, a 3,000-square mile table of water, separated by a leaky barrier of earth.
Both are important sources of drinking water for the dry Front Range. Serious contamination would threaten a key resource that scientists believe will become more scarce in the decades to come.
The EPA also acknowledges the existence of the surface water plume in the review but said the WSDs need to conduct more studies before it creates a plan.
In the years since, the polluters’ group has been doing just that. They say they are working to get the additional data EPA needs to again find the site remedy “effective and protective.”
The WSDs said it could also consider new solutions, such as drilling new monitoring wells — in addition to the 500 that already exist — changing how they monitor the groundwater, and studying the impact of injecting water north of the site.
The prospect of polluters running their own studies for the EPA worries Bonnie Rader, who is now chairing the site Community Advisory Group.
The group has long received funds from the EPA to hire out its own, independent contractors to study the pollution.
She doesn’t trust the polluters nor the EPA to reach their own conclusions.
The CAG consultant, McGinnis and Associates, reviewed a polluter-funded study of the site in 2013. Rader sent the review to a lead scientist at the EPA, who analyzed the study line-by-line, finding inaccuracies and omissions. The errors include misrepresenting levels of 1,4 dioxane in test wells.
McGinnis also believes the plume is growing, not shrinking.
It’s emblematic of an information gap that strains relationships between the various consultants and agencies.
Different studies come to different conclusions, frustrating all parties involved. Technical disagreements can turn sharky in tone.
Generally, the EPA and polluters believe they should stay the course, while CDPHE and the citizen-hired McGinnis and Associates think more should be done to contain and clean up the waste.
The EPA and polluters can press ahead with their own plans, but area residents and their consultants are extremely concerned about the leaking waste and continue to pressure them.
In the 2017 review, EPA staffers conducted interviews with locals. “All private citizens interviewed are concerned about groundwater contamination and the use of private residential wells,” the report says.
The gulf between the parties has also widened because of little trust and bad communication.
Four years after his paper’s findings, Pivonka said the EPA and polluters “have not been receptive to the recommendations, and continue the same approach to the site.”
Rader is disillusioned with the WSDs and their studies. She said she’s been hearing the same old reassurances for the last 30 years while the waste spreads north, closer to her home.
The polluters’ trust disagrees with the notion that they have not listened to residents, Crummy said. She said WSD representatives regularly attend meetings with locals.
The mass of evidence, varying conclusions and convictions on all sides leaves residents with vague concerns at best but nightmares at worse about the situation actually harming people…
…the mere possibility of pollution has encouraged new, suburban residents to forge an alliance with Rader and other environmental crusaders. While a subdivision lies close to the spreading plume, they are vehemently opposed to a new plan to house thousands of new residents on its doorstep, for reasons of their own…
The Superfund site and its leaking waste was not news to [Nicole] Johnston, who represents the eastern frontier region of the city. She actually became involved in the CAG herself before running for city council, and was interviewed in the EPA’s 2017 review study that downgraded the protectiveness of the site.
She said that 1,4 dioxane may not even be her biggest concern, compared to other chemicals dumped in the Superfund site.
“They put some really, really bad things in there,” she said. “Those other, really bad chemicals could be right behind it.”
Johnston met with Rep. Jason Crow that April afternoon when he visited the plume.
She said that, although the plume concerns her very much, the possibility of two injection wells about five miles from the site could dramatically change the area’s geology.
The wells, proposed by Wyoming- and Denver-based Expedition Water Solutions, would flush mostly saltwater and other by-products from oil and gas extraction more than 10,000 feet below the surface.
Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes in some circumstances, according to the United States Geological Survey.
But the science that the Superfund site geology could be disrupted is far from certain.
Zach Neal, a spokesperson for EWS, said the proposed location was the only possible place for the injection wells because of county zoning restrictions.
He added that the wells would be safely built and regulated. EWS would inject the waste far deeper below the surface than the Denver and Dawson aquifers.
Arapahoe County officials told Sentinel Colorado that staff are still reviewing the applications, and the state government agency charged with reviewing proposals has not taken action since EWS filed its paperwork in February.
Arapahoe County Commissioner Jeff Baker represents the Superfund site area and the residents that live in the unincorporated county. He said he’s also worried about the injection well permits and will be scrutinizing them, he said.
But Baker said he is also open to considering whether the solution to keeping residents safe from the Lowry Landfill should still be trying to contain the waste. He’s open to discussing a plan to clean up the waste, once and for all.
It’s an idea that Bonnie Rader has clamored for during the last 50 years.
FromColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The man who led transition efforts for President Trump at the EPA said the administration’s proposed budget signals a commitment to abolish the agency.
But Myron Ebell, a Colorado College graduate and an outspoken climate change skeptic who leads energy and environment policy at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it is not an overnight effort.
The administration’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal released Thursday charts a course that could lead to the end of the federal environmental agency, Ebell said, speaking to a conservative group at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver on Thursday.
Ebell had proposed Trump make a 10 percent cut to the EPA in his first budget request. The proposal unveiled Thursday would cut the agency by significantly more, up to 31 percent. It represents about a $2.6 billion cut to the agency’s relatively small, when compared to other federal agencies, $8.2 billion budget.
The cuts would result in about 3,200 employees being laid off in the initial wave, which could include many regional staff. Denver is home to Region 8 headquarters, a multi-state jurisdiction that covers much of the Intermountain West, which employs about 500 people.
“I think there’s a serious commitment here to draining the swamp,” Ebell, calling upon a popular Trump campaign mantra, said to applause.
The preliminary budget request would eliminate as much as a fifth of the agency’s workforce, which stands at around 15,000. More than 50 programs would be eliminated, including energy grants that help to fight air pollution. Scientific research would also face massive cuts.
Environmental interests had feared Trump’s budget proposal would start to chip away at the EPA, ultimately leading to closure. News of the preliminary budget sent many into a tailspin, as it potentially signals a much faster outcome.
Trump also proposed a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department and a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy.
“The president’s budget is a moral document, and President Trump has shown us exactly where he stands. These unprecedented cuts will hamper the ability of our park rangers, scientists, those who enforce the law against polluters, and other Coloradans from doing their important work,” said Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado.
“This is not just cutting the fat, this is a complete butchering of programs and jobs that are critical to Colorado.”
The move leaves specific uncertainty in Colorado, where the EPA has promised to cleanup toxic leaking mines that are spilling into the Animas River in Durango. The Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 was triggered by an EPA engineering error, causing about 3 million gallons of mustard yellow sludge to pour into the river.
In the aftermath of the spill, the EPA declared the area a Superfund site, which allows it to spend significant resources to implement a long-term water quality cleanup effort. Some worry those efforts would be diminished by reductions at the EPA.
But Ebell said a pushback to the EPA’s “regulatory rampage” does not mean that environmental controls would go away. He said regulations would still be enforced – especially on the state level – including around Superfund sites and clean drinking water.
“The question is, why do we need 15,000 people working for the EPA?” asked Ebell. “I understand why we need some … Maybe abolishing the agency is something that President Trump … would want to have a discussion about … I personally think it’s a good idea.”
Busting up the EPA is not a good idea, Myron.
California Gulch back in the day
Summitville Mine superfund site
Rocky Mountain Arsenal back in the day
Rocky Flats circa 2007
The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency
From the Tuscaloosa News (Whit Gibbons). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Want to have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood? How about having high levels of brain- damaging mercury dumped into your favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers and fouling the air people breathe?
These health hazards were once commonplace in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses. Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy place to live.
Those who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations will put profit ahead of all other considerations–including the health and well-being of the general populace.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
According to a statement from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, the state reached a settlement with the property owner, operator and groups that sent waste to the landfill. Suthers said the settlement means the state and those involved can avoid lengthy and expensive litigation to determine to what extent each group was involved. “This settlement provides an equitable and appropriate solution to address the injuries at the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site,” Suthers said in the statement. “The agreement will allow Colorado to move forward on resource restoration instead of spending years locked in costly litigation.”
The 508-acre site is in unincorporated Arapahoe County near East Hampden Avenue and South Gun Club Road, less than a mile east of E-470. According to Suthers’ office, it was the principal landfill for the Front Range as well as the industrial landfill for many Colorado companies, taking solid and liquid waste from 1965 through 1980 and solid waste from 1980 until 1990.
The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, is now open for public comment for the next 30 days.
Under the first settlement, the companies and entities that contributed waste materials to the site will pay the state more than $1.1 million, money that will assist the state in restoring natural resources and compensate for damage to the groundwater at the site, according to Suthers’ statement.
A second settlement, between the state and the City and County of Denver, Waste Management of Colorado and Chemical Waste Management, Inc., will require the parties to pay the state $500,000, the statement said. That money will be used for a loan for low- to middle-income households needing sewer repairs, something the statement said will help improve groundwater quality in the South Platte River watershed.
Companies that contributed to pollution at the 508-acre site and now would pay damages to the state, include Molson Coors Brewing Co., ConocoPhillips Co., Gates Corp., Shell Oil Co., Cyprus Amax Minerals Co., Roche Colorado Corp., S.W. Shattuck Chemical Co. and Alumet Partnership. The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the cities of Littleton, Englewood and Lakewood also would pay.
State prosecutors focused on lost public use of groundwater. “This settlement provides an equitable and appropriate solution to address the injuries at the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site,” state Attorney General John Suthers said. “The agreement will allow Colorado to move forward on resource restoration instead of spending years locked in costly litigation.”[…]
Denver set up the landfill in 1964 using land in Arapahoe County that had been used as a bombing range and conveyed by the federal government. Companies dumped about 138 million gallons of liquid industrial waste at the site near Gun Club Road and East Hampden Avenue between 1965 and 1980. Then, Waste Management Inc. ran the landfill for garbage disposal until 1990. An Environmental Protection Agency investigation in 1994 established the presence of hazardous substances in the groundwater, surface water and soils. A cleanup that began in the mid-1980s — run by the state with EPA supervision — is still incomplete.
The settlements, proposed in U.S. District Court, depend on comments received over a 30-day period. Under one settlement with Denver, Waste Management and Chemical Waste Management Inc., about $500,000 would be used for loans to low- and middle-income households needing sewer repairs to help improve groundwater…
EPA officials monitor efforts to contain and reduce a toxic plume in shallow groundwater, [EPA spokesman Rich] Mylott said. That water is being treated. State and federal cleanup officials have indicated no significant health risk linked to contamination at the landfill.