Tom RamstackTom RamstackJanuary 21, 20186min527
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans argued for a change in regulations during a hearing Friday that would increase the likelihood for a natural gas pipeline from Colorado’s Western Slope to an export facility on the Oregon coast. They are considering legislation that would make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the final decision-maker for approval of […]

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Tom RamstackTom RamstackDecember 13, 20176min401
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Tuesday advocated for streamlined government permits to encourage natural gas extraction from Colorado to export markets. During a Senate hearing, Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, questioned an administrator from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about how to break a deadlock that has impeded the Jordan Cove Energy Project in Oregon. […]

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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 8, 20174min485

A recent poll conducted by Chris Keating of Keating Research, a polling and survey firm that consults primarily for Democrats including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, reveals that Colorado’s political environment parallels the nation’s, but preferences on energy issues are distinctly Coloradan.  The results come from 605 active voters, with a margin of error at 4 percent, plus or minus.

As with the country as a whole, Coloradans hold President Donald Trump at 40% favorable to 58% unfavorable, and give Gov. John Hickenlooper a 60% favorable to 32% unfavorable rating.  Numbers are more contrasting at the Very Unfavorable level, with 51% Very Unfavorable for Trump and 19% Very Unfavorable for Hickenlooper.

Since Keating works mostly for the left side of the aisle, it’s important to look at his call list.  He called 48% men and 52% women.  His age range was 18-24 at 10% up to 70+ at 15%.  Voters with children age 18 or younger comprised 27% of the sample and the split by party affiliation was 25% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 45% Independent. Colorado’s active voter registration actually divides almost equally at 32% Dem to 32% GOP to 36% Unaffiliated.

Happily, the survey shows that 64% of Coloradans think the state is headed in the “right direction” with 28% favoring the down side.

The poll’s main purpose was to explore voter commitment to four energy types as sources for development: coal, wind, solar and natural gas.  It sought especially to pinpoint voters’ views on what energy sources should increase or decrease in use.  Coloradans now have a dim view of coal, with 57% of respondents saying its use should decrease and only 18% choosing to increase its use.  Wind (+76%) and especially solar (+84%) showed the most support for increased use, with natural gas at +36%.

The survey suggests that Coloradans from both political parties want public utilities to collaborate on reducing carbon emissions: 89% agree/11% disagree.  Voters want the state to work with utilities to increase the use of clean renewable energy at 95% agree/5% disagree.  Almost 50% of voters support increasing the state’s 30% renewable energy standard to over 50%.  Most Coloradans (83%) want to take control of their energy future without waiting for the federal government to jump in.

The polling numbers indicate that Xcel’s recent decisions to add more renewable energy to its portfolio makes sense.  Closing coal plants is apparently generally acceptable to Coloradans.

Clearly, renewable solar and wind power are popular. Natural gas is holding its own despite opposition to drilling from some cities along the northern Front Range.

These results have implications for the 2018 governor and legislator races on both Democratic and Republican sides.  Democratic candidates can feel comfortable promoting more renewables.  The effect of fracking vs. anti-fracking positions on voter preference is less clear.

Republicans face a different picture in the primaries and general election.  Anti-climate change Republicans may be in sync with a majority in their party during the primary season.  But that position is deeply out of sync with a majority of voters who will cast ballots in the general election.

One other interesting set of data.  While 45% of the polled population identified as independent voters, only 25% viewed themselves as moderates.  These individuals were outnumbered by liberals at 34% and conservatives at 38%. It appears there’s a muddy middle spectrum of voters, a minority, who support reduced-carbon energy policy.  They will make a difference in how the general election turns out.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 24, 20174min265

Last weekend subscribers read in Colorado Politics’ Insights column about the threats a federal study of the energy grid, expected to bolster coal, posed for our state, rich in renewable energy programs and natural gas.

The report was released Wednesday night, and as expected it said the grid needs to be fed by reliable coal because killing the market for it threatens the reliability of the power grid.

That part wasn’t surprising from a Trump administration that promised to return coal mining jobs to Colorado to make energy and steel. Trump promised that before the election in Pueblo, a town that knows steel jobs and high energy prices.

The 187-page report, however, said it’s economics killing the coal market. It isn’t regulations or renewables, despite what Republican politicians, allege but cheaper, abundant natural gas. Colorado sits on a huge supply of that.

Insights: Rick Perry’s energy grid study holds shocks for Colorado

The remedy, according to the report: ease up the regulations on coal-fired power plants, even as plants have been replaced across the country by gas-fired plants and broad investments in renewable energy programs.

In 2004 Colorado lawmakers ordered investor-owned utilities to get 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, and two Democratic candidates for governor, Jared Polis and Mike Johnston, have vowed to drive toward 100 percent by 2040.

Jim Alexee, the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter director, told Colorado Politics that the state is getting far more jobs out of renewable energy than it currently gets from mining.

“If politics or corporate special interests make their way into the final report, energy customers here in Colorado may well be left on the hook to prop up expensive coal plants that cannot compete with cleaner, cheaper alternatives,” he said. “We should listen to the scientists, not corporate special interests.”

Perry requested the 60-day study in April, and environmentalists and energy officials alike have been awaiting its delayed release.

The move away from coal to new, cleaner gas-powered electricity generation is cited as a reason for soaring energy prices in Pueblo and other communities in Colorado served by Black Hills Energy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and President Barack Obama introduced plans and regulations to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a culprit of climate change. Their policies discouraged investments in coal-fired power plants for the sake of solar and wind projects.

Hundreds of old plants and dozens of nuclear reactors have closed.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 22, 20176min274

After a three-month review following a home explosion that killed two people in Firestone, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday placed some of the onus on oil and gas operators.

The April explosion was caused by natural gas leaking from an old pipeline, an incident that renewed a broader political conversation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, ordered a review of existing oil and gas operations in the aftermath of the incident.

On Tuesday, the governor announced the state’s response, which includes asking the oil and gas industry to take greater responsibility. Steps include:

  • Creating a nonprofit to plug as many as 800 abandoned wells and provide refunds for in-home methane monitors, something which the oil and gas industry could be responsible for;
  • Strengthening regulations around existing gas lines;
  • Enhancing efforts around protecting underground infrastructure and promoting excavator and public safety education;
  • Prohibiting homeowners from tapping into industry gas lines;
  • Creating a workgroup to improve safety training;
  • Requesting a review of some state rules; and
  • Exploring a methane leak detection pilot program.

Hickenlooper in May pointed out that there is no database of older existing gas lines, but aside from enhancing efforts around protecting underground infrastructure and excavations, there is no plan for mapping existing lines. Concerns were raised that it would be difficult to prohibit homeowners from tapping into industry lines if a public map was available.

“At the time of the explosion, we committed to do all we could to ensure that what happened to the Martinez and Irwin families never happens again,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “The actions we announced today are a responsible and appropriate response that places public safety first.”

The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.

A well sits 178 feet from the home in Firestone, in which the two wen were killed in a devastating explosion.

The underground line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, state regulators said. Gas seeped through the ground and into the basement, where it exploded on April 17.

The governor’s office hopes to implement the proposals within a year. Some steps could be taken through state regulators, but others could require the legislature’s approval.

A handful of lawmakers this year proposed regulating residential development near operations, something that the governor does not mention in his Tuesday announcement. That discussion could resume again in the legislature next year.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who has led many anti-fracking discussions in the legislature, is already considering such legislation.

At the time of the explosion, he said, “As more information has come to light, it has become clearer that these oil wells, pipes, and tanks are simply too dangerous to be in close proximity to homes, businesses, and schools. We need to take steps to ensure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.”

From the industry’s standpoint, the Colorado Petroleum Council said it is committed to “safe and responsible operations, environmental stewardship, and economic prosperity for communities throughout the state.”

“The tragic event in Firestone earlier this summer serves to reaffirm the oil and natural gas industry’s long-standing commitment with regulators and emergency officials to never let up on our core value of safety,” said CPC Executive Director Tracee Bentley. “We are committed to working with the governor and the state over the next several months as we work through these proposals, all the while continuing to deliver the energy that runs our state and our country with the highest possible standards and safety practices.”

Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, issued a similar response: “Colorado’s oil and gas industry just completed a rigorous safety examination and reporting process in full cooperation with the COGCC following the tragedy in Firestone.

“While the results confirm the high safety standards practiced by the industry, we’ve also engaged in several conversations with a number of stakeholders over the past few months, including state legislators on both sides of the aisle and the governor. We look forward to closely reviewing the details of the governor’s proposal and will fully engage in conversations about next steps.”

Hickenlooper also announced that the Department of Public Health and Environment will form an alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. The goal is to collaboratively address safety within the industry. The effort launches in September.

“Our state is fortunate to receive a federal grant to evaluate and address worker safety specific to oil and gas operations” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of CDPHE. “Public health and safety protections need to extend to these workers and we are fortunate to have the collaborative support and leadership of the the governor, industry and our federal agency partners.”


Clifford D. MayClifford D. MayJune 15, 20178min253

In the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush drew a line in the sand. “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make,” he announced. “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Since then, disappointingly if not surprisingly, more than a few nations have straddled that line, providing support to America and America’s enemies alike. Is that because they sympathize with the goals of the terrorists or because they’re afraid of the terrorists or is there some other explanation? It’s not clear. What is: No nation has hedged its bets more egregiously than Qatar.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 18, 20175min237

Citing unnamed sources, the Independence Institute’s Amy Oliver Cooke asserts in a blog post that Gov. John Hickenlooper has an ulterior motive in talking up a possible special session: He wants to promote wind power on a massive scale. And he wants to throw the keys to behemoth public utility Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest power provider.

According to her blog post, that was supposed to have been accomplished during the regular 2017 session that concluded last week. The vehicle, Cooke writes, was going to be an amendment inserted into a bill introduced late in the game, Senate Bill 301, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

On its face, that bill involved a sweeping reconfiguration of the much-debated Colorado Energy Office and also included a provision that would have permitted investor-owned utilities to own natural gas reserves. The bill got mired in late-session politics and was scuttled in the end amid tit-for-tat pushing and shoving between Scott’s Republican-run Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.

So, the special session would pick up where the originally intended effort left off, Cooke writes. SB 301’s natural gas provision was the tip of the iceberg, she seems to think:

Sources tell me that Governor John Hickenlooper really wants the state legislature to anoint in statute Xcel’s big plans for industrial wind, and he is trying to get the oil and gas industry to support it as well, likely because natural gas is the preferred back-up generation for industrial wind.

The amendment that got left dangling — Cooke reprises it in full in her blog post — “was written specifically for or by Xcel Energy and its pending Electric Resource Plan (ERP), which was predicated on a Hillary Clinton victory and the continuation of the controversial and costly Clean Power Plan.”

She continues:

“… this language blesses Xcel to build and majority own industrial wind and natural gas back up, build and own all of the infrastructure, and pass all the costs along to ratepayers. It would complete the process of converting Xcel from pig to hog status.

Cooke, who is the libertarian-leaning institute’s executive V.P. and heads its Energy Policy Center, is a frequent critic of Minneapolis-based Xcel and other investor-owned public utilities given their status as regulated monopolies. Independence and other critics of the system don’t like how it uses Public Utilities Commission-granted rate hikes in part to subsidize the transition to what the critics contend are costlier alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.

We reached out to Hickenlooper Press Secretary Jacque Montgomery for a comment on Cooke’s assertions. She followed up with this response — neither a confirmation nor an explicit denial:

The Governor has shared what his top issues are when considering a special session:  infrastructure and health care.   At his end-of-session news conference, he called out these as well as the funding for the energy office.

Here’s the link again to Cooke’s blog post.


Peter MarcusMay 3, 20177min423

Evidence that a home explosion that killed two people in Firestone was caused by natural gas leaking from an old pipeline has kicked off a broader political conversation.

In many ways the conversation is not new. Concerns surrounding oil and gas activities have stirred for years. But drawing a direct connection to the tragedy in Firestone offers a new emphasis.

“When you have a heavy piece of machinery extracting explosive gas near where people live or work, you have a recipe for disaster that could cause people to get hurt,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who has led many anti-fracking discussions in the legislature.

“As more information has come to light, it has become clearer that these oil wells, pipes, and tanks are simply too dangerous to be in close proximity to homes, businesses, and schools. We need to take steps to ensure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, who has been criticized for being too supportive of the industry, quickly took action on Tuesday, ordering a review of existing oil and gas operations. He also pointed out that there is no database of older existing gas lines and is looking into how to map that.

“We are hopeful this will be a unique situation,” Hickenlooper said at a Wednesday news conference. “But until we can be absolutely sure of that we’re going to go above and beyond.”

The order includes requiring producers to inspect and pressure test oil and gas flow lines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings; ensuring that any lines not in use are marked and capped; and guaranteeing that all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

Inspections of existing lines will occur within 30 days and tested within 60 days. Lines that have been either abandoned or are not in use must be inspected within 30 days.

“Anyone who has worked around a disaster of this level, I can’t imaging the anguish…” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t think that they’re going to try to cut corners on something like this.”

The incident puts the oil and gas industry in a tough predicament, as ballot initiatives are considered to crackdown on the industry, and lawmakers mull late legislation to address the problem with just days left in the session.

Ideas include examining how to regulate residential development near operations and addressing flowlines. It’s unclear whether measures will develop in the final days of the session. The governor doubts measures could pass with a week left.

Already this session, lawmakers heard legislation that would have required oil and gas operations to be located at least 1,000 feet from school property lines. The legislation died on a Republican party-line vote.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association said in a statement that an “unusual set of events led to unrefined gases leaching into the property.”

“On behalf of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, the safety of our families, friends, and communities is our highest priority and will remain so as we work to prevent tragedies like this from happening again,” said Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“COGA supports the state’s call to inspect flowlines and ensure the safety of all Coloradans. We are committed to partnering with the COGCC, our operators, home builders, and Colorado communities to get it right. In the weeks and months that follow, we will endeavor to enhance flowline and pipeline procedures and remain committed to improving Colorado oil and gas production.”

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation was the operator of the well associated with the incident, though it is unclear who was responsible for the unused pipeline. The Houston-based company said in a statement that it would work with state regulators on additional steps. The company last week shut down more than 3,000 vertical wells in northeast Colorado.

“The safety of our employees and the people who live and work in the communities in which we operate is our No. 1 priority … We will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps in that regard, and will continue to cooperate fully with all ongoing investigations to ensure we fully understand the basis for the fire district’s conclusions and that no stone is left unturned prior to any final determinations,” Anadarko said in a statement.

A well sits 178 feet from the home in Firestone, in which two wen were killed in a devastating explosion.

The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.

The underground line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, state regulators said. Gas seeped through the ground and into the basement, where it exploded on April 17.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said the incident highlights a “wake-up call that oil and gas exploration is a dangerous, heavy industrial activity that must be kept away from homes and schools.”

“For years, communities across the state have raised concerns about the perils of siting homes and oil and gas facilities near each other, but these cries for change have fallen upon deaf ears. We have been left with empty promises from the oil and gas industry and tragedies such as this,” Maysmith said.

He called on state regulators to not allow any oil and gas activity unless it is proven to be safe.

“Our elected officials must act with great urgency to strengthen the rules and laws governing oil and gas drilling. This means taking any action necessary to put the burden of proof for showing that drilling is safe onto the industry, not onto concerned community members.”