GasRigColorado.jpg

Tim PetersOctober 11, 20177min5470

In its first comprehensive review of research on potential health effects, the Colorado health department found no conclusive evidence that oil and natural gas development in nearby communities poses any significant public health risk. The study comports with similar research conducted within the state and around the country.


ffb45e8f0a4276287d0545e6ddfb7d9d-1024x683.jpg

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 31, 20177min570

Lawmakers say many of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plans to address the oil and gas industry in the aftermath of a tragic explosion in Firestone are already in the works.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, ordered a review of existing oil and gas operations in the aftermath of the April incident, in which two men died in a home explosion. The incident was caused by natural gas leaking from an old pipeline, according to an initial investigation.

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

One issue the governor is looking at is abandoned wells, which have been estimated as high as 800 in the state. He proposed creating a nonprofit to plug abandoned wells and provide refunds for in-home methane monitors, something which the oil and gas industry could be responsible for.

But Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, says bipartisan legislation he was working on last year would have addressed abandoned wells. A controversial bill that would have extended funding for the Colorado Energy Office was killed on the last day of the session after Republicans and Democrats hit an impasse.

A portion of the initial bill would have required the state to put a stakeholder group together to identify voluntary methods to address funding shortfalls associated with the long-term management of abandoned oil and gas facilities.

“Within that bill we had the orphan well situation in there, we had the mapping, and the Democrats stripped the bill… They need to own that a little bit instead of coming out now and saying the governor is a genius,” Scott said.

He added that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has a fund for abandoned wells, which it could draw from without the oil and gas industry paying additional money for plugging orphan wells.

“That agency has the money to do exactly what needs to be done and they should have been doing it for the last multiple years,” Scott said. “To make an issue today… it’s nonsensical.”

Hickenlooper’s plan would go further than simply identifying voluntary methods to address the long-term management of abandoned wells by actively plugging the wells through a nonprofit, despite Scott’s contention that it could be done without a new program.

Another plan raised by the governor would enhance efforts around protecting underground infrastructure and promoting excavator and public safety education. But Scott said he was working on bipartisan legislation this year with Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, which would have also addressed the issue.

“There’s nothing magical about what he said,” Scott said of Hickenlooper’s plan.

The bill Scott worked on with Donovan last year would have required engineering plans involving excavation to include specific information about the location of underground facilities. Plans would have had to be given to the person conducting the excavation. The bill died in committee.

“The Firestone incident took place and it all became political,” Scott said. “I actually sat down with Sen. Donovan and said, ‘You and I can pass this bill in committee if we just utter the word ‘Firestone.’’ We agreed that was the wrong thing to do.”

He said he has been working on the bill over the summer, which Scott hopes to resurrect in next year’s legislative session. A meeting is scheduled for the end of the month with engineers and architects involved with excavation.

“Had that (policy) been in place, Firestone may have never happened,” Scott said.

“It’s not genuine on his (Hickenlooper’s) part to take things that are already being worked on and try to come out and say, ‘I have a new idea,’” Scott continued.

Meanwhile, some Democrats say plans should go further than what the governor proposed. 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.

“This plan isn’t protective enough,” Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said of the governor’s announcement.

“Colorado should be prioritizing people’s health and safety, and not big corporations’ profits. Oil and gas operations have no business being near people’s homes, playgrounds, or schools, and the public has a right to know exactly where existing flowlines are. It is downright baffling to me that within all these steps and proposals, there is not a single suggestion to include the voices of and receive input from homeowners, who are the most impacted by oil and gas operations. Those families are the ones who are in fear of breathing carcinogenic gas or being blown up – why aren’t they being included in the decision-making process?

“I’m going to keep working to keep these dangerous operations away from people and to protect people’s property rights…” Jones continued. “The governor pledged to ‘take any necessary action to ensure this doesn’t happen again,’ and I hope he joins me in that effort.”

Other plans announced by the governor include strengthening regulations around existing gas lines; 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.

House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder said the plans are “good steps but certainly not the end of the conversation.”

“Public health and safety should be our No. 1 concern,” Becker said. “I hope we can make progress in that regard in the 2018 legislative session.”


ffb45e8f0a4276287d0545e6ddfb7d9d-1024x683.jpg

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 22, 20176min970

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.”


7VdxazPs.jpg

Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 22, 20174min890

While ozone levels are falling in north metro Denver, both sides of the oil-and-gas development debate are taking a deep breath to explain why.

State regulators report that emissions of volatile organic compounds, a key ingredient in ground-level ozone, have fallen by one-half in metro Denver and the northern Front Range, the battlefield over fracking.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, reports that meanwhile production statewide quadrupled during the six-year period.

The industry, its association said, has reduced emissions and mitigated effects “as part of its ongoing commitment to being good stewards of our natural resources and protecting the environment.”

The falling numbers prove regulations are working and more can be done, said Dan Grossman, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain regional director and senior director of EDF’s state programs on oil and gas.

“Colorado’s oil and gas industry is responsible for the emission of hundreds of thousands of tons of ozone-precursor VOCs and climate-disrupting methane each year,” he told Colorado Politics. “And as the state looks to comply with the more stringent 2015 ozone standard of 70 ppb, and to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

Grossman added, “Simple, cost-effective measures (such as increased inspection requirements for smaller wells and replacing leaky pneumatic devices with more efficient ones) are readily available to industry to further reduce pollution from the state’s oil and gas facilities. It is past time to implement them.”

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the reductions can be attributed to “technological innovation, regulatory initiatives currently on the books and leadership from our industry.”

COGA pointed out that the West’s “background” ozone levels, those that occur naturally without a human-related cause, are the highest in the United States.

“Consequently, addressing ozone related challenges in Colorado is an extremely difficult, economy-wide undertaking, as only 20 to 30 percent of the emissions needed to form ozone in the non-attainment area are actually produced by Colorado-based human activity,” COGA said in a statement. “These activities include but are not limited to cars, boats, planes, tractors, as well as industrial plants, lawn and garden equipment, and even household products like paints, solvents, and hair spray.”

The announcement was part of the industry’s “Clear the Air: The Facts on CEO” campaign. The CEO stands for climate, energy and ozone.

The industry has invested heavily in research and public outreach to convince Coloradans not to impose new rules that could drive the business out of the state.

“This summer’s ozone season is not over yet, and there is a lot Coloradans can do to mitigate ground-level ozone and reduce the number of ozone-exceedance days,” Haley said in a satement. “COGA will continue sharing the facts and working with members of industry to support ongoing efforts to reduce emissions in the nonattainment area.”


JJFrackingProtestersT.jpg

Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 16, 20174min970

As city fathers in Thornton examine local regulations on fracking at their meeting next week, they’re sitting on a letter advice warning them not to test state law.

“Under the law of operational preemption, local governments may not enact regulations that conflict with the Oil and Gas Conservation Act … or COGCC regulations in a matter of mixed or statewide concern,” states the letter from the Attorney General’s Office.

“Many matters addressed by the Draft Regulations are already regulated by the COGCC and similar regulations have caused local communities to come into conflict with the state in the past.”

And those local governments haven’t had any success challenging the state’s authority to regulate oil and gas operations.

The Thornton City Council gave preliminary approval to new guidelines that would prevent companies from abandoning flow lines, require them to carry at least $5 million in liability insurance and maintain 750-foot setbacks, all of which exceed state requirements.

A copy of the letter was provided to Colorado Politics by Vital Colorado, the statewide business coalition that supports responsible energy development.

Vital for Colorado Chairman Peter Moore released the a statement Tuesday in response to the letter:

“The attorney general’s office is saying local officials who stand up to anti-fracking groups will have the law on their side,. They will also be saving their taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending on litigation, because state law could not be clearer on this point.

“The Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed decades of case law in a decision last year striking down local energy bans. In that decision, the court said a local ordinance ‘that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes’ will be necessarily preempted by state law and COGCC regulations.

“This decision, along with the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures, was a huge defeat for the anti-fracking campaign in Colorado. So now they are giving local officials just plain bad legal advice to trigger more conflict and more litigation, instead of constructive dialogue.”

Vital for Colorado cited a “network of fringe environmental groups” they say are lobbying local officials o the Front Range to kill the extraction industry, even as Weld County sits atop one the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S.

Residents cite concerns about the proximity of wells and pipelines to homes and schools, as well as potential air quality concerns. The industry has invested millions in public education to convince Coloradans that fracking is a safe, clean industry. Their message was complicated by a house explosion that killed two people in Firestone, which was linked to an Anadarko Petroleum line.

“The activist campaign to pressure local officials has also included unsuccessful recall efforts of local officials in Thornton and in neighboring Broomfield,” Vital for Colorado said.

The Thornton City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at City Hall at 9500 Civic Center Drive in Thornton. Comments or questions can be sent to oilandgasregulations@cityofthornton.net.