Colorado

Thu, 2014-07-03 05:00Anne Landman
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Rejection of Colorado Coal Mine on Global Warming Grounds Could Be Game-Changer

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 27 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service both wrongly approved expansion of the West Elk coal mine in Somerset, Colo., because they failed to take into account the economic impacts greenhouse gas emissions from the mining would have.
 
The federal agencies said it was impossible to quantify such impacts, but the court pointed out a tool is available to quantify the effects of emissions and the agencies chose to ignore it. The tool, the “social cost of carbon protocol,” puts a price on the damanges from drought, flood, storm, fire and disease caused by global warming. 
 
“It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project's upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project's costs,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled.
 
Arch Coal, Inc. planned to bulldoze vegetation to build about six miles of roads and drill up to 48 exploratory holes in the scenic backcountry of western Colorado's North Fork Valley to vent methane and determine whether a coal seam actually lies beneath the area.
 
The federal agencies' final report on the West Elk Mine expansion listed the economic benefits of modifying public lands leases to allow the project, but failed to quantify the social or economic costs of carbon emissions from the project.  
 
The ruling could be game-changing because if the judge's reasoning holds up in other challenges to federal agency decisions, it could change the calculus on dozens of other major projects, such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Mon, 2014-06-30 12:15Sharon Kelly
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In Blow to Oil Industry, New York's Top Court Upholds Local Fracking Bans

New York's highest state court ruled today that local governments have the legal authority to use zoning to bar oil and gas drilling, fracking and other heavy industrial sites within their borders. In a 5-2 decision, affirming the rulings of three lower courts, the justices dismissed challenges to fracking bans created by two towns, Middlefield and Dryden.

The case has been closely watched by the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus region and nationwide. Over 170 towns, villages and cities in New York state have crafted local moratoria or bans on fracking. Dozens more towns are expected to enact moratoria in the wake of this ruling, according to Earthworks, one of the public interest groups whose attorneys worked on the case.

Nationwide, nearly 500 local governments have enacted measures against fracking, according to Food and Water Watch which tracks local control actions, including towns in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California, each of which have been the focus of recent shale rushes.

The oil and gas industry had argued that allowing local control over fracking risked creating a patchwork of rules in different municipalities. Environmental groups countered that the rights of local communities to control development within their borders trumped those concerns, and that local governments had the clear legal authority to decide how development could proceed.

“On the one hand, you're saying yes, we should have a comprehensive strategy to deal with such an important issue to our state – energy,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman explained when the cases were argued before the court on June 3. “And on the other hand, municipalities believe (they can) determine how they're going to live. They want some voice in how they live.”

Today, less than a month later, the court's majority decided in favor of local control. “The towns both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately-cultivated, small-town character of their communities,” the New York Court of Appeals wrote in its majority ruling.

Wed, 2014-06-25 17:00Anne Landman
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Second Earthquake in Under a Month Shuts Down Colorado Fracking Wastewater Injection Well

second earthquake struck Greeley in northeastern Colorado on Monday, June 23 prompting the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to order a halt to the injection of contaminated drilling wastewater into a deep disposal well in the area.

The ban on injecting wastewater will last for 20 days as officials explore a potential link between the injection activity and the sudden jump in seismicity in the area. The most recent quake was a 2.6 magnitude temblor that hit about five miles north of Greeley at 12:27 p.m. It follows a 3.4 magnitude quake which struck the same area May 30.

Two quakes in less than a month, in an area the U.S. Geological Survey formerly called “aseismic,” has led to speculation that the temblors are “frackquakes,” seismic activity induced by the injection of drilling wastewater into deep rock formations. 

Tue, 2014-05-27 12:17Anne Landman
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Groundbreaking Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiative Clears Key Hurdle in Colorado

Fracking protest

The citizen-led anti-fracking battles in Colorado ratcheted up a notch May 22 when the Colorado Community Rights Network announced that Ballot Initiative #75, the Community Right Amendment (also known as “Right to Local Self-Government”), has cleared its final legal hurdle with the Colorado Supreme Court and has the go-ahead to start gathering signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Initiative #75 would give cities and towns the right to regulate or ban outright any for-profit enterprise that threatens the environment or the health, safety or welfare of its citizens. In addition to letting localities regulate drilling as they see fit, it would give citizens the right to ban pursuits such as hazardous waste dumps, factory farms or genetically modified crop farming within their cities' borders.

Currently, only the state has the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling in Colorado, but as drilling companies exploit more land for energy production, rigs are springing up next to homes, schools, playgrounds and shopping areas. Citizens are alarmed when they find out they have little power to stop it. 

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:00Anne Landman
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Colorado Oil and Gas Operations Emitting Far More Benzene, Methane Than Expected

Gas pumpjack in Weld County, Colorado

Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado's front range are pumping almost three times more methane and seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Benzene is a regulated air toxin that causes cancer and methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers collected air samples from an airplane over Weld County over two days in May 2012. Previous studies measured air samples taken at ground-level or from a 985-foot tall tower. This is the first study to measure airborne contaminants from an airplane.

Researchers found that 24,000 active oil and gas wells active in Weld County in May 2012 were emitting a total of 19.3 tons of methane each hour, or about triple the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would come from industry-reported emissions.

Drilling operations emitted benzene at a rate of 380 pounds each hour, or about seven times more than the 50 pounds an hour the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated based on industry-reported data.

Fri, 2014-05-02 11:48Anne Landman
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Energy Industry Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Short Circuit Colorado Fracking Ballot Initiatives

Colorado's oil and gas industry is trying to short-circuit proposed ballot initiatives that would strictly regulate drilling and fracking by pushing a watered-down, last-minute bill in the state legislature.
 
The industry-backed “grand bargain” bill would give local governments limited, feel-good regulatory authority over oil and gas operations, like the ability to determine setbacks from drilling rigs and to charge “reasonable” fees for inspecting drilling operations. 
 
Colorado's legislative session ends May 7 though, leaving precious little time for the legislature to take up the measure. The bill faces only a 50/50 chance of even being introduced within the next couple of days. It would need a minimum of three days to get through the legislature. 
Mon, 2014-04-28 16:59Steve Horn
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Mayflower: Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Arkansas Town That Endured ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill in 2013

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town's streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don't expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is an EF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

Table Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Sun, 2014-04-27 10:00Anne Landman
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Untangling Colorado's Flood of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

Colorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and fracking are in for a real challenge. So far, 11 ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject for the November vote, with many of them extremely similar to each other. 
 
It's tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them as bait-and-switch measures to confuse voters and to try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
 
So far all the initiatives appear to have been brought by people who truly want to change Colorado's existing regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.   
 
Here's a rundown on what we know so far about Colorado's slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.
Tue, 2014-03-11 15:00Anne Landman
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Judge Says Broomfield's Anti-Fracking Ballot Measure is Valid

A Colorado District Court judge ruled last week that a five year ban on hydraulic fracturing that citizens of Broomfield approved on the city's November, 2013 local ballot is valid and can go into effect.
 
Broomfield is one of five Colorado cities that have brought local ballot initiatives to regulate fracking activity within their borders. The others are Lafayette, Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins. 
 
The razor-thin election results on Broomfield's anti-fracking measure, Question 300, led to a recount which concluded the measure passed by a margin of just 20 votes out of more than 20,000 cast.
 
The Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition and Tom Cave, a member of It's Our Broomfield, Too, both pro-fracking groups funded by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, challenged the validity of the election results and sued to have them invalidated, but on February 27, 2014 Judge Chris Melonakis of the Seventeenth Judicial District ruled that the City of Broomfield had acted in good faith in conducting the election and the results are fair and valid.
Sun, 2014-02-16 07:00Anne Landman
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Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

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