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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.
Tue, 2014-06-24 11:10Anne Landman
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Frackquakes in Colorado? Scientists Probe Fracking Wastewater Link to CO Earthquakes

At 9:35 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, Greeley, Colorado was struck by a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. Earthquakes are highly unusual in eastern Colorado, raising speculation that it was a “frackquake” — a man-made earthquake stimulated by the disposal of contaminated drilling water in deep injection wells. This disposal technique forces wastewater generated from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) deep into underground rock formations, lubricating layers of rock that would not ordinarily be subject to movement.

Earthquakes are so rare in eastern Colorado that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has labeled the area “aseismic.” The Greeley Tribune reported that the May 30 quake's epicenter was roughly two miles away from two deep oil and gas wastewater injection sites that have not been inspected for two years.

Scientists placed seismometers around the area to try to gather more detailed information on what may have generated the quake and its aftershocks. Colorado currently has very few seismometers in place because earthquakes are so rare in the state.

Wed, 2014-06-18 15:28Anne Landman
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Colorado Citizens Launch Class Action Lawsuit to Protect Lafayette's Fracking Ban

Citizens of Lafayette, Colo., have filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Governor John Hickenlooper requesting immediate enforcement of Lafayette's Community Rights Charter Amendment to ban fracking. 
 
In November 2013, 60 percent of Lafayette voters approved the Community Rights Amendment, which allows citizens to prohibit harmful activities, such as fracking. Following the passage of the Lafayette Community Rights Amendment, COGA sued the City of Lafayette, claiming that the state's Oil and Gas Act trumps the people’s right to protect themselves from oil and gas activities.
 
East Boulder County United, the organization that wrote and successfully campaigned for Lafayette's Community Rights Charter Amendment, attempted to join the class action suit, but the court refused to let them participate, saying the group’s arguments about people’s fundamental rights to protect their communities would “expand the scope” of the case.
Wed, 2014-06-04 14:44Farron Cousins
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US Chamber Predicts Economic Apocalypse From New Carbon Rules Despite Opposite Reality

It has been less than a week since the EPA announced new rules for carbon emissions — rules that are being heralded as the most comprehensive effort to tackle climate change by any sitting U.S. president — but big business groups have been spreading misinformation about these new rules for weeks.

Leading the charge against the administration’s proposals is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business interest group in the country, and arguably the most well-funded. 

Just days before the new rules that will limit the amount of carbon that existing power plants can release were made public, the Chamber released a report predicting that any form of carbon regulation would result in economic chaos for the United States.  And this all happened before the Chamber even know what the rules would actually say.

The Chamber’s report issued these dire warnings to Americans, summarized by Think Progress:

Their study determined that it would cost American industry $28.1 billion annually to comply with EPA’s new regulations, that as many as 224,000 jobs would be lost between now and 2030, that the economy would average $50.2 billion lower a year, that Americans would cumulatively pay $289 billion more for electricity over that period, and that they’d lose $586 billion in disposable income.

The U.S. Chamber is attempting to strike at the heart of American fears that it will cost them dearly.  Whether it is their job or their hard-earned money, the Chamber wants Americans to be afraid of losing everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve in life.

Back in the land of reality, the Chamber’s claims are easily debunked.  To start with, as we’ve previously discussed here on DeSmogBlog, safety regulations create jobs rather than destroy them.  Even energy industry CEOs have been willing to admit that this is true in recent years.  The EPA’s estimates show that the new standards will create tens of thousands of new jobs, and the administration’s commitment to invest more in renewable energy will add hundreds of thousands of jobs, thus resulting in a net gain of U.S. jobs.

Sat, 2014-05-31 07:00Anne Landman
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Permanent Protest Set Up at US Oil Sands Project in Utah

The first tar sands strip mining project in the U.S. is gearing up to start operation in Utah, but not without resistance from a group that announced on May 29 that it is setting up a permanent protest vigil at the site.

The Canadian company US Oil Sands Inc. (USOS) leased over 32,000 acres in the Bookcliffs range in eastern Utah near the PR Spring campground for what it calls the first bitumen mining operation in the U.S. Bitumen is the sticky black substance also known as asphalt, with a viscosity similar to cold molasses.

US Oil Sands plans to dig up huge amounts of sand containing the bitumen and then heat the sand to release the bitumen, separate out the sand, and then use solvents to thin the gooey substance enough so it will flow through pipes and into trucks. USOS got the green light to go ahead with the pilot project from the Utah Water Quality Board in 2012, and then solicited investors to fund the project. 

In mid-May, USOS announced (pdf) that its tar sands pilot project was fully funded, and they are purchasing equipment and moving into the operational phase.

Fri, 2014-05-30 15:35Farron Cousins
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Life Saving Regulations Stalled In Bureaucratic Abyss

There is an unspoken rule in American politics: when you have bad news to deliver, do it on a Friday afternoon.  This helps to ensure that fewer people will see it, fewer will have time to analyze it, and the media will forget all about it over the weekend.  If you really want the issue to die, release it on a Friday before a holiday weekend, and that’s exactly what the Obama administration did last week when they released their bi-annual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda reads like a laundry list of proposed safety regulations from nearly all the major regulatory agencies.  Digging into the Department of the Interior section of that list, you will find countless stalled regulations pertaining to the dirty energy industry, some of which have been in limbo since the days of the former Bush administration

Ben Geman at National Journal explains:

Fri, 2014-05-30 13:02Anne Landman
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Groups Say CO Governor Hickenlooper Evading Public Input on Fracking Policy

Eleven grassroots citizens groups are demanding that Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper allow them access to meetings he is holding about a proposed special legislative session to address fracking. 
 
Gov. Hickenlooper and the drilling industry have been trying to strike a “grand bargain”-style, watered-down bill to circumvent a slew of powerful anti-fracking initiatives currently working their way towards the state ballot. Colorado's regular legislative session ended early in May, and the governor wants to call a special session to pass his compromise bill.
 
The groups protesting their exclusion from the governor's meetings are the same ones that led successful efforts to pass anti-fracking ballot initiatives in six front-range communities, and which continue to represent communities impacted by fracking.
 
Colorado newspapers like the Denver Post and Denver Business Journal have widely reported that oil and gas industry executives and other “stakeholders” have been attending discussions with the governor to craft new state legislation pertaining to drilling and fracking.

But none of the citizen and environmental groups that moved the moratoria and bans forward in the last 18 months in the six cities representing over 400,000 citizens, including Fort Collins, Loveland (pending), Longmont, Boulder, Broomfield, and Lafayette, have been informed about the meetings or invited to attend.  
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, 2014-05-22 16:28Anne Landman
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Interactive Map Shows Extent of Oil and Gas Fouling of Colorado

Photos of Colorado's spectacular Rocky Mountains draw tourists to the state from all over the world, but if people could see the extent to which oil and gas drilling is polluting the state, they might think again about visiting. 
 
DeSmogBlog has posted infographics about oil spills resulting from transportation, pipeline leaks and other disasters. Now the nonpartisan Center for Western Priorities has posted a detailed, interactive Western Toxic Release Map that plots over 13,600 spills from oil and gas operations that occurred in New Mexico and Colorado between 2000 and 2013. 
 
The color-coded map tells whether the spills consisted of oil, brine, drilling water, or other substances. It shows that the highest number of spills occurred in four main areas of Colorado: between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs on the central western side of the state, the area surrounding Rangely in the northwest, an area around Durango, Farmington (NM) and Trinidad in the south, and around Greeley in the northeast.  

Each dot on the map represents a documented spill, and each dot links to a full details about the spill as reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. 
 
These are just reported spills.
 
Using a sort function, map users can also see the number of documented spills that occurred each year. 
 
The map also helpfully sums up the number of documented spills, along with the total quantity of fluids spilled by oil and gas operations in this area from 2000 to 2013: 1,479 total spills and a total of 8,021,118 gallons of hazardous fluids.   
Fri, 2014-05-16 05:00Anne Landman
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Spike in Stillborn and Neonatal Deaths Reported in Heavily Drilled Vernal, Utah

Natural Gas and Oil Drilling in Utah

A midwife in Vernal, Utah, has raised a red flag about a spike in the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the small town in 2013.

The concern has arisen alongside explosive growth in drilling and fracking in the area. Energy companies have flocked to Vernal in the last few years to develop massive oil and gas fields beneath Uintah County.

The midwife, Donna Young, who has worked in the Vernal area for 19 years, delivered the first stillborn baby she's seen in all her years of practice in May 2013. Doctors could not determine a reason for the baby's death.

While visiting the local cemetery where the baby was buried, Young noticed other fresh graves of babies who were stillborn or who died shortly after birth.

Young started researching obituaries and mortuary records on stillbirths and neonatal deaths and found a large spike in the number of infant deaths in the Vernal area in recent years. She documented 11 other incidents in 2013 in which Vernal mothers had given birth to stillborn babies or in which babies died within a few days of being born. Vernal's full-time population is only about 9,800.

Young found that the rate of neonatal deaths in Vernal has climbed from about equivalent to the national average in 2010 to six times the national average in 2013.

Along with the surge in oil and gas drilling in the Vernal area in the last few years, the winter air in the Uintah basin, where Vernal sits, has become dense with industrial smog generated by drilling rigs, pipelines, wells and increased traffic.

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