Category Archives: Fracking

Statement by Be the Change Before the COGCC, Series 500 Rulemaking, June 17, 2019

The course of action being proposed in this rulemaking is illegal.  We have said this repeatedly and without hesitation from the day Director Robbins introduced his so-called “15 objective criteria.”  That was roughly a month ago.  We say it again today, hoping someone on this new commission will take notice.

His criteria are hardly objective.  They are in our judgment simply arbitrary and capricious.

The signal feature of Mr. Robbins “15 objective criteria” is a 1500-foot setback from homes in municipal settings.  He is silent on what rural people deserve in terms of protection.  Indeed the 1500 feet is not really a setback, but a threshold requiring further review by his office.  Apparently, any drilling proposal that is greater than 1500 feet from an urban dwelling is deemed safe.  These criteria are to rule oil and gas permitting procedures until real rules can be developed for SB 19-181.  Mr. Robbins says this may take 2 years or more.

We invite your attention to the declaration of intent in SB 19-181, which became the law of this state two months ago on April 16.  The legislature directed state government to “regulate the development of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources;” p 9-10.

Mr. Robbins cannot demonstrate his 15 criteria comport with this foundational requirement of the law.  Neither can he demonstrate his criteria are consistent with the state’s Administrative Procedure Act which says that for any rule to be valid it must not conflict with other provisions of the law.  The conflicts are various and far reaching as we shall demonstrate.

In our judgment, the following are the subjects that must be addressed through rulemaking before new drilling and supporting infrastructure can be built. We have listed them in order of their importance–from our perspective.  All of them are essential to understanding the impacts of oil and gas on the public’s welfare and the environment.  All of them must be integrated into the regulations that guide the activities of the COGCC and the CDPHE.  The CDPHE has essential and serious responsibilities under the new law.  Director Ryan, it is our judgment these responsibilities have simply been ignored up to this point.

In order of their importance we list:

  1. Setbacks
  2. Cumulative impact analyzes
    • Air
    • Land
    • Water
  3. Bonding
  4. Financial Assurance

We would remind you that though the legislature did not address climate collapse directly in this legislation, we believe it is implicit to the purposes of the law, since the public’s welfare cannot be protected unless we recognize climate protection as essential to our continued existence.

Setbacks

We’ll start off here with several photos of oil and gas explosions.   They are intended to provide context for a discussion of setbacks.

Even a quick look will dispel any doubt that this is a feather floating across the landscape.  No, it is a 20,000-gallon (estimated) frack waste storage tank exploding off its foundation.  If filled with liquid it would weigh about the same as a small steam locomotive, about the size of the Hogwarts Express.  All those present who would like to live within 1500 feet of such a floating behemoth please raise their hand.

Windsor fire at an Extraction drill site northeast of the town

This photo is of the Windsor fire at an Extraction drill site northeast of the town.  There was apparently an uncontrolled gas leak throughout the day.  The gas finally ignited.   A spike in benzene was measured in Boulder County, 40 miles away at the state’s only continuous air monitoring site.  One can only imagine what the benzene concentrations were in and around Windsor.  Benzene is a carcinogen.  It is ubiquitous in oil and gas production.  It is unsafe for humans at any concentration.

Reportedly, eight fire departments were involved in extinguishing the fire.  The local fire marshal established a fire line or setback one-mile distant from the well site.  The fire fighters used all the fire suppressing foam available in northern Colorado to extinguish the fire.  This foam, called AFFF, is also a carcinogen responsible for large-scale ground water contamination in the United States.  The groundwater contamination in Fountain, Colorado, is a close-to-home example.

This is a picture of another explosion at a drill site in Oklahoma.  Five workers were killed, one a Coloradan.  The fire was so intense that firefighters couldn’t get near enough to extinguish it for over a week.  Here again the fire line was one mile.

Obviously 1500 feet is not supportable as protective of public health and safety.  We are not suggesting attribution, but we do note that 1500 feet was a compromise position developed for the industry by RS Energy last year in the battle over Prop 112, which, as you know, called for a 2500-foot setback.   At 1500 feet the impacts on the industry’s core holdings would be minimal according to the industry study.  Even Extraction, whose business model is based on urban drilling, sometimes within shouting distance of little Dick and Jane’s swing set, would have been only moderately impacted.

Mr. Robbins may not have pulled his 1500-foot setback “criteria” from a hat.  He may have devised it to minimize the impacts to the oil industry.  But that is the wrong answer to the wrong question.  The question is no longer how do we minimize regulatory impacts on oil and gas development in this state, but how do we protect the public?  What setbacks are required to do that?

We don’t have a hard answer to this question.  But statistical studies have been conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) which suggest 2500 feet may be a reasonable minimum.  Researcher Lisa McKenzie and her colleagues at Anschutz state that air pollutants from oil and gas operations “are potentially a major health risk for nearby populations.”  The study showed an increase in the incidence of cancers occurred within 2500 feet of these facilities.  Other studies from Anschutz researchers show increased incidence of childhood leukemia in a residential setting up to a mile away from drill sites.

Governor Polis might have been right when he said one size does not fit all.   In fact, it appears 2500 feet might be the reasonable and necessary minimum setback, but topography and prevailing wind patterns at a proposed oil facility could cause the safe setback to be lengthened dramatically using the precautionary principle as guide.

Remember it was Senator Foote, one of the sponsors of the SB 19-181, who emphasized on the floor of the senate that it was the precautionary principle that should guide decisions in this rulemaking.  So, unless the industry clearly demonstrates public safety can be maintained at a distance less than 2500 feet, as a minimum, the science that exists must stand as guide.

Cumulative impacts

We note that the law, on p.19, directs the CDPHE to participate in developing these important data sets that are essential to health, safety, and environmental impact evaluations.

Water: The volume of fresh water needed for fracking is alarming.  For example, if all of the roughly 6500 drilling permits received by the COGCC in 2018 were to be approved, and all were for horizontal wells, the total water demand might be about 65 billion gallons.  That is more than the treated water than Denver Water supplies to its customers annually.  It is in fact, over twice the amount since over half of the domestic water demand gets back into the hydrologic system to be used again and again downstream.  From a cumulative impact standpoint, we should want to know how much water will be needed annually for fracking over the next 10 years, and whether that demand is sustainable.  The base condition for this analysis should be the estimated amount of water the industry has used by year since 2008, the advent of the fracking invasion.

A recent study at Duke University shows that from “2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased up to 770%, while flowback and produced water volumes generated within the first year of production increased up to 1440%,” and this was across all regions.  Their conclusion is that the volume of water and liquid toxic waste will only increase in the coming years.   It’s time we started treating fracking’s cumulative impacts with the seriousness they deserve, and with the diligence the new law demands.  The seat-of –the-pants approach, where we basically rely on the industry for all important information, must be abandoned.

With regard to the water sustainability issue, the impact of diminished surface supplies predicted from the climate crisis should also be examined using sensitivity analysis since we are unsure of the exact snowpack and runoff reductions we can expect from a hotter and drier climate in the southern Rockies.

This sort of analysis becomes even more important in light of the efforts to get the taxpayers to underwrite billions of dollars in new projects for water that is not likely to exist in the future with even moderate climate change.  Some of this water, we read, is earmarked for fracking.

A thorough review of the Class II injection well process needs to be undertaken, as well.  That injection process was implemented in the early 1980s and hasn’t undergone any serious review since, even though the original purpose of the program was to allow old played out vertical wells, designated Class II wells, to be reinjected with liquid waste from nearby producing wells to increase underground pressure and thereby stimulate production at the nearby producing well.  It is now used to dispose of almost all liquid toxic waste from fracking activities.

Here again the baseline condition should be the amount of toxic liquids the industry has pumped annually into Class II wells since 2008.  Using a 10 -year planning horizon, how much toxic liquid will be generated for disposal?  Is the present Class II system adequate to handle this volume, or will new wells be required?  We know that some Class II wells have been approved for injection into potable water supplies, primarily because those supplies were thought to be too far from demand to ever be tapped for domestic or industrial use.  Given the realities of climate change should this program be terminated?  From a sustained use standpoint, better tracking of the original estimated capacity of these Class II reservoirs, the approved injection rate, and remaining life expectancy need to be developed and analyzed for their cumulative effects.   For example, how many new disposal wells might be needed under a range of reasonable projected disposal requirements?  What are likely to be the local and regional impacts if new wells are required?  Clearly, the list could go on, but this kind of data is necessary in any adequate cumulative impact evaluation on fresh water use and toxic liquid disposal.


AIR: A monitoring system that is continuous across the oil patch, upstream and midstream, is necessary.   This technology exists and must be employed.  Our air quality is so compromised, much of it from oil and gas activity, that nothing less is morally acceptable, and SB 19-181, to be effective, demands it.

Continuous system measurements must be immediately available to state and local governments, free of massage or filtering by the industry.  In other words, it must be state run and verifiable by local and regional oversight.  Recent articles in the Colorado Independent and the Denver Post simply underscore why such a system is nonnegotiable—public trust must be restored.   A recent letter from WildEarth Guardians to Governor Polis, dated April 23, 2019, exposes the general lawlessness that exists within the state’s regulatory system, particularly with regard to the federal Clean Air Act.  Specifically, the state has allowing the oil and gas industry to operate for 90 days or longer without the required clean air permits.  As a result, VOCs and poisonous gasses such as benzene have been released without restriction or measurement.

VOCs are a major contributor to the northern Front Range’s ozone problem.  Denver, as a result, has been judged to have the 12th worst air quality of any city in the country, sometimes beating out Beijing, China, for the honor of really bad.  NOAA measurements indicate an estimated 55 percent of the VOCs, above background, come from fossil fuel operations in the Front Range, primarily Weld County.

Unfortunately, the monetary and social impacts of ozone pollution are mostly available only on a macro scale.  The CDC, in 1980, well before the fracking invasion, estimated asthma, for which ozone pollution is a major cause, costs the U.S. economy about $80 billion annually in sickness and lost work.  We are obviously more than paying our fair share.

A more recent study by the Office of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concludes premature deaths from ozone pollution have dramatically and continuously increased over the last decade and a half.  Overall, they conclude that air pollution in 2015 was responsible for 3.2 million premature deaths globally and cost the world economy $5.1 trillion.

The World Health Organization has said air pollution is the “worlds single largest health risk.”  This assessment excludes climate collapse, of course, for it is not just a health risk, but an existential risk.  A few may perceive from this discussion that a rapid conversion to renewables and a quickening denial of all new fossil fuel development might save our bacon.

Given the above, and to be effective and have public acceptance, the monitoring system mandated by the law must incorporate the following:

  • It must be continuous and independent of industry manipulation.
  • It must be verifiable to preclude tampering.
  • It must delineate the various chemicals being released.  This capability is essential from a health perspective, for one cannot simultaneously measure the human health effects of oil development’s point source methane (a nontoxic) and benzene (a proximate toxic) contributions with the same probe.
  • Those who talk of VOCs will be looking mainly to the longer term human effects of ozone, thus to dispersing, aging plumes. Such plume emphasis will neglect the proximate toxicity of point sources of benzene because its concentrations cannot be accurately captured by plume sampling, continuous or otherwise. To accurately assess the overall health effects of oil production‘s point source pollutions, two separate probing techniques will be necessary—one for ozone and one for proximate benzene exposures as their atmospheric behaviors are significantly different.
  • It should be compatible and useful to recent legislation dealing with better measurement of green house gas emissions, and the move toward renewables.  See SB 19-096 and HB 19-1261.   While 1261 establishes the goal of achieving 90 percent reduction in green house gasses from all sources by 2050, bill 096 seeks the collection of better data on green house gas emissions.  Both should be integrated into this monitoring system as a guard against redundancy and bureaucratic jealousies.  We should note here that HB 1261 is directed to our use of fossil fuels, not the industry’s development of them.  Most the product, both oil an gas, is shipped out of state, but many of the major impacts stay here.  Colorado has become an oil colony, much like Nigeria.

LAND:  The law, in our judgment, now requires, as with air and water, cumulative impacts on land use be calculated with each new oil and gas development and that the result become part of the public record.  We suggest that the oil and gas land-use base include and identify each industry use category: well pads, storage and operational facilities, pipelines by class–including federally monitored interstate pipelines, underground storage reservoirs. compressor stations, access roads, disposal and waste injection facilities, etc.   We think it advisable that the land use impacts be delineated and identified by their ownership class: public, private, etc.

Wildlife impacts from oil and gas land use requirements greatly concern us.  How could they not, since scientists tell us “the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction.”  They tell us that up to 200 species of plants, animals , insects, and birds go extinct every day.  This is unlike anything since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago.  We suspect fossil fuel development plays a significant part in this die off.  In fact, land use changes from fracking certainly have a greater impact on deer populations than does bear and cougar predation.   The state recently floated the idea of killing bear and cougar so that more deer could be killed by hunters.  We suggest that killing off a few old wells every year accompanied by land use restoration would be more beneficial to both deer and humans.  The beer and cougar would cheer, too.

One of our greatest public health concerns under the land use category is radioactive frack waste disposal.  Measurements of these wastes must conform to scientifically acceptable protocols.  The EPA 900 series, currently in use, fails this test.  It underestimates radioactive levels by at least a factor of 100 (and in cases of scale and sludge by as much as 1000 or even 10,000 times).

For example, accurate radiation measurements of frack-waste require an expensive, in-laboratory spectrometry device and at least a 21-day holding period (to account for daughter radiation).  This requirement is currently being bypassed.  For example, a simple Geiger counter assessment typically misreads the radiation present, allowing dangerously radioactive waste to be released into ordinary land fills, or worse on area roads as a dust suppressant.

The cost of this independent, third-party, safety measurement of radiation should be borne by the Operator, as should all regulatory costs created by industry activity.   Such an approach is consistent with the expectations as set forth in SB 19-181.

BONDING

SB 19-181 directs the COGCC to revisit the bonding requirements to determine what bonding is needed to adequately protect the public from someday inheriting the costs of closing and maintaining the industry’s old, played-out wells.

Last year about $5 million was allocated from the state’s general fund to close a few old, abandoned wells the COGCC had determined were an immediate health and safety risk.  The cost came to about $250,000 per well.  The COGCC has identified 365 abandoned wells that should be soon closed for public health and safety reasons.   The legislature will have to allocate at least $91 million from the general fund to close them, and that’s only if there are no surprises.  In California, the cost of closing two old wells in Hollywood ran to about a $1 million each.  It is almost axiomatic that the closer fracked wells are to people and important public resources such as water courses, the greater the costs of closing and monitoring.

Recently, a leaked government report from the Canadian province of Alberta set the likely cost of closing all old wells and other infrastructure in the province at $130 billion, with another $130 billion needed to close and restore the province’s tar sands operations.  This $260 billion price tag was vastly different from the government’s  “public” story which claimed that all the restoration could be done for $50 billion.  The province has less than $1 billion in a trust fund for environmental restoration.  Colorado as we’ve just related, has none.  And Colorado has about half of Alberta’s 200,000 wells.

As we looked at the number and timing of drilling permits the COGCC was approving this year, our reaction was four alarm.   For example, one can see from the following chart that immediately prior to the governor signing SB 181 into law on the 16th of April, there was frenzied activity to get almost 80 drilling permits out the door, some only minutes before Governor Polis signed the bill.  These were mostly rural permits, many in Weld County.

Wells approved:
Since January 1, 2019     – 
1199
Since March 1, 2019        – 
633
Since SB181 Signed          –  87

Day 15 criteria finalized – 39

graph by Maira Orms, Be the Change

The Polis administration undoubtedly wanted to avoid delays the new law mandated, such as setback determinations to protect health and safety, continuous air monitoring, etc.  And mostly of course the governor probably wanted to keep Weld County commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and her four sidekicks from riding into town on their snorting steeds to properly frighten us latte-swilling city slickers and remind us that their ozone laden air was a necessary burden from Weld so that the county’s operating budget, which is dependent on the industry’s property tax payments, could survive and flourish—at least until we achieve the looming climate collapse.

But in this rush to demonstrate that all setbacks are not the same, as the governor often declares, the new administration also provided a hidden subsidy to the industry in just a couple of days of at least $20 million, for that is the difference between what the industry would have had to pay if bonding had been increased to reflect actual costs and what they pay now—a maximum of $100,000 for all wells.

Similarly, on the day Mr. Robbins finalized his “15 objective criteria” his office approved 39 new drilling permits.  His criteria are silent on bonding.  Thereby, Mr. Robbins handed the industry a $10 million subsidy on that day alone.

The following chart shows that this administration has been working overtime to get drilling permits out the door.  In fact, with about 1200 permits approved since the first of the year– This is a pace that far exceeds that of the Hickenlooper administration. Hickenlooper of course insists to this day that fracking is safe.  We can only conclude that SB 19-181 hasn’t changed much of anything in the fracking world, and will not until this administration enforces the law so as to protect the public and the planet. The bonding subsidy from 1200 permits is roughly $300 million.

Clearly, adequate bonding is a very real public welfare issue, one the new law directed the COGCC to examine through rulemaking.  The COGCC has failed out of ignorance and its desire, perhaps, to protect the interests of the industry over those of the people.  Our suggestions are as follows:

  • The minimum bonding requirement for any well must be $350,000.   This estimate is based on the actual cost of closing a few orphaned wells at public expense in the past year.  As we’ve said, each of these wells cost about $250,000 to close.  But since old wells have to be monitored and rehabbed over time—steel corrodes and cement breakdowns—we suggest the addition of $100,000 as a hedge against future maintenance costs.
  • If wells, old or new, threaten public health or the environment by their proximity to people, dedicated open space, or water resources, the costs could be upwards of $1,000,000.  Actual well closings in California and Alberta have reached these cost levels.  Bonding should reflect these realities.  This means that bonding close to people and their resources will cost substantially more, and should.
  • Any approval for sale or transfer of wells must be conditioned on the new owner assuming the bonding requirements outlined above.  Mandatory new bonding is an extremely important concept because in our opinion, and that of many financial analysts, the industry is hopelessly in debt, and likely to never recover.
  • We think the bonding should be a cash bond held in trust by the state
  • The state needs to follow Alberta’s example and determine the public’s likely liability associated with well closing and maintenance.  California, aware of the longterm fiscal threat old wells represent, passed a billthis year to assess the costs of oil and gas cleanup.  We recommend that any cleanup cost study be conducted by an independent or academic institution.
  • The quickest way to generate revenue for long-term care and closing of old wells is to increase the severance tax and establish a dedicated trust fund with the revenues.  Colorado’s severance tax rate is now has an effective .7 to .9 percent.  This is so because drillers get to deduct the property taxes they pay counties such as Weld from their severance tax obligation to the state.  The result is that in many years the oil industry in counties such as Weld pay no severance tax to the state.  In 2016 Weld collected $490 million in property taxes from the industry.  The state had to take roughly $13 million out of the general fund to keep the doors at the COGCC open.  Whatever the increased severance rate, it must be adequate to start covering the long term estimated closing and maintenance costs of wells in the oil fields, especially those of Weld County.

FINANCIAL ASSURANCE

The law now requires “that every operator… provide assurance that it is financially capable of fulfilling EVERY obligation imposed” by the new law, p. 19. And that the “operator demonstrate sufficient net worth to guarantee performance, and that the commission annually review the guarantee and demonstration of net worth.” p.  20.

These requirements, like the other we’ve outlined above, are in full force and effect, but like the others, the Polis administration has sidestepped them for reasons we can only guess at.

Had they not evaded these requirements of the new law, they would have learned the fracking industry is close to financial collapse.  It has lived from the day of conception on borrowed money from Wall Street and hedge funders.  Wall Street is now turning away.  Monetary institutions and insurance companies are increasingly leery of fracking as an investment.  The industry’s assets, their fossil fuel reserves, will be worthless if the leave-it-in-the- ground and international kids movements are eventually successful, as they must be if we are to avoid destroying our kind through ignorance, corruption, and greed.

The following graph shows that, even with Trump’s corporate tax cuts, the fracking industry can’t show a profit.

Their operating costs inevitably exceed their revenues.  As a result “174 North American oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy protection, restructuring nearly $100 billion in debt, largely through write-offs,” since 2015.  One analyst, as reported by Bethany McLean in her recent bookSaudi America, has remarked that, “The real catalyst for the shale revolution was …the 2008 financial crisis and the era of unprecedented low interest rates it ushered in.”

In Colorado the largest driller, Anadarko, has amassed, according SEC filings, over $19 billion in debt.  The new urban fracker, Extraction Oil and Gas, after only a few years of operation, has managed to amass over $1.5 billion in debt.  Overall, the frackers in the United States are at least $220 billion in debt.

SUMMARY:  It is our judgment that there is no grace period for the oil and gas industry or the Polis administration to adjust to the new law.  SB 19-181 changed the way the industry is regulated, and those changes became law on the day the governor signed the bill.   If government changes the speed limit from 60 mph to 25 mph, on a section of road because of health and safety concerns, drivers do not get a grace period to adjust.  The same should be true of the oil industry.  This will cause delays in approving permits, but the delays are necessary to satisfy the law and protect the people.  For too long the industry has had the run of the state.  A significant law was passed to make citizen health, safety, and welfare, and the protection of the environment and wildlife a condition for continued oil and gas development in this state.  As a result new life was breathed into our state constitution’s Bill of Rights which posits:

All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Art II, Sec 3, Colorado Constitution.

Be The Change files official rebuttal to the COGCC regarding the implementation of SB-181

This week, Be The Change filed an official rebuttal to COGCC chairman Jeff Robbins proposal to enact “15 objective criteria” for implementing SB-181. Below is the text of the rebuttal. You can download a PDF version of the comments here:

Be_The_Change_official_rulemaking_statements_to_the_COGCC_re_SB-181.

 

 

BEFORE THE OIL AND GAS CONSERVATION COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF COLORADO
PREHEARING STATEMENT

IN THE MATTER OF CHANGES TO     )               CAUSE NO. 1R
THE RULES AND REGULATIONS         )
OF THE OIL AND GAS                          )                DOCKET NO. 190600531
CONSERVATION COMMISSION OF   )
THE STATE OF COLORADO                 )                 TYPE: RULEMAKING

 

I. PREHEARING STATEMENT OF BE THE CHANGE

We repeat our comments as we have let them be known at every public forum since Mr. Robbins introduced his draft “15 objective criteria.” These “criteria” were apparently designed by Mr Robbins to be a new interim law, of his making, that will substitute for SB 181 until rules can be finalized on the actual law sometime out into the future. His estimate is up to 2 years, perhaps more. We think real rulemaking should not take 2 years, but it is likely to take longer if Mr. Robbins’ “objective criteria” continues to be the agency’s guidepost.

As we have said and will continue to say, Mr Robbins has not the authority to draft his own interim law, even if he attempts to disguise the fact by calling it “15 objective criteria.” He is acting illegally. What is more, we see nothing objective about them. They are arbitrary and capricious, in our opinion. This indeed is a sad commentary on implementation of the most important health and public protection law enacted in Colorado in at least the past decade. The ink is hardly dry, yet already the administration seems to be bowing and scraping before the oil interests in a disturbing litany of mea culpas. We hope we are proven wrong.

The apparent purpose of Robbins’ law is to allow the Director to approve new drilling permits while he discovers, after the fact, what the impacts on the public and its resources, such as air, land, and water, actually are. Mr. Robbins is being paid by the people to implement SB181 as quickly as possible, not postpone honest implementation under some fanciful notion that his job is still to protect the financial interests of the oil industry. That was the old law. The new law demands that he and his agency protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare, as well as protect wildlife and the environment. Delays in approving new drilling permits may result. They almost assuredly will since SB 181 is a sea change. It precludes new drilling permits until analysis and procedures developed through rulemaking are in place to reasonably ensure that the public’s interests and their environment are not being sacrificed.

We suggest the quickest way to satisfy the law and thereby make legal the prospect of new drilling is to base rule making on the following hierarchy:

1. Setbacks from homes, schools, and other important public resources
2. Continuous air monitoring at major facilities
3. Cumulative impacts on air, land, and water
4. Leak monitoring of pipelines and underground storage reservoirs
5. Bonding
6. Financial Assurance
7. Forced Pooling
8. Alternative site evaluation

We can see these rule making efforts taking a matter of months if honestly pursued, for some can be done rather quickly, like bonding and financial assurance rule making. We did not include interface with local governments as a rule making exercise. But the reaction in some cities such as Aurora is very disturbing. Their local government seems to think SB181 changed nothing. They believe they can proceed with permitting wells under criteria developed before 181 was passed and signed into law. Local governments need to be disabused of this belief in the strongest way possible. Delays in rule making will also allow them to catch up on their land use rights and police powers since home rule was restored to them under SB 181. The world changed with SB181, and we need to accept that as fact, and implement the law accordingly. It happened.

We have said previously that rule making on the 500 series is hopelessly out of sequence. It is way down the list of critical decisions as our rulemaking hierarchy shows. We wonder what criteria hearing officers and administrative law judges will be using when there are no rules on which to make decisions and resolve conflict. Do they make it up as they go along? Such a prospect is unfair to them and us.

Still, we agree with the Sierra Club in its call for higher penalty assessments under Series 500. We would add that refunds to offenders after they fix a leak or spill should be all but eliminated. This practice does not encourage best practices. It apologizes for mistakes. Moreover, we think a more or less hard rule should be adopted so that chronic repeat offenders lose their social license to operate in the state. Notice is thereby given to those who by their actions and inattention show disdain for our place on the planet.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate.

Phillip T Doe                                           Maria Orms
Environmental Director                       Communications Director
Be the Change                                       Be the Change

Drowning in a A Sea of Propaganda: the oil industry’s assault on the people and Proposition 112

In this article, Be The Change’s Environmental Director, Phil Doe, dissects the propaganda put forth by the oil and gas industry in response to Proposition 112.

Download the PDF version Here:

Prop 112 Fact Sheet

Drowning in a Vat of Oily Propaganda: the oil industry’s assault on the people and Proposition 112

Fact 1: Prop 112 Protects Public Health  2

Fact 2: Fracking Increases Cancer Risks  4

Fact 3: Fracking Increases Infant Health Risks  5

Fact 4: Fires And Spills Occur Frequently At Fracking Sites  6

Fact 5: Fracking Contaminates Water 7

Fact 6: Fracking Degrades Air Quality  8

Fact 7: There Is Overwhelming Evidence That Fracking Is Hazardous 9

Fact 8: Denver Is Not Immune To Fracking  10

Fact 9: Prop 112 Is A Setback, Not A Ban  13

Fact 10: Federal Land Is Not Affected  15

Fact 11: Existing Wells Are Not Affected  16

Fact 12: The Impact On Jobs Is Minimal 17

Fact 13: Oil Is A Minor Economic Driver 19

Fact 14: Severance Taxes Have Recently Been Near Zero  20

Fact 15: Water Use For Fracking Is Not Sustainable

Fact 1: Prop 112 Protects Public Health

Colorado Oil and Gas Association spokesman Scoot Prestidge said, “A 2,500-foot setback (Proposition 112) would shut down Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry and lead to a massive layoff of over 100,000 local jobs.”

The clear purpose of the 2500-foot setback required in Proposition 112 is to protect public health and safety. Scientific studies show the state’s present 500-foot setback requirement is grossly inadequate, and 2500 feet would constitute a minimum requirement.  Spending over $38 million already in a propaganda blitz, most of it from out of state (see Colorado Secretary of State, Campaign Finance), the industry has bombarded the airwaves with a few well-tailored lies to convince the public that a square is really a circle–and that fracking near homes and schools is safe, necessary, and desirable.

Fracking is safe, until it isn’t

(Photo from denver.cbslocal.com) Fire at fracking site in Windsor northeast of Denver.  The fire was caused by an uncontrolled release of toxic gasses during its drilling completion phase.  The leak lasted 16 hours before the fire and explosion.  The well leaked for another 16 hours before it could be contained.  An atmospheric benzene spike was measured 40 miles away at the Boulder County air quality station, the only continuous air monitoring station in the state.

 

Map of existing active and closed wells in and near Windsor on a common section map—each section is one square mile. The bigger dots represent newer horizontal wells with multiple wells on each pad, the smaller dots represent older single wells.   The blue dot shows the location of the Windsor (Stromberger) fire. Although the well pad looks to be less than 500 feet from the city boundary, this section of the city is largely industry, with some residential housing about 1 mile away.  However, one home about a 1/4 of a mile north of the fire and explosion had to evacuated as it became engulfed in flames from the well pad.  It did not burn, miraculously.

Fact 2: Fracking Increases Cancer Risks

People who live within 500 feet of a well in Colorado may experience a lifetime cancer risk eight times higher than EPA’s upper acceptable levels.  Benzene leaks from the wells are thought to be the primary cause of this risk increase. (McKenzie) Consider for a moment what terror that would create in you if your family were so threatened.

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

(Photo from abcnews.go.com) This explosion on April 17, 2017, killed 2 people and seriously injured another.  Anadarko, the oil company responsible for the gas leak from a nearby well has settled with the survivors for an undisclosed amount.  Stock holders and a Pennsylvania retirement fund are suing Anadarko for malfeasance, most of it unrelated to this managerial disaster.

Fact 3: Fracking Increases Infant Health Risks

Infants born within about 1/2 mile of fracked wells are 25 percent more likely to have lower birth weights than infants born  farther away, with the prospect that they will be lower achievers and less healthy as adults. Low birth weight is a symptom of benzene exposure, a known air pollutant and carcinogen associated with fracking.

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

 Put yourself in the place of parents whose children are reduced to playing regularly next to oil and gas wells and connecting storage tanks, all emitting  toxins.

Fact 4: Fires And Spills Occur Frequently At Fracking Sites

Opponents of prop 112 have no scientifically vetted studies behind their claims, just splashy propaganda bankrolled by at least $38 million in corporate oil and gas money, over $20 million spent already.  On the other hand, it is well documented that a polluting fire/explosion occurs at a fracking operation every month.  Spills of toxic liquids occur at the rate of about a dozen per week, sometimes flowing directly into waterways.  Altogether, companies spilled more than 93,000 gallons of oil into soil, groundwater and streams in 2017. They also spilled more than 506,000 gallons of toxic, radioactive, fluids from producing wells.  This is self reported by the industry, so there is no way to assess the accuracy of these numbers.

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

(photo from dailymail.co.uk)

Explosion of a storage tank at a fracking waste site north of Greeley.  Note the tank being lifted into the air by the explosion.  It actually went airborne like shot from a missile silo.  Miraculously no one was killed.  The same could not be said if this had occurred within 500 feet of homes.

Fact 5: Fracking Contaminates Water

Twenty two domestic water wells have been reported as contaminated by fracking operations–a number suppressed by operator payoffs and nondisclosure agreements. Want to be within 500 feet of such negligence?

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

 A well sight near a water course.  Numerous sites such as this were compromised during the 2013 flood that hit northern Colorado. Their product, all poison, whether operational waste or oil, was carried, uninvited, downstream. Is the requirement that new well sites be 2500 feet from water courses unreasonable as the industry claims?

Fact 6: Fracking Degrades Air Quality

The air quality on the front range is severely compromised by ozone contamination, which is created by VOCs that are cooked by sunlight to form ozone.  The state and the industry have agreed that 55 percent of the VOCs on the front range come from oil and gas operations to the north, primarily Weld County. The federal ozone standard is 70 ppb.  Many areas along the front range, especially those that trap VOCs against the mountains, have ozone readings that exceed 80 ppb for extended periods.  Ozone is a major cause of asthma.  It can cause strokes, heart attacks, and nose bleeds and rashes, particularly in children.  A recent study out of MIT estimates that if we don’t sharply reduce industrial pollution, of which fossil fuels are a major contributor, the costs to the planet from ozone pollution by 2050 will be $838 billion, accompanied by 2 million deaths annually.

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

Visualize a Sunday afternoon backyard barbeque with the kids to the accompaniment of the relentless whir and belching of the industry’s steel behemoths just over the fence.

Fact 7: There Is Overwhelming Evidence That Fracking Is Hazardous

The New York Compendium, which is used internationally as a reference manual on fracking is updated regularly.  It now contains over 1300 findings, from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations.  They combine to demonstrate that: “Fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.” From a review of 685 recent, peer-reviewed publications on fracking, 84% indicated health hazards, risks or adverse outcomes; 69% reported water contamination, and 87% found air pollution.  The Compendium concluded that regulations (such as those of the COGCC) are simply not capable of preventing harm. Most of the dangers and costs of oil development do not occur for renewable energies, which, in any case, are already cheaper.

Fracking is safe—Until it isn’t

In frack-land there truly is nothing quite like an evening stroll through the neighborhood

Fact 8: Denver Is Not Immune To Fracking

You can’t build a condo in Denver’s City Park or Washington Park, but you could frack them with the Governor’s blessing

The state’s present 500-foot set-back rule would allow a pad with 20 wells or more to be drilled in Denver’s City Park with Governor Hickenlooper’s support, since, in his opinion, as a former oil and gas industry geologist, the rights of mineral owners are superior to those of other citizens and even local governments, themselves.  He also claims fracking is safe despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, as noted above.

Denver’s other iconic park, Washington Park could also be fracked under the present setback requirements—visualize, if you will, twenty wells on a five acre pad near the center of the park where presently residents lawn bowl on manicured grass lanes. And, near the very spot where the old and magnificent Hawthorne tree brought from Mount Vernon stood for over a hundred years.

Innocent looking Lawn bowling pad in Washington Park.  Someday a pad for 20 wells???

Under 112, both parks would be saved. City Park, at about one square mile, could otherwise, from the 2500 setback perspective, accommodate a five-acre well pad at its center with 20 or more wells extending 4 miles into adjoining neighborhoods.  The setback requirement from the lake at the park, however, could not be met.

Washington Park would also be saved.  Though South High School at the south end of the park, and the expensive condos at the north end would both be over 2500 feet from the center of the park.  Its two lakes and its relative narrowness would save it under Prop 112.

Conclusion:

While admittedly hypothetical, the fracking of Denver’s two largest and oldest parks is not outrageously speculative or hyperbolic.  Both parks, like the city itself, are underlain by the same shale formation (Niobrara) being fracked north and east of the city.  They have not been fracked because they do not yet support the infrastructure needed to get the product to markets, namely a warren of underground pipelines and above ground storage facilities.  It is also thought to be not as rich in deposits as other areas or the Niobrara to the north.  But make no mistake, if we do not move toward renewables for our electricity with deliberate speed, these iconic public landmarks could become sacrifice zones to our need for more oil and gas.

The appropriation of public open space has already happened in many urbanized areas to the north of Denver where dedicated open space has been surrendered to the frackers with the blessings of the state’s agency, the COGCC.  It is given dictatorial powers by the legislature over all things oil and gas in the state.  Recently for example, four open space parcels in Boulder County were awarded to the oil industry as well sites for fracking.  The people of Boulder County have spent an estimated $100 million protecting land for themselves and future generations through ballot measures to buy and protect open space.  Many other counties have made similar public investments.

What this award by the COGCC amounts to is the state appropriating public park land for the frackers, at basically no cost to them, after the people have already bought it to protect it from development.  Talk about a dipsie doodle in double dealing!  The county is reluctantly suing on behalf of its citizens, but clearly, under the right administration and weak local leadership, the parks in all cities, are fair game for the oil industry.

Understanding and sympathy are important for democracy to work.  Please vote for 112 in defense of your fellow citizens and our public places.

 

Industry Propaganda: If I can’t drill in your neighborhood, or next to your school, you are putting me out of business!

 

Only days after the oil industry and the governor found out that over 170,000 Colorado registered voters had signed petitions to get Proposition 112, nee Initiative 97, on the November ballot, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission came out with an announcement that Proposal 112 would make 85 percent of the private land in the state unavailable to drilling.

Fact 9: Prop 112 Is A Setback, Not A Ban

First of all, drilling is done underground not on the surface.  It is called drilling for a reason, after all. The well laterals are 2 to 3 miles long and usually run in opposite directions underground from the well pad on the surface.  The distance between laterals is set at about 500 feet so that they do not intercept each other and wreck production.  The area underground that can be fracked from one well pad is from 2560 acres (20 wells covering an underground area 1 mile by 4 miles) up to 7680 acres (40 wells covering an underground area 2 miles by 6 miles).

40 wells proposed by Extraction Oil and Gas next to homes in Weld County.  But for the luck of the draw one of the many homes in this birds-eye view could be yours.

We are being asked to believe that a 5 to 10 surface acre footprint could not be reasonably found sufficient to mine an underground area of up to 7680 acres. If you wanted to drill the entire state, all 100,000 square miles of it, you would need only about 8300 well pads.

To be sure, sighting of surface wells will become more restrictive under 112 since wells can’t be drilled next to our homes, our parks and open space, or our water ways, but it is simply an incredible claim that the industry would be put out of business, since the surface area required to drill 7680 acres is well less than 1 tenth of one percent of the underground footprint. This is the biggest lie, and the lie most often repeated.

And keep in mind that even with a 2500 setback drilling might still be possible in City Park if the people hadn’t had the good fortune to have a lake on the premises.  So why aren’t 5 to 10 acre footprints possible in less populated areas, which, if the census can be believed, is almost all of Colorado?

Sure, Proposition 112 will make it almost impossible to drill next door to little Dick and Jane or Adalberto and Esperanza. Or, drill next to a pond where you sometimes go to take a walk in the park or go simply to gaze.

But 112 will not do away with the industry.  Its own economics, however, may just do that. Fracking has never been profitable.  It has been kept alive with billions upon billions of dollars of borrowed Wall Street money on the promise to investors that someday it might be.  This is a bet that Vegas would not post odds on.

 

Fact 10: Federal Land Is Not Affected

About 36 percent of the state is federal land.  This land will not be affected by Prop 112.  Much of it is underlain by shale deposits. Several years ago only about 30 percent of the federal land leased to the oil industry had been developed and was producing oil and gas.  It seems there is plenty of opportunity for more drilling, especially since the Trump administration wants to lease more without regard to the impacts to how and where we live.
A map of Colorado, with U.S. National Forests highlighted in red. The light green is other Forest Service land (National Grassland), yellow is BLM land, dark green is National Park, brown is National Monument or National Historic Site, pink is Indian reservation. The reddish lines are Interstate HighwaysDavid Benbennick made this map with data from nationalatlas.gov. The map uses the azimuthal equidistant projection, centered on (-105.7167, 39.1333) (degrees latitude, longitude).

Fact 11: Existing Wells Are Not Affected

The 50,000 producing wells in the state will not be affected by 112.   In less than two years, newer wells lose about 85 percent of their original production. So, like the Red Queen of Lewis Carroll, industry operators have to drill more and more just to stay in place.  It is the industry’s Achilles heel.  Being forced by depletions out of its most productive areas, the industry may have to move into urban areas along the front range, and even Denver itself.

(Photo from Daily Camera, April 2017.)

Existing wells in the front range shown by red dots.

 Fact 12: The Impact On Jobs Is Minimal

Industry Propaganda: Prop 112 would cause the loss of 200,000 jobs in the state, cause economic collapse, destroy schools, and make the state a backwater.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the category, Mining and Lumber, which includes coal mining, hard rock mining, lumber harvesting, sand and gravel mining, and oil and gas employs about 30,000 people statewide, or less than 1 percent of the state’s total jobs.  The actual number of oil and gas jobs within that category is about 11,000 jobs.  All jobs are important, of course, but the fracking industry is not the employer the industry advertises itself to be, not even fractionally.  The 200,000 number it throws around apparently includes all secondary jobs, including bar tenders and even hookers. Secondary jobs would remain, even increase for solar alternatives, with a possible reduction in hookers.

By comparison, about 17,000 people are employed directly in solar and wind energy jobs, according to a June report by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).  Another 40,000 people work in clean energy jobs such as energy efficiency, electric car sales, etc.  Jobs in this sector will continue to grow as capital continues to desert fossil fuels and embrace renewables, and as investors become ever more leery of fossil fuels as a safe investment.  This is particularly so since renewables with storage are already cheaper than fossil fuels, with few to none of the environmental outfall such as oil pads in neighborhoods.  On this, people as diverse as noted economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and retired chair of the Rocky Mountain Institute, physicist Amory Lovins, agree.  The latest report from the IPCC, issued just days ago, makes the move away from fossil fuels an imperative if we wish not to reap the whirlwind.

Fact 13: Oil Is A Minor Economic Driver

Another federal agency, The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says the industrial sector (mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction) contributes about 4 percent to the state’s GDP.  While this is significant regionally, it cannot be honestly labeled a driving force in the state’s economy.

 

As far as the Colorado economy, we didn’t do a tailspin when fracking was curtailed, beginning at the end of 2015, when oil prices dropped.  In fact, in the first quarter of 2016, Colorado was 4th in the nation for GDP growth.  Our growth was 3% and related to real estate, construction, and agriculture.

States that depended on O&G saw contracted GDPs.  “The slump in oil and gas contributed to contractions in two states. North Dakota’s real GDP dropped 11.4 percent and Wyoming’s fell 4.9 percent. ” (Denver Post article

Fact 14: Severance Taxes Have Recently Been Near Zero

Information published on the Colorado General Assembly website shows how volatile revenue from severance taxes is.  (Colorado Severance Tax) Unlike the clams in the ads from Oil and Gas, instead of raking in money, Colorado is at the whims of a unsteady industry. And get this:  wells producing up to 15 barrels per day (oil) or 90,000 cubic feet per producing day (gas) are exempt and these companies can take a property tax credit of 87.5% of all property taxes paid except those imposed on equipment and facilities used for production, transportation, and storage.

Fact 15: Water Use For Fracking Is Not Sustainable

 Industry Propaganda:  Fracking uses little water.  The industry and its apologists are fond of saying fracking uses but a fraction of what is used by agriculture in this state.

Fact:  Fracking uses a significant amount of water.  For example, with the longer laterals now being employed by the industry each frack job calls for about 10 million gallons of fresh water to be mixed with sand and chemicals. From a water planning perspective, the water used to frack one well is equal to the domestic needs of 300 people or more for one year. Anadarko is even bragging that its new fracking technique calls for even greater water and sand (propant) use.

According to a recent Duke University study, water use for fracking in the U.S. increased by 770 percent between 2011 and 2016. One estimate has the industry’s water use equal to the daily flow of water over the American side of Niagara Falls.

Commerce City is threatened with about 220 new wells.  If these wells were to be drilled using 2-mile laterals, a reasonable assumption, the water required would approach, in volume, the 2.7 billion gallons the city uses annually, or 8300 acre-feet. (Note: because in water planning the volumes often run into the trillions of gallons an acre-foot is often used as a more workable measurement.  An acre-foot is equal to 326,000 gallons and would fill a football field with water one foot high,) Actually, from a water resource standpoint, the industry’s impact is much greater since the water it uses is so poisoned it must be taken out of the hydrologic cycle; whereas better than 50 percent of the water used  domestically gets back into the system after treatment or runoff to be used again downstream.

The threat to Commerce City’s drinking water is understood to be even greater when one factors in that the city get almost half of its water supply from shallow alluvial wells.   Spills and groundwater contamination are a commonplace with fracking.

All other cities along the front range where backyard fracking is threatened and supported by state and local government are under similar threat.

Statewide the COGCC has about 5,500 drilling applications up for approval.  If these wells were all drilled in the coming year, and 90 percent were horizontal wells measuring 2 miles or longer, the water requirement would nearly equal that of Denver and environs.  Denver Water, the city’s publicly owned water purveyor, serves almost 1/4 of the state’s total population of over 5 million people.  It supplied about 200 thousand acre-feet of treated water in 2016, page III-3.  Clearly, continued destruction of the public’s most valuable resource on this scale is unsustainable and must be stopped.

Sand requirements are massive:  the average fracked well can use over 4 million pounds of sand to keep open cracks so oil and gas can escape to the surface through the piping in the horizontal frack.  Most of it is imported form Wisconsin by rail.  Since sand weighs about 12.5 pounds per gallon, try to visualize a sand pile large enough to hold 320,000 gallons of sand, again roughly a football field covered in sand about a foot deep.  With 20 or more wells on a pad, visualize a football field covered in 20 feet of sand.  The mind numbs at the volumes of material required to frack.

Chemicals required are massive: The EPA reports over 700 different chemical have been used to frack, many of which are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife.  The industry claims their use is insignificant since chemicals constitute only .5 to 2 percent of the total mixture.  But at 10 million gallons of water per frack, that’s a lot of chemical brew—from 50,000 to 200,000 gallons.   With 20 or more wells on a pad, the question begins to rise as to why the frack site shouldn’t be required to be licensed as a chemical factory?

Fracking is safe, Until It’s Not

Well blow out in 2013 near Windsor, Co.  Industry responder at the site us dressed in a hazmat suit.  First responders were local fire fighters.  Having no knowledge of the chemicals and health dangers they were facing, they were dressed in normal fire fighting gear.  The waste from the cleanup was sent to the local municipal landfill without examination for radioactivity or other health dangers common to fracking waste.

Waste Disposal, A Big Red Flag: The liquid toxic waste from fracking was exempted as a hazardous waste in the Bush II administration.  This exemption allowed the industry’s disposal costs to be socialized.  The Obama administration let it stand without so much as a peep. As a result, the liquid waste from fracking is not sent to hazardous waste disposal sites, which would be prohibitively expensive, but allowed to be reinjected into deep groundwater reservoirs containing water too brackish to be potable without extensive treatment.  Most of these wells, called Class II wells, are old played out oil wells.  Something in the neighborhood of 400 are reportedly being used for toxic waste disposal.

Recent studies show that for every gallon of oil produced 10 gallons of liquid toxic waste is also produced.  Indeed the volume of toxic waste requiring disposal has increased in the U.S. by 1,440 percent in the last half decade.

Some sense of Colorado’s potential waste stream from fracking can be gained by knowing that for each fracked well about 50 percent of the fracking liquids come back up immediately at completion.  Liquid waste continues to come to the surface over the life of the well and must continue to be disposed of.

As related earlier, about 5,500 drilling permits are before the COGCC.  If 90 percent are horizontal fracks using laterals 2 miles and longer, the immediate waste stream would be about 80,000 acre feet of liguid toxins that would have to be disposed of during 2019.  The initial disposal from these wells exceeds Commerce City’s annual water use by ten times.  Clearly, such a wacky, state endorsed, procedure is unsustainable and a real threat to our environment and water safety.

For emphasis as to the long-term dangers, a 2016 study of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota disclosed that:

‘Thousands of oil and gas industry wastewater spills…have caused “widespread” contamination from radioactive materials, heavy metals and corrosive salts, putting the health of people and wildlife at risk…. Some rivers and streams… now carry levels of radioactive and toxic materials higher than federal drinking water standards as a result of wastewater spills…”

This study describes the surface impacts from spills.  The chance that at some future date, if not already, the waste being injected into our underground reservoirs will migrate to contaminate drinkable groundwater and surface water, even, seems almost 100 percent.

Fracking is safe, Until It Isn’t

A tanker dumping frack liquid waste on private farmland in Weld County.  It’s cheaper than hauling to an injection site, and since the industry is licensed to determine if its waste is toxic on not, it is fully allowed under what the Guv calls the strongest regulations in the nation.  Pity the nation.

Summary:  The great American writer and naturalist, Loren Eisley said that: “If there is magic on this planet, the magic is in water.”  Clearly the oil industry is unacquainted with Eisley, and the politicians, frankly, don’t seem to give a damn.

Note: to better assess the maximum potential impact on water from fracking, as throughout this fact sheet, the volumes and recipes used have been in the upper ranges of actual uses to better judge the worst case scenarios. This is a perfectly legitimate approach and one to be preferred when assessing potential human and environment risks. In the near future, if the industry doesn’t go belly up first of its own discordant greed, the numbers used here could become under estimates, since the industry has learned that hugely industrial sites of 40 wells or more reduce its costs, but not nearly to the point where it can make a profit.

 

 

More to come——–

Wendell Bradley’s recent paper on fracking disposal procedures – a must read.

Safe Release of Colorado’s Radioactive E&P Waste

Commercial Landfills in Colorado have been advised that disposal of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production (E&P) waste is not exempt from Colorado Solid Waste Regulations (1), for example, 6 CCR 1007-2.  Disposal of fracking waste is a nation-wide problem.

 

Fracking’s vertical/horizontal drill tailings, flow-back/produced water, scale, and filter socks are all almost certainly radioactive at levels unacceptable for ordinary landfills.  Pipe and tank scale exceed acceptable release levels the most due to their continuous build-up of waste (2).

 

Each oil-well completion destroys from 5 to 10 million gallons of fresh water (Sci Am, July 2015)–permanently removes it from the hydrologic cycle by deep-injection, waste-disposal wells; the lesser value if recycled once. Such injection is necessary because frack waste water is radioactive and otherwise dangerously polluted (benzene, biocides, formaldehyde, etc).  Local Operators may or may not use filter socks, thus recycle their frack water.  Water recycling is a typical claim, however, to deflect criticism of egregiously wasteful practices in a water-sensitive region.

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Be The Change Writes Third Response to the Firestone Explosion

Dear Governor Hickenlooper:

Following the Firestone tragedy in which two young men were killed, a young son was left without a father, and his mother, the wife of one of the men, was seriously injured, we asked that you establish an independent committee to investigate the causes of that gas explosion and determine the risks of recurrence.

We made that request in two letters dated May 2 and 3, 2017.  They are attached for your reacquaintance.  We have had no reply.  Indeed, it appears you are still committed to allowing the industry to investigate and judge its own accident.

In this nation, industrial accidents are investigated by independent government entities to determine their cause and any corrective action needed to protect the public.  Negligence is not ruled out as a contributing factor until all the facts are known.  That approach needs to be adopted in this case.  You must abandon your hands off, “business friendly” regulatory approach.  The facts demand it.

Indeed, we question the adequacy of Anadarko Petroleum closing down 3000 vertical wells, most of which are low producing wells, since the shut downs result in only a 3 percent loss in overall oil and gas production for the company.  This “abundance of caution,” as they term it, smacks a little of the wolf in granny’s clothes.  They would have us believe that the problem is with old vertical wells, when in fact, the new, industrial-size, horizontal wells, 10 to 40 wells on a pad, pose an even greater threat to public safety, in our estimation.  Size matters, and all wells grow old and eventually leak, as even the industry admits.  In our opinion, all operations, old and new, and not just pipelines from old wells, need to be independently evaluated.  The issues are gas leakage, pipeline alignment and maintenance, and well proximity to humans.  All must be independently evaluated for the risks they pose to the public, especially those living close to the industry’s infrastructure, i.e., wells, pipelines, and storage facilities. Continue reading

Phil Doe summarizes Colorado’s latest legislative session as ‘nothing of value’

The Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado

After 5 months of doing nothing of value, although spending millions in the furtherance thereof, the Colorado legislature closed up shop last month.  The people should demand a refund for nonperformance, but instead they will have to ante up more money to pay legislators and other top state and county officials.  The wages of nothingness are great.  In 2019 the legislature will award itself a 41 percent pay increase; the governor a 39 percent increase.

Pay increases for top-of-the-pyramid public servants had already been realized in Weld County, the epicenter for the fracking wars in Colorado.  There, the county commissioners received a 37 percent increase in pay to $120,000, plus retirement and health benefits.  Later, as antidote to the red-faced disease, the salary was scaled back to $105,000, only a blushing increase of 17 percent.

The average salary of teachers in Weld is $37,000.

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Be The Change Writes Second Response to the Firestone Explosion

Photo from One News Page

 

Subject: Second request for an independent investigation of the causes of the Firestone explosion and the risks of reoccurrence 
5/3/2017

Dear Governor:

We appreciate that you are taking the risks associated with the Firestone explosion seriously.  And while we are loath to play the dog in the manger, we think your response as presented in the Denver Post has weaknesses borne of your need to respond to the public outcry in a timely manner.

We again request, as in our original letter of 2 days ago, an independent investigation.  We think the public’s interest can only be served in this way, with an independent investigative panel empowered to hold hearings and gather information free of any outside influences.

Government’s first and primary function, as you know, is to protect public health and safety. That responsibility cannot be shunted off to the oil and gas industry. Such a regulatory formulation, given the circumstances at hand, is unacceptable.  Indeed, in our opinion, oil and gas’s control of the playing field contributed to this disaster, and we are not convinced that their economic interests will allow them to be disinterested investigators.  In fact, the concept is laughable.  Think of Upton Sinclair’s expose of the meat packing industry in The Jungle as instructive.
Thus, our recommendations are as follows:

It seems highly unlikely that Anadarko, with its after-the-fact claim to be closing its lines out of an “abundance of caution,” can be relied upon to clean up what some observers believe is an Augean mess.  For instance, we do not understand why Anadarko would not have analyzed the reasons for production shortfall and taken corrective steps if gas production was below anticipated or historical levels when the Firestone well was reopened.  If any reasonable analysis were undertaken, wouldn’t they have discovered the open valve to the old line they somehow forgot(?) to close?

Our citizen experts think it was more likely a problem with the cement-on-steel seal–an integral part of every well construction that chronically fails over time and for which no solution exists.  How a leaky well seal, a commonplace, especially on older wells, and an open valve to an abandoned line may have intersected in creating the tragedy is unknown, but should be investigated thoroughly. This odd and suspicious coincidence, combined with the chronic well seal problem, should cause any reasonable person to ask how many wells are there out there that have closed off or abandoned lines, and how safe are the seals and valves at the wells that close off those old lines?  Indeed, how safe are the seals and valves at wells to working lines?  What is the life expectancy of well seals and valves? What are industry SOPs on inspection and replacement? We cannot and should not let the industry answer these questions absent independent public oversight.

There are other open questions as well, but this is front and center at the moment given what has been reported in the press. Corrosion of old lines also worries us.  What protections are in place to insure that old lines, thought to be steel, are still safe? And what is the life expectancy of the steel lines and the newer plastic lines?   And of course there is the overarching question of when is the state going to address the total lack of inspection of gathering lines and transport lines, of which there are many thousands of miles?  It shakes our confidence further when the COGCC’s Director Matt Lepore tells us they don’t have good information on the location, age, and disposition of oil and gas supply lines in the field.

I don’t think it is wild eyed to suspect either a cover up to keep wells working or something approaching criminal negligence.  This rush to final judgment without hearings in which technical experts can add to the fire department’s assessment is unseemly.  Moreover, Matt Lapore’s assurance another incident is unlikely to occur doesn’t carry weight.  He is a lawyer, not an expert, engineer, or scientist with deep technical knowledge.

The ringing question is still, what is the risk this incident exposed, what holes did this incident expose in the state’s regulatory framework, especially with regard to seal, valve, and pipeline inspection and safety, and what standards are used or should be used to assess risk?  The public in fracked cities and communities, from experience, have no confidence in the COGCC or Director Lepore.

Government has to take this lack of confidence seriously.   After all, government’s first constitutional duty, as we said at the outset, is to assure the public’s health and safety.  Until an independent risk assessment is made, and independent experts can review the information and the decision process, it will continue to look and smell like a quick burial of public concern, coinciding with the burial of the two young men killed tragically by an incident that government assures us is unlikely to reoccur.  We are not persuaded, and with good reason.

Finally, we welcome your understanding that there is a giant loophole in the state regulations regarding developers.  The oil and gas industry, without a request for variance, which can be granted, must observe setbacks of 500 feet from homes and 1000 feet from schools, hospitals, and some other high occupancy buildings.  Yet this standard is not applied to developers.  Forget for the moment, as the COGCC recognizes, there is no scientific evidence to support the present industry setbacks–they are simply cosmetic and in response to public alarm–how can the state look the other way in allowing setbacks of only a 150 feet for developers in some instances, and maybe none at all, in others? In fact, our intelligence is that some houses have been built over old abandoned wells and gathering lines.

Is the issue here public safety and the protection thereof, or is government trying to placate the developers at the same time it is playing a different placating game with the oil industry and yet another placating game with homeowners, city and county governments, and others sitting on top of various oil and gas infrastructure??  Your promise that the state will look at this loophole is not convincing.  If the 500 and 1000-foot setbacks are minimums for the oil industry, how can they be any different for the developers?  That loophole should be closed without delay if indeed it is the public’s health and safety we are interested in.

Thanks you for your attention, and we look forward to your reply,

Phillip Doe
Environmental Director
Be the Change

Be The Change Responds to the Firestone Explosion

Denver Post May 2, 2017

 

In an open letter to Governor Hickenlooper, Be The Change Environmental Director, Phil Doe, responds to the house explosion that occured in Firestone on April 17th. Below is the complete text of the letter.

 

Dear Governor:

Almost two weeks ago two young men were killed and a woman, the new wife of one of the men, was critically injured when the couple’s home exploded in Firestone, Colorado.  Eight days later Anadarko shut 3000 wells in the general vicinity of the destroyed home. Late last week, in the wake of the Firestone disaster, Great Western Oil and Gas shut down 61 of its wells with product pipelines that are within 250 feet of occupied buildings.

Our chief concern with the Firestone tragedy is that the state will cover up, disguise, or sanitize the findings, that it will not be honest with the people, that it will actively work to shelter the industry.  Neither the Firestone fire department, with its limited technical resources, nor the state oil and gas commission should be in charge of this critical investigation.  Thus, we ask that you call for an independent investigation by a disinterested scientific body, beholding to neither local nor state government. Dwindling public trust demands swift and strong state action.

This request is not overkill.  In 2013, after the Poudre Valley flood, the state, with little to no independent information of its own, rubber stamped the industry’s declaration that despite numerous oil and gas facilities being flooded, with some being carried down river, the event resulted in minimal damage, with little risk to the public’s health or safety. Similarly, the state and its chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, have discounted two studies from the Colorado School of Public Health which document significant increases in leukemia and birth defects among individuals living near oil and gas wells.

We do not want these intemperate denials cavalierly repeated.  Fugitive gas leakage into homes and businesses constitutes a dangerous and apparently imminent threat to the public’s health and safety.  Blind deference to industry must cease.  Colorado must accept its constitutional obligation to, first, protect public health and safety.  Only an independent investigation will give the public confidence its interests are being protected.

Sincerely,

Phillip T. Doe
Environmental Director, Be the Change

Phil Doe responds to pro-fracking editorial

The following letter, written by Phil Doe, is a rebuttal to Peter Moore’s guest editorial, Maintain Colorado’s reasoned approach to developing energy resources

 

In fiction there is a thing called the unreliable narrator because what he relates is fantastical and lacks substantiation. Peter Moore is one of those unreliable narrators.

 

Colorado does not have the strongest fracking rules in the nation. The strongest rules are those that ban the practice. New York is but one of those states. Indeed, whole nations have banned the practice out of public health concerns

 

Moore assures us it is only tree dwelling Yahoo environmentalists who have opposed the oil industry’s rule of the state. Actually, it is the families threatened by oil wells in their backyard and schoolyards who form the backbone of the resistance.

 

Moore claims voter approval of industry sponsored Amendment 71, which denies the public the right of majority rule on constitutional issues, settles the matter. He fails to mention that the industry spent over $27 million in a extended propaganda campaign to achieve this result.

 

He also fails to mention that as a corporate lawyer he founded Vital for Colorado, an oil and gas front group, and that Vital contributed $655,000 to Amendment 71 funding.

 

Phillip Doe

Environmental Director

Be the Change USA

Oregon-based LNG Export Project fosters fracking in Colorado

Southern Oregon is under attack. The natural gas industry is proposing the Jordan Cove LNG Export Project and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline {JCPC} which will be 100% dependent on fracked gas from both the Canadian and U.S. Rockies, especially  Colorado.

Veresen, Inc., a Canada based corporation proposed to build an LNG export terminal at the Port of Coos Bay, Oregon and an accompanying 36-inch 230+ mile high pressured natural gas pipeline across Southern Oregon. The pipeline will traverse some of the most pristine lands in the United States, cross more than 400 water bodies, and cause the loss of hundreds of acres of old-growth forests and impact numerous endangered species on land, in our rivers and our coastal waters. The company has threatened private landowners with eminent domain to take their properties; I am one of those landowners. In addition to the terminal and pipeline, the project requires the construction of a power plant [South Dunes Power Plant] that will become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the State of Oregon and tie local rural communities to a fossil fuel economy for decades to come.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied JCPC in March of 2016. Project owner Veresen, Inc., a Canada based corporation has filed an appeal requesting that FERC reconsider its decision. FERC’s last action was a tolling order, which is a decision to re-examine it’s previous rejection. To date FERC has taken no action. When they do, we hope they deny the project, but we need Coloradan’s help to ensure this happens.

Currently the only voices being heard in Colorado are those in favor of the project. In recent months Veresen has spent considerable time and energy soliciting Colorado local governments and industry entities to contact and lobby FERC in support of the project. Many Colorado government entities and businesses have responded; Garfield County Commissioners letter is the most recent. Veresen has been successful in soliciting an outpouring of letters in support of fracked Colorado gas for the Pacific Connector and Jordan Cove projects.

Oregonians have a very active and organized opposition group working hard each day to prevent this project from being built and do their best to thwart the efforts of Colorado’s pro-fracking interests. We need your help and your voices to join with us in opposition. I’m asking  your organization and its members to submit letters to FERC opposing the Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector projects.  FERC must be aware there is strong opposition in Colorado to the proliferation of natural gas for these Oregon projects. If there is no pipeline or export terminal, the demand for Colorado’s resources will decrease, in particular water and its growing use in the fracking industry.

Letters should be addressed to:

Chairman Norman C. Bay,
Commissioners LaFleur, Clark and Honorable
c/o Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE, Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426

Re: Docket Nos. 13-492-000; 13-483-000

 

Please help us.

In solidarity,

Stacey McLaughin
Myrtle Creek, Oregon

PIPELINE AWARENESS SOUTHERN OREGON

https://www.facebook.com/pipelineoregon