Category Archives: News

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

Be The Change USA denounces Colorado Supreme Court decision

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                   MAY 3, 2016

 

Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the rights of the people in Longmont and Ft Collins.  In so doing they ruled against the rights of all Colorado citizens to legislate on matters dealing with oil and gas development.

Under our state constitution, the right of citizens to legislate, Article V, has been termed a first right, superior even to that of the legislature’s.  The Court ignored this right in its decision.

The citizens in those cities, by means of direct popular vote, had attempted to postpone or ban oil and gas drilling within their city limits because of overriding public health and safety concerns.  These concerns are universally recognized as legitimate except in some political circles

The court also ruled that citizens have no inalienable rights as guaranteed in our Bill of Rights because the legislature had preempted those rights in the Oil and Gas Conservation Act.  By this legislation, those rights belong to a small state agency, the COGCC, that works primarily to encourage oil and gas development.

Phil Doe, Environmental Director for Be the Change said: “If your ears don’t prick up at this decision, then you need a good ear doctor.  Cut away the lofty language used to disguise greed and plunder, and what the court said is that we have no inalienable rights when it comes to oil and gas development.  The legislature took those rights and gave them to their true friends on 16th Street.  This will not stand.  The power structure can only steal from us if we let them.”

Barbara Mill-Bria, Be the Change’s president said: “This may be a long hot summer. You can’t vote against the interests of the people over and over again without blowback.  The people are not happy waking up to find an oil rig in their back yard and being told they have no real say in the matter.  This is the opposite of democracy.”

Wes Wilson, Science Advisor, Be the Change, said: “You know, at some point people will start to understand that we’ve been sold a bill of goods.  Less than two percent of the state is in incorporated cities and towns.  Is there nowhere that Little Timmy and Maria are to be allowed to play without the threat of a gas well spewing poison on them.  Hell, apparently every acre in the state is up for grabs.  And the Supreme Court is in on the job.”

Dan Leftwich, attorney for Be the Change said: “Article V of the Colorado Constitution was amended in 1910 because the people were concerned about the corrupting influence of special interests in state government. That is the situation Colorado citizens are encountering today as special interests use the state’s power to preempt local communities from protecting their health, safety and the environment.  In Article V, the people reserved the power to pass legislation of every character, independent of the general assembly, precisely to put such decisions beyond the reach of the state. These fundamental rights cannot be preempted because they are superior to the powers of the legislature, the executive branch, and the municipal governments in which these initiatives were enacted.  These rights were not presented to the Supreme Court because the voters were not represented there, only the municipal governments that were opposed to these initiatives from the beginning.   As a result, the Court’s opinions issued today are not controlling precedent where the people’s right of initiative is raised as a defense.  Today marks a new chapter, not the end of these disputes.”

 

Contacts: Dan Leftwich,  720-212-0831(office), 720-470-7831 dan@minddrivelegal.com

Phil Doe, 303 949 6986, ptdoe@comcast.net

Phil Doe testifies in favor of HB 16-1310

Today, Be The Change Environmental Director Phil Doe testified in favor of Colorado HB 1310, which holds operators liable for oil and gas operations in the state. Below is Phil’s testimony:

 

We strongly support HB 16-1310.

Fracking is a dangerous industrial activity. A recently published scientific study, only five days old, gives added muscular support to this widely held and demonstrable assertion.

Reviewing nearly all the peer reviewed research papers on fracking published between 2009 and 2015, the authors of this new study found that:

1. 685 papers on the various health and safety aspects of fracking had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

2. 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes;

3. 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination;

4. and 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

This study did not treat seismicity directly, but it still gives added compelling evidence, if any were needed, of the danger associated with fracking, one of which this bill addresses. Moreover, HB 1310 moves in the direction of sanity and supports our state constitution’s admonition in the Bill of Rights concerning political power and to whom it rightfully belongs:

“All political power is vested in and derived from the people,… originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

The Oil and Gas Conservation Act is an abuse of this constitutional guiding principle, and this is really what I came here to say, for it steals away the people’s right to self determination and bestows it ignominiously on the oil and gas industry. If this were not true, if this had not been done, you would not have the growing rebellion by citizens in cities and towns threatened by fracking, and you would not have this bill before you today.

In summation, I implore you all to review a decision made by your legislative predecessors. They gave the COGCC the right of preemption. In so doing they took away the rights of the people to self-determination on all matter oil and gas. They acted unlawfully, unconstitutionally, in my opinion, for they effectively revoked the constitutional guaranteed right of the people to legislate directly through the initiative process, Article V–The right to determine by popular vote what is best for their city, neighborhoods, and, yes, even state.

Such an abridgement of rights cannot stand, for as Tom Paine correctly observed in the Rights of Man, “The strength of government and the happiness of the governed” is sustained only when the common people have freedom to “mutually and naturally support each other.”

Also, I would like to invite your attention to a very recent legal review of the whole initiative process and how the state has acted illegally to thwart the peoples right to direct democracy. The author is attorney Dan Leftwich. His brilliant paper can be found at : http://minddrivelegal.com/blog/

Phillip Doe
Environmental Director
Be the Change

Wes Wilson responds to Denver Post critique of HB1355

A few days ago, the Denver Post published an editorial – Colorado oil and gas bill deserves defeat – that urged legislators to defeat HB1355, which decrees that “local governments can determine where new industrial activities occur within their jurisdiction through zoning ordinances and resolutions.” In response, Be The Change’s Environmental Advisor – Wes Wilson – wrote the following letter:

 

The Post’s editorial board deliberately and doggedly continues to ignore health damages from fracking. Dr. Lisa McKenzie and her colleagues at the Anschutz Medical School demonstrated that living next to oil and gas wells in Colorado increases the chances of birth defects.1

Dr. Theo Colborn’s careful year-long study of toxic emissions from drilling found cancer-causing benzene, methyl chloride, and a host of other toxic gases that harm health.2 These toxic emissions were ubiquitous even among properly operating wells.

Governments must act to protect public health and safety, for these are its highest functions. Clearly, in satisfying these overarching concerns, government can and must restrain mineral rights development when health and safety are threatened. County commissions and city councils have the authority to restrict gravel mining to comply with their zoning rules to preserve property values and protect publlc safety. The regulation of the oil and gas industry must be subject to the same standards. Moreover, a takings claim under the 5th amendment would be difficult to demonstrate given the industry’s track record of being able to drill horizontally from to 2 to 3 miles out. Moreover, a claim of takings would be impossible to make given the present depressed price for oil and gas. These prices make fracking uneconomic and have much of this heavily leveraged industry sliding into default and bankruptcy. There is little likelihood this trend will change in the near or mid term.

Oil and gas production contribute to climate change; their toxic emissions damage the health of those living nearby; and most of the organic compounds that make Colorado’s Front Range unable to comply with federal ozone standards come from oil and gas operations. The editorial board at the Post must stop bobbing like an Ostrich, tell the people of the dangers associated with fracking, or lose its right to be a voice of the people. It has no right to lie, repeatedly, as a public voice. As a voice of corporate interests, it of course does.

1 Lisa McKenzie, et. al. Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306722/

2 Colborn, et. al., An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations, http://endocrinedisruption.org/assets/media/documents/HERA12-137NGAirQualityManuscriptforwebwithfigures.pdf

 

Wes Wilson, Environmental Advisor
Be The Change USA

Phil Doe makes impassioned plea to pass HB-1310

A few weeks ago, Be The Change’s Environmental Director, Phil Doe, testified in support of Representative Joe Salazar’s bill – HB-1310 – which shifts the balance of rights in split estates from mineral owners to the surface owners. The bill holds oil and gas operators strictly liable for damage to the health of the surface owner, to the land, and to earthquake damage caused by deep well injection.  The bill has passed the Colorado House and now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.

 

We very much support HB 1310.  It is deeply needed.  It moves in the direction of sanity and supports our state constitution’s admonition in the Bill of Rights concerning political power and to whom it rightfully belongs:

“All political power is vested in and derived from the people,… originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

The Oil and Gas Conservation Act is an abuse of this constitutional guiding principle, for it gives away the people’s right to self determination and bestows it ignominiously on the oil and gas industry.  If this were not true, if this had not been done, you would not have the growing rebellion by citizens in cities and towns threatened by fracking, and you would not have this bill before you today.

I spoke at the Greeley city council meeting the other night.  I was there to support the people’s right to determine what was best for the “good of the whole.”  The city council, by a 5-2 vote, voted for what was best for the property rights of a small fracking company headed by recent School of Mines graduates loaded down with speculative money from Wall Street.

The majority of the council, led by Mayor Tom Norton, asserted, tangentially, that the property rights of the few were superior to the rights of the many.  Individual speculative profits trumped citizen issues of public health and safety, or the good of the whole, if you will.

The growing contempt for government we find in this country derives from decisions like that seen in Greeley the other night.  The out of town speculator, pockets loaded down with out of town money got over two hours to make his case before the council.  The citizens, armed only with their concerns, were given 3 minutes apiece.

Finally, I implore you all to review a decision made by your legislative predecessors.  They gave the COGCC the right of preemption.  In so doing they took away the rights of the people to self-determination on all matter oil and gas. They acted unlawfully, unconstitutionally, in my opinion, for they effectively revoked the constitutional guaranteed right of Home Rule, Article V, the rights of citizens to determine what is best for their city and neighborhoods when the issue is of dominant local concern.  There is nothing more local than the threat of an oil well in your backyard, accompanied by the realization that the state has taken away your rights to petition the government.  Really, as it now stands, your only option is to move.  But who’d buy the property?

 

Phil Doe – Environmental Director, Bet The Change USA

 

O&G Task Force member slams COGCC rule-making

Jim Fitzgerald, a Bayfield rancher, activist, and member of Governor Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force, sent the following letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in response to  their current rule-making regarding the Task Force recommendations.

The Task Force was formed last year as part of a back-room compromise between the governor and Jared Polis, who in turn withdrew two ballot measures that would have increased drilling setbacks and given local governments a veneer of control over O&G operations within their jurisdictions.  In February, the 21 member Task Force sent the Governor nine recommendations regarding O&G operations in Colorado, which many regarded as ineffectual.

Here is the text of Jim’s letter to the COGCC:

 


 

Commissioners,
Consider this as comment on your current rulemaking about Task Force recommendations from a very disgruntled member of that Task Force. The issues you are currently considering are only a small portion of what you should be considering for adoption. The COGCC must consider all thirteen of the oil and gas task force proposals which received 11 or more votes from the 21 member task force.
Gwen Lachelt, the former chairwoman of the oil and gas task force told the Durango Herald (Oct 10) that the rules currently proposed by the COGCC “gut” the intent of the task force. Not only do they gut our intent, they simply disappeared 13 proposals which received positive votes from a majority of the task force. In order to understand how so many intelligent people could waste so much time in the production of something so useless, it’s important to describe the outrageous rigging of the process by the governor’s office.
The 21 members of the task force (including myself) were recruited and assembled under Executive Order B 2014 005. Section II E of that Order stated that: “Recommendations of the Task Force regarding new or amended legislation shall be made by a two-thirds vote of the membership.” It was understood by many , if not most of the members that any proposal that did not require new or amended legislation and which received a simple majority of support would be forwarded for consideration for a rulemaking by the COGCC. After several weeks of meetings, Mike King from the Department of Natural Resources informed our group that all proposals would need a two-thirds vote in order to be considered for adoption. There was no vote on this change. It was simply announced. Therefore when the Keystone Center issued the final report they made the bizarre decision to place 13 proposals which received 11 or more votes in the section of “Minority Report”. The result was that several important proposals to give local governments more standing have not been considered even when they had as many as 13 positive votes. Thirteen out of 21 is not a minority. (See recommendations #7, #12, 12a, and #2 for example.)There were several other important proposals with majpority votes which were excluded.
The governor has chosen to make a mockery of the entire Task Force purpose and process. There were many who chose to participate in that Task Force who did so with much skepticism about accomplishing a whole lot. But I believe that even the most cynical of us never thought that there would be such shameless manipulation to ensure an outcome that had been pre-decided. An outcome that did not reflect in any way the hard work and sincere effort that the majority of Task Force members put into this.

 

Jim Fitzgerald