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Mon, 2014-02-17 09:16Anne Landman
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Proposed Colorado Constitutional Amendment Would Let Cities Ban Fracking

Many Coloradans who have battled city-by-city to regulate fracking near their residential areas may get some relief under a proposed constitutional amendment that would give cities and towns the right to regulate business activities within their borders.

In January 2014, the Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN) submitted ballot language to amend Colorado's constitution, which would give municipalities the right to ban or regulate fracking and any other industrial activity — such as factory farming and hazardous waste disposal — within their borders.

The amendment would give local governments the right to enact laws “establishing, defining, altering or eliminating the rights, power and duties of for-profit business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from usurping or otherwise conflicting with the fundamental rights of people, their communities, and natural environment.”

Put concisely: the measure would make the will of cities and towns superior to the will of corporations. It would also permit cities to regulate any business that can put the health, safety and/or welfare of its inhabitants at risk.

The language of the amendment has been approved and it is now ready to go to Colorado's Secretary of State for a title assignment. It would need a minimum of 86,000 valid signatures for a spot on the ballot.

Were it to pass, it would eliminate lawsuits like those currently being brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association against Fort Collins, Broomfield and Lafayette, all of which have voted to ban drilling and fracking within their borders.

The proposal was originally called the “Community Rights Constitutional Amendment,” drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) at the request of the CCRN. Lafayette passed the first so-called “Community Bill of Rights” ordinance in the state in 2013, after citizens voted to amend the city's charter to make fracking illegal. 

Sun, 2014-02-16 07:00Anne Landman
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Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2014-02-11 17:28Anne Landman
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Colorado Communities Battle to Ban Fracking

Citizens in cities on Colorado's front range are pushing back against the fracking boom by passing ballot measures to either prohibit the practice or ban it temporarily.

The town of Longmont was the first in Colorado to ban fracking in 2012, when voters changed their city charter to prohibit it. Governor John Hickenlooper's administration then sued Longmont over their ban, claiming only the state has the authority to regulate drilling.

Despite the lawsuit, in 2013 even more Colorado cities passed anti-fracking ballot measures. Fort Collins passed a five year moratorium on fracking within city limits, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued Fort Collins over the measure less than one month after it passed. By a close vote, the city of Broomfield narrowly passed a ballot measure similar to Fort Collins'.

After a recount determined Broomfield's measure had passed by 17 votes out of more than 20,000 cast, COGA sued Broomfield, too, saying only the state can regulate drilling.

Boulder citizens voted 78 percent in favor of extending an existing moratorium on fracking by five more years, and by a margin of 60.1 to 39.9 percent, Lafayette voters amended their city charter to make fracking for energy development out-and-out illegal. COGA sued Lafayette, too, at the same time it sued Fort Collins.

So far, Boulder has escaped a lawsuit since there currently are no active wells there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), whose district contains all of these embattled cities, defended their efforts to ban fracking within their borders. Polis posted a YouTube video in which he tells COGA to stop their lawsuits, saying it's “unAmerican” for COGA to sue Colorado communities “just because they didn't like the outcome at the ballot box.”

Sat, 2014-02-08 10:47Anne Landman
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Colorado Senate Passes Split Estate Disclosure Bill on Unanimous Vote

bill requiring disclosure of a possible split estate condition upon the sale of residential property passed the Colorado Senate on January 24, 2014 in a unanimous vote.

The consumer protection and fracking-awareness bill orders sellers of residential property to disclose to buyers whether the surface of the property may be separately owned from the mineral rights beneath the land.

The bill also requires sellers to disclose any oil and gas-related activity that could possibly occur on or adjacent to the property, including drilling, surveying, oil or gas storage, well completion operations, or gas processing facilities.

The 2009 documentary “Split Estate” by Red Rock Pictures raised awareness of so-called “split estate” situations in which land owners in the Rocky Mountain region were completely unaware that they did not own the mineral rights to property beneath their land or homes. The movie showed families enduring tragedies after drilling operations suddenly sprang up next to their homes, including contamination of domestic water wells and springs, drilling rigs catching fire frighteningly close to their homes, and family members falling desperately ill after exposure to oil and gas exploration operations next to their residences.

Under the bill, the split estate disclosures would have to be listed in bold faced-type on the contract. If it passes the Colorado House and is signed by Governor John Hickenlooper, the measure will take effect just after midnight on August 6, 2014 – 90 days after the Colorado Legislature adjourns for the year. 

Tue, 2014-02-04 17:40Anne Landman
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Study Links Gas Drilling to Heart Defects in Babies

newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells.

The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time – 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado.

Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers' residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents.

Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production.

The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.

Fri, 2013-01-25 10:13Anne Landman
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FreedomWorks Continues Dick Armey's Defense of Big Tobacco

The third in a series about Dick Armey and his relationship to the tobacco industry throughout his career. See part one and part two.

In his last job as head of Freedomworks, Dick Armey became a more consistent and reliable ally for the tobacco industry for at least one of their pet issues: cigarette taxes.

Under Armey, FreedomWorks consistently took the tobacco industry's side by opposing cigarette tax increases. In 2005, FreedomWorks opposed a cigarette tax increase in Cook County, Illinois. In 2006, Armey and FreedomWorks opposed a cigarette tax increase in Hawaii. In 2007, FreedomWorks boasted about the effectiveness of a $12 million ad blitz by the tobacco companies aimed at killing a cigarette tax proposal in Oregon. In 2009, Armey spoke against cigarette taxes and FreedomWorks took positions opposing higher cigarette taxes. Armey also opposed a cigarette tax increase in Maine in 2011. In the meantime, Armey also continued using FreedomWorks to promote his flat-tax idea.

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