By Simon Watson, Professor of Wind Energy at Loughborough ...
Two Colorado legislators announced they are introducing a ballot initiative aimed at punishing cities and towns that vote to ban fracking within their borders.
Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, both Republicans, announced they will attempt to get an initiative on the ballot to block local jurisdictions from getting severance tax revenues or grants from Departments of Local Affairs as long as they have fracking bans or moratoria in place.
The state collects severance taxes on income derived from the extraction of non-renewable natural resources, like oil and gas, coal and metallic minerals. Severance taxes also help pay for programs administered by Departments of Local Affairs.
The legislators estimated it will cost about $150,000 to get the initiative on the November, 2014 ballot. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, they would need to gather approximately 86,000 valid signatures.
The lawmakers did not say why they chose a ballot initiative instead of just introducing legislation to achieve this goal, but it could be because they know chances are slim it would pass in Colorado's Democratically-controlled legislature.
Colorado has become the first U.S. state to pass rules regulating methane air pollution from drilling and fracking operations.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted 8-1 on Sunday, February 23, 2014 to require oil and gas companies operating in the state to start testing their pipelines, drill rigs, storage tanks, compressor stations and other sources of potential methane leakage on a monthly basis using new, more sensitive instruments like infrared cameras.
Companies will also be required to monitor, detect and repair leaks of other types of hydrocarbons, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They must also provide aggressive timelines for the repair of any leaks, and the new rules put stricter limits on emissions from drilling operations located near residential and recreational areas.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment expects the new rules to reduce VOC emissions in Colorado by approximately 92,000 tons a year, about equivalent to the amount emitted by all of the cars in Colorado over one year.
The new rules grew out of a collaboration between a coalition of environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund and three of the largest energy companies operating in the state: Noble Energy, Inc., Encana Corporation and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.
Some industry groups tried to weaken the rules by arguing they should only apply to more heavily populated areas of the state and not statewide, but the AQCC resisted efforts to water down the new rules and adopted them largely as they were written, citing overwhelming public support for reining in air pollution from the drilling industry.
The new rules may also boost employment in the state. A spokesman who testified before the AQCC on behalf of Noble Energy said it will cost the company $3 million and they will have to hire 16 additional people to comply with the new rules.
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.
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.
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.”
A 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.
A 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.