New pro-fracking group lacks CRED-ibility

Executives at Anadarko and Noble Energy are the board members and the Western Energy Alliance’s communications manager is the spokesperson for a new natural gas group in Colorado. The Center for Western Priorities takes a look at this group and asks the obvious question – is it willing to break ranks with the oil and gas industry, or is it just another empty mouthpiece.

A new industry-backed oil and gas group has sprung up in Colorado, and it’s calling itself CRED (Coloradoans for Responsible Energy Development). According to profiles in the Denver Business Journal and Greenwire, the group was created by top executives at two of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas players. CRED says its purpose is to correct Coloradans’ misunderstandings about the oil and gas industry. But, clever acronyms aside, the group is going to have to prove its CRED-ibility as an impartial, legitimate information source, before anyone’s going to take it seriously. That means acknowledging facts and taking positions even if they conflict with industry talking points.
– (CWP blog post, 9/10/13)

Read the full post and judge this new group for yourself.

Industry front group pivots to “If you can’t be right, be loud” strategy

It appears that Colorado oil and gas lobbyists are back to playing their old games of lies and misinformation.

Monday, the industry-sponsored, blatantly anti-science group Energy in Depth (EID) put out new propaganda in an attempt to distract from the truth of how damaging oil and gas operations are to western air quality. In an interesting twist, EID’s Simon Lomax chose to attack Denver Post environmental reporter Bruce Finley as a means of casting doubt on the studies and data Finley references in his stories. Lomox spent a great deal of time and a lot of column inches cherrypicking to try and refute the negative effects of oil and gas drilling pollution on air quality. Our favorite line here at C&BP is when Lomax blames trees for smog.

“…and, not for nothing, those percentages don’t even include the biggest source of smog-forming emissions, which is the “biogenic” category – meaning trees and other vegetation.”
– Simon Lomax, “What Bruce Finley Failed to Mention About Air Quality,” Jan. 29, 2013

EID is a front group that was launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) – a.k.a the natural gas lobby. It has a team that works in various energy producing states where citizens are rightly concerned about the impacts of oil and gas to clean air, clean water, and property values.

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It was disappointing to see that Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) CEO Tisha Schuller decided to insert her group into the theatrics. It was just over a month ago that Schuller began her “charm offensive,” announcing that she would tour Colorado in an attempt to depolarize the debate around drilling and fracking near communities. One way for her to do that would be to publicly distance herself and her organization from disinformation producers like EID. Instead, COGA retweeted EID’s claims.

Speaking of claims, here are a few other facts regarding fracking and air quality that EID would much rather the public wasn’t aware of.

  • According to the EPA, “Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas…oil and natural gas production and processing accounts for nearly 40% of all U.S. methane emissions, making the industry the nation’s single largest methane source.”
  • According to the EPA, “Some of the largest air emissions in the natural gas industry occur as natural gas wells that have been fractured are being prepared for production.”
  • CU’s Colorado School of Public Health determined that residents living within one half mile of natural gas wells are at greater risk for potential health problems.
  • The EPA has found emissions from drilling, including fracking, and leaks from transmission pipes, totaled 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011, second only to power plants.

Front groups like EID detract from the real conversation around fracking and drilling in the west. Unfortunately, it seems as if industry is turning to them out of fear, as more western communities move to install common sense protections for their residents. If people like COGA’s Tisha Schuller really want to have a depolarized conversation, they need to publicly distance themselves from groups like EID.

Instead, Schuller is doing what every other mouthpiece for Big Oil does, spreading lies and misinformation so that the oil and gas companies she represents can continue to pollute.

Gov. Hickenlooper a bad example on oil-and-gas issues

The cozy relationship between politicians and big business has been a fact of life in America since the days of the robber barons. Today, this affiliation is especially strong between certain governors and the oil and gas industry. And, the consequences could include drastic impacts on the health and safety of their constituents. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Colorado’s Gov.  John Hickenlooper.

Given that Colorado is the epicenter of both the gas boom and the controversy over its impacts, the governor has become a leading national figure on oil and gas. Earlier this year, Hickenlooper appeared in front of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing and stated that he drank fracking fluid, implying that it’s safe. Shortly after, he was forced to clarify that what he drank isn’t actually used commercially, stating that: “I don’t think there’s any frack fluid right now that I’m aware of that people are using commercially that you want to drink.”

It turns out that this wasn’t the last time that the governor would go to bat for the oil-and-gas industry. In fact, Hickenlooper has mastered the rhetoric of a concerned elected official, while at the same time working to help his billion-dollar oil-and-gas industry boosters cheat the rules that protect public health and water.

While Hickenlooper has claimed he would increase fines and hold industry polluters accountable, behind closed doors he helped weaken and kill legislation aimed at doing just that.

Case in point: the governor recently announced, with great pomp and circumstance, an initiative to make Colorado the “the healthiest state,” and created a safe drinking water week. Days later, and with far less fanfare, he successfully gutted legislation to hold oil-and-gas companies accountable when they pollute Colorado communities and water.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In January, Hickenlooper’s oil-and-gas commission put forth water testing rules criticized as weakest in the nation, which included the Anadarko-Noble loophole, a huge carve-out for two of the biggest oil-and-gas operators in Colorado.

The Anadarko-Noble loophole makes it easier for  billion-dollar oil-and-gas companies to pollute water in northern Colorado, an  area that’s home to some of the state’s most intense drilling and more than 25  percent of Colorado’s oil-and-gas wells. It’s also home to more than half of the most recent reported spills.

Hickenlooper’s lobbyists also worked to weaken fines for oil-and-gas companies guilty of polluting. They did this, despite the fact that Colorado already has lowest-in-the-nation fines and a well-documented problem with spills and water contamination.

In 2012, industry reported 402 spills in Colorado, 20 percent of which resulted in water contamination. Just six companies were responsible for more than 85 percent of all spills that contaminated water. Now, thanks to Hickenlooper’s efforts, these companies have even less incentive to stop polluting Colorado communities and water.

Hickenlooper has also rejected funding to increase the number of state oil-and-gas well inspectors. His Department of Natural Resources agency joined with the oil-and-gas industry to oppose additional resources to increase the number of inspectors – from 16 to 24 – for the state’s more than 52,000 wells.

The Hickenlooper administration also opposed reform efforts to increase transparency on the Colorado oil-and-gas commission. Oil-and-gas companies currently serve on the commission, which regulates their activities, posing serious concerns about conflicts of interest.

Finally, the Hickenlooper administration worked to block a public health study to see if fracking is making Coloradoans sick. Hickenlooper’s chief of public health and the environment, Dr. Chris Urbina, testified against the need for the study – which was supported by local residents and medical professionals.

Hickenlooper is, unfortunately, only one example of a state chief executive who seems to value his oil-and-gas donors over all others. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett and Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert have all displayed similar tendencies. These elected officials need to be held accountable for their actions; they need to put the health and safety of their constituents ahead of the profits of the billion-dollar oil-and-gas industry.

**Cross-posted from The Hill**

Gov. Hickenlooper fails to fine company responsible for toxic Parachute spill

Yesterday, Gov. Hickenlooper’s department of public health and environment (CDPHE) announced that they won’t levy fines against Williams Cos. for spilling 10,000 barrels of natural gas and toxic waste into Parachute Creek and the surrounding area in western Colorado.

Earlier this month, the Governor lobbied to water-down legislation to toughen fines for oil and gas companies who pollute, despite Colorado’s well-documented problems of spills, and lowest in the nation fines. The Governor’s actions ultimately led to the death of the legislation.

The Parachute spill, which occurred in the winter but wasn’t reported until the spring, has polluted water with cancer-causing benzene. In early May, benzene levels in the creek exceeded the federal safe drinking water standard.

In their statement, CDPHE said that they aren’t fining Williams because the spill “was not due to negligence but to accidental equipment failure.” So now Gov. Hickenlooper’s department of public health and environment only “protect[s] and improve[s] the health of Colorado’s people and the quality of its environment” part of the time? We didn’t find that caveat in their mission statement.

This isn’t the first time that the Hickenlooper Administration has failed to hold polluters accountable. A 2011 Suncor spill that polluted the South Platte River is still being cleaned up nearly two years later – and yet Suncor hasn’t been fined for dumping toxic levels of benzene into the river.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Hickenlooper Administration is fine with oil and gas companies polluting our water and communities with waste and toxins – otherwise, why not hold them accountable for polluting by enforcing fines?

Gov. Hickenlooper’s ‘order’ to oil and gas commission to review fines an empty gesture

Recently, Gov. Hickenlooper put on a masterful show of playing a politician who cares about Coloradans. Unfortunately, it was just an act to distract from the fact that Gov. Hickenlooper successfully killed efforts to set mandatory minimum fines and increase caps on fines for oil and gas companies that pollute.  

After killing these measures, aimed at holding polluters accountable, Gov. Hickenlooper put out a press release ordering his oil and gas commission to ‘review enforcement, fines.’ In other words, he directed his commission to take a look into their abysmal record and get back to him. That’s not leadership, it was an empty gesture to cover his tracks.

Gov. Hickenlooper’s press release doesn’t do anything to strengthen Colorado’s woefully outdated laws, which include the lowest fines in the nation for polluters.  And it’s doubtful that the governor’s oil and gas commission, which includes oil and gas industry employees, will suddenly become competent at holding oil and gas polluters accountable.  An analysis by the Denver Post found that Colorado rarely fines oil and gas companies who pollute. According to the Coloradoan, less than 7 percent of industry violations since 1996 have resulted in fines.

Site of Parachute spill Source: ecoflight

Site of Parachute spill
Source: ecoflight

Last year, the industry reported 402 spills, of which 20 percent contaminated water. Six companies alone accounted for 85 percent of all the spills that contaminated groundwater – Anadarko, Noble Energy, Encana, PDC Energy, WPX Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources.

Not only are polluters not held accountable, but Gov. Hickenlooper has routinely rewarded some of the biggest oil and gas polluters in the state. In 2010 and 2011, Noble Energy caused more spills than any other operator in Colorado – 126.  Yet, Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission gave Noble an ‘Outstanding Operator’ award.

Gov. Hickenlooper also gave Anadarko an ‘Outstanding Operator’ award in 2011, while last year, Anadarko subsidy Kerr-McGee was linked to 70 spills – more than any other operator – of which, 38 percent resulted in water contamination. With these awards, Gov. Hickenlooper has once again made it clear that he isn’t that interested in holding oil and gas companies accountable when they pollute.

Gov. Hickenlooper used the power of his office to kill stronger standards that would have held the oil and gas industry accountable when they pollute. He chose to put the interests of the industry ahead of what’s best for Colorado families and that’s a shame. Now, Gov. Hickenlooper is insulting Coloradans by acting as the concerned politician.

Five things Gov. Hickenlooper did to put oil & gas industry ahead of Colorado’s health and water

John-HickenlooperGovernor Hickenlooper likes to paint himself as an outsider, unfamiliar with the political process. But his recent actions to undermine public health, water safety – and basic common sense – have proven that Gov. Hickenlooper has become the ultimate insider – adept at helping his billion dollar oil and gas industry boosters cheat the rules, while playing the role of concerned official.

While Governor Hickenlooper has said the he’ll increase fines and hold polluters accountable, behind closed doors he’s actually been working hard to kill or weaken legislation aimed at doing just that.

Case in point: Governor Hickenlooper announces both his campaign for Colorado to be the healthiest state and safe drinking water week, then days later he successfully killed legislation to help protect water from toxic oil and gas spills.

Here’s are the FIVE THINGS Gov. Hickenlooper did to put the public health and water of Coloradans at risk and to make it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute.

  1. Issued the weakest water testing rules for oil and gas operations in the nation…with huge carve out for Anadarko and Noble.
    In January, Governor Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission put forth weakest in the nation water testing rules –which included the Anadarko-Noble loophole for two of the biggest oil and gas operators in Colorado and Weld County – and two of the state’s biggest oil and gas polluters.
    The Anadarko-Noble loophole makes it easier for billion dollar oil and gas companies to pollute water in an area in Northern Colorado that’s home to more than 25 percent of  Colorado’s oil and gas wells and more than half of the most recent spills reported.
    The result is that it’ll be harder to detect water contamination and to figure out which well(s) are the source of contamination in the region that needs these public safety standards the most. In 2012, industry reported 402 spills in state, of which 20 percent resulted in water contamination, and just last month, a huge spill near Parachute creek contaminated nearby soil and water with cancer causing benzene.
  2. Lobbied against efforts to hold oil and gas companies responsible when they pollute Colorado communities and water with toxins, waste.
    Governor Hickenlooper sent his lobbyists to the Capitol to weaken fines for oil and gas companies who pollute, despite the fact that Colorado has the lowest in the nation fines and a well-documented problem of spills and water contamination.  In 2012, 20 percent of all reported oil and gas spills resulted in water contamination and just six companies were responsible for more than 85 percent of all spills. And the Parachute spill – which has contaminated nearby water and soil with cancer causing benzene is now being investigated by the EPA’s criminal investigations division.
  3. Turned down money to increase the number of state oil and gas inspectors.
    Governor Hickenlooper’s Department of Natural Resources agency joined up with the oil and gas industry in opposition to additional resources to help making oil and gas drilling safer by turning down money to increase the number of inspectors, from sixteen to twenty-four, for the state’s more than 52,000 wells. That’s despite the state already being short-staffed on inspectors.
  4. Successfully blocked reform efforts to make the actions of the Colorado oil and gas commission more transparent.
    Governor Hickenlooper, along with the oil and gas industry, opposed legislation that would have made important systemic changes to Colorado’s oil and gas commission – the Natural Resources Department testified against the bill. Oil and gas companies currently serve on the commission, which regulates their activities, a direct conflict of interest.
  5. Worked to defeat public health study to see if fracking is making Coloradans sick.
    Governor Hickenlooper’s chief of public health and the environment, Dr. Chris Urbina, testified against a health study – supported by local residents and medical professionals – that would help figure out if Coloradans who live near fracking are getting sicker than those who don’t live near fracking.

Gov. Hickenlooper working overtime to bring toxic waste and pollution to your neighborhood!

A lot’s changed since 1955 when a gallon of gas was about 29 cents. One thing that hasn’t changed are Colorado’s fines for oil and gas drilling violations – despite a huge drilling boom and large increase in spills over the past several years. Under current law, most violations can’t be fined more than a $1,000 per day, with an overall cap of $10,000.

And it turns out that the state rarely enforces these laws. Analyses by the Denver Post and Fort Collins Coloradoan found that that state regulators rarely fine violators who pollute, and less than 7 percent of industry violations since 1996 have resulted in fines.

The Parachute Creek spill, caused by Williams, has polluted soil and water with cancer causing benzene and yet 56 days later, Williams has yet to be fined for polluting and risking public health.

Despite all of this, not only has Governor Hickenlooper failed to stand up for Colorado families and protect public health, but he’s actually working overtime to help make it easier for the oil and gas industry to pollute your water and communities.

According to a new report from the Center for Western Priorities, six oil and gas companies were responsible for 85 percent of all the spills that resulted in water contamination last year. Turns out that Governor Hickenlooper’s ‘besties’ Anadarko Petroleum subsidiary and Noble Energy, Inc. (of the Anadarko-Noble loophole) were two of the six big polluters.

Earlier this week, Fox 31 Denver reported that Gov. Hickenlooper watered down legislation to protect public health and water by strengthening oil and gas drilling violation fines.

Apparently, these laws just aren’t lax enough for Governor Hickenlooper and his oil and gas industry boosters. According to the Fox 31’s news coverage:

“Andy White, the governor’s [Hickenlooper] lobbyist on all oil and gas-related legislation…sided Friday with Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and stripped those provisions — the minimum daily fine and the removal of an overall cap on fees — from the bill before sending it to the Senate floor.”

Now the question is: Will the state legislature do the right thing – protect public health and water- by holding the oil and gas companies responsible when they pollute or will Gov. Hickenpuppet continue doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry to the detriment to Colorado families and communities?

Western Energy Alliance brazenly flubs facts in new poll

Western Energy Alliance is hard at work spinning their new survey, which underscores the lengths to which they’ll go to increase the profit margins of the billion dollar oil and gas industry – even when that means putting water, public health, and local communities at risk.

WEA announced their new poll a month ago, but just released the results today. Was it because they needed all that time to figure out how to spin the poll?

Unfortunately for WEA, since they included so many factually incorrect statements in the poll, they won’t be able to use their results for much other than spin sessions. And, this isn’t the first time that WEA and their vice president for government affairs, Kathleen Sgamma, haven’t been able to keep their facts straight or master basic grade school multiplication skills.

While WEA’s poll also spins that the public supports hydraulic fracturing, there are already 351 towns and cities across the U.S. that have taken action to limit or ban fracking within their borders.

Here’s a look at some of the most glaring factual errors from the WEA poll materials:

WEaccordingto-the-us-energy-information-administration-production-of-crude-oil-3A claim #1: “The government has prevented oil and natural gas development on federal lands, even though less than one-tenth of 1% of public lands is being used for oil and natural gas today.”

Facts: Both the federal government and industry has aggressively pushed to increase drilling activity on public lands. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, production of crude oil is at its highest level since 2002, and data from the Department of Interior show that oil production on federal lands was up 7 percent in 2012. This is despite the fact that nearly 21 million of the almost 39 million acres of public lands leased to the oil and gas industry sit idle.

WEA claim #2: The oil and gas industry do such a great job cleaning up lands where they’ve drilled that they’re considered wilderness, or pristine areas, post-clean up.

Drilling infrastructure in Wyoming. Source: EcoFlight.

Drilling infrastructure in Wyoming. Source: EcoFlight

Facts: Reports on reclamation efforts in Utah, Wyoming and New York have shown that:

  • restoration attempts often fail and create long-lasting problems that threaten western wildlife;
  • companies fail to provide adequately funded bonding, leaving behind billions in clean-up costs for states such as Wyoming; and
  • the oil and gas industry often fails to plug depleted wells – industry neglected to plug 89 percent of wells in New York.

In fact, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis pointed to a highly inadequate system for funding clean-up of oil and gas wells on public lands.

WEA claim #3: “Increased energy production of American energy from public lands will lead to lower energy costs for consumers.”

Fact: Unfortunately for WEA’s spin team, experts agree – from BusinessWeek to the Energy Security Leadership Council – that the global market actually drives consumer oil prices, not U.S. production levels, so increased U.S. drilling doesn’t lead to lower energy prices.

Polls are only worth the paper they’re printed on if they fail to relay facts in a straightforward and honest way. Clearly, Western Energy Alliance and the companies they represent such as Anadarko and Noble care more about spin than they do about facts.

Rep. Hullinghorst working to end Hickenlooper Anadarko-Noble loophole- which puts Colorado’s water at risk

Gov. Hickenlooper likes to tout Colorado’s oil and gas rules as a national model, saying that the state has found the middle ground on development. Unfortunately, his administration’s Anadarko-Noble loophole is another example of Gov. Hickenlooper putting the profits of the oil and gas industry ahead of Coloradans. The good news is that champions for local communities, like Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, are stepping in to try and fix problems like the loophole.  

The Anadarko-Noble loophole provides an industry exemption from state water testing rules – already criticized as weakest in the nation – in northern Colorado, despite the fact that this is where some of the most intensive oil and gas drilling operations are located.

The loophole weakens state water testing rules in the Greater Wattenberg Area – near homes and farms in Adams, Boulder, Larimer, and Weld counties - which is home to more than 25 percent of Colorado’s oil and gas wells and some of the most intense growth in drilling activity.

As a result, it will be harder to detect water contamination and to figure out which well(s) are the source of contamination in the very region that needs these public safety standards the most. That’s not good news for Coloradans. In 2012, industry reported 402 spills in state, of which 20 percent resulted in water contamination, and just last month, a huge spill near Parachute creek contaminated nearby soil and water with cancer causing benzene.

The Anadarko-Noble loophole is part of a disturbing pattern by Gov. Hickenlooper of putting oil and gas industry profits ahead of what’s best for Coloradans. Remember the industry paid-for-ad in which Gov. Hickenlooper claimed that Colorado hadn’t had a single instance of ground water contamination from oil and gas drilling, despite evidence to the contrary (58 cases of groundwater contamination in 2011 alone)? Or how Gov. Hickenlooper said his hands were tied for suing Longmont for protecting the health of its residents from fracking?

Today the Colorado House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee will consider HB 1316, legislation that would close the Anadarko-Noble loophole and take a step in the right direction towards protecting our water and our communities. Let’s hope that the committee members will be representing the Coloradans they were elected to serve and not Big Oil and Gas when they vote on HB 1316.

Fracking New York with Another Conflict of Interest: Ecology and Environment’s Frackonomics

A major player in New York’s fracking debate has been exposed as a member of one of the largest oil and gas lobby groups in New York. Ecology and Environment Inc. was hired as an “independent consultant” by the Cuomo Administration to assess the economic impacts of fracking in New York.

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On Earth Day 2013, a letter revealed Ecology and Environment to be a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, a pro-fracking lobbying group. This conflict of interest calls into question the integrity of the economic assessment completed for the state in 2011.

The Cuomo Administration hired Ecology and Environment Inc. to perform an economic analysis as part of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). According to the Democrat and Chronicle, “The DEC at the time said it had not done enough to study the economic impacts of fracking and said it had decided to engage ‘independent consultants to thoroughly research these types of effects.’”

As it turns out, Ecology and Environment Inc. was anything but “independent.” The company’s 2011 assessment raised eyebrows due to its surprisingly sunny economic outlook for fracking. Anti-fracking groups criticized the results because the assessment didn’t include local economic costs on roads or hospitals. DEC commissioner Joe Martens responded, saying he would ask Ecology and Environment to expand the study – but that work was never publicly completed

IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill wrote in the letter to Cuomo, “The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is—and has been—safe, good for our environment and for our economy. Our New ‘New’ York must now join the nation and embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development. We need your help.”

At the time the SGEIS was released, many were concerned that Ecology and Environment’s ties to the energy industry might have influenced their assessment. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said “This is not an objective analysis done in the public interest. They went to someone with whom they have a work relationship and that also does work for energy interests.”

This letter proves the worries were not unfounded.

As a member of an active pro-fracking lobby organization, Ecology and Environment does not have an objective view towards fracking and should never have been hired to contribute to the SGEIS.

New Yorkers Against Fracking is calling for Governor Cuomo to throw out the SGEIS, due to this and other conflicts of interest. They are asking for a “new, truly independent study that regains the public’s trust and ensures science and facts drive your decision.”

Getty Images / Kris Radder

Getty Images / Kris Radder

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