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.

Hickenlooper’s Fifth Misdeed: Recording a misleading radio ad for oil & gas lobbyists

In 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper recorded a misleading radio ad paid for by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. In the ad, the governor parses his words to make the claim that Colorado has not had a single instance of drilling and fracking contaminating groundwater, since 2008.

“In 2008, Colorado passed tough oil and gas rules. Since then, we have not had once instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” – Gov. John Hickenlooper

The records show that Gov. Hickenlooper’s claim is a nice, industry-friendly talking point. But, it’s entirely misleading when it comes to the facts about spills in the Centennial State.

A review of the Colorado Oil and Gas Information System shows that approximately 20 percent of all spills in 2012 resulted in water contamination; 22 of those spills impacted surface water, while 63 impacted groundwater. Fifty-seven percent of spills during the year occurred within 1,500 feet of surface water, and 28 percent of the spills occurred within 500 feet of surface water. Thirty-seven percent of spills – 147 of 402 – occurred less than 50 feet from the shallowest ground water, eight percent occurred between 50 and 100 feet from groundwater, and 9 percent occurred more than 100 feet from groundwater.

In June of this year, Bruce Finley at the Denver Post reported that, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Commission records, 179 oil and gas industry spills occurred in the state, just during the first half of 2013. In 26 of those spills, groundwater was contaminated, and 15 of them directly polluted ponds and creeks.

In one of the highest profile spills, people living near Parachute Creek learned in March that an ongoing hydrocarbon spill near Williams Midstream’s Parachute Gas Plant dumped more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons into the ground.

Today, the Parachute Creek spill has been ongoing for more than six months, and testing in July shows that levels of benzene – a carcinogen – are elevated, again. Parachute Creek is a tributary to the Colorado River, a main water source for the region, and the benzene levels in the creek exceed state water quality standards.

In a second well-known spill that occurred in June, WPX Energy reported the release of 2,100 gallons of water that had been polluted by the drilling and fracking process. The spill occurred two miles south of the Colorado River, and most of the contaminated water was absorbed into the soil.

When Gov. Hickenlooper plays word games, like he did in COGA’s radio ad, he’s following industry’s lead. They like to parse the term fracking and then claim it’s never hurt water supplies. This is the sort of wordplay usually heard from teenagers explaining why they didn’t actually break curfew. The entire drilling and fracking process contaminates water – groundwater and otherwise – removing millions of gallons from the water cycle, in addition to what it pollutes on the surface.

Gov. Hickenlooper is being dangerously dishonest with Coloradoans when he says that fracking has never contaminated groundwater. He needs to stop prioritizing oil and gas companies over the safety of the people who elected him.

This is the fifth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

Hickenlooper’s Misdeed #4 – Opposing local efforts to protect residents from oil & gas drilling pollution

Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to oppose local efforts to protect residents from oil and gas drilling pollution, going so far as to sue local governments and taxpayers.

In his most recent action, the Hickenlooper-appointed Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission openly joined the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobby-group headed-up by CEO Tisha Schuller, in the administration’s second lawsuit against the city of Longmont.

As drilling operations encroach more and more on suburban and urban residential neighborhoods, Colorado communities have taken steps to protect residents while the Hickenlooper administration has actively opposed stronger health and safety protections.

In a February interview for CBS affiliate 4 News, Gov. Hickenlooper said that he would, “have to” sue every city and county that passes a fracking ban.

However, local elected officials aren’t taking the governor’s attacks lying down. In June, after Gov. Hickenlooper helped kill bills in the legislature to improve drilling and fracking regulations, 100 current and former local electeds signed a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper that read, “We would like to work with you in crafting an improved approach to addressing oil and gas development in Colorado.”

The letter went on to read, “We are concerned that the State’s positions do not adequately address the growing outcry from our citizens who are concerned about the health and safety of their families, the livability of neighborhoods, and the long-term economic vitality of our communities.”

As far as we know, that meeting hasn’t happened. As a former mayor of the City of Denver, one would think Gov. Hickenlooper would support local control and the right of municipalities to protect residents from dangerous oil and gas operations.

Ironically, he recently admitted that “oil and gas is an industrial process that none of us want in our backyard.”

As long as he insists on making oil and gas companies a priority over the health of Colorado families, he should expect local officials and residents to get involved. The least he could do is stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits fighting communities from doing the job he’s failed to do, protect Colorado.

This is the fourth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds,” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

Media shines a light on Colorado BLM leasing plans

News stories last week show that BLM Colorado State Director Helen Hankins is up to her old tricks. According to stories in E&E News’ Energywire, the Durango Herald, and the Denver Business Journal, Dir. Hankins is following her consistent pattern of offering to auction off controversial land for oil and gas, even after major public outcry. This time, Dir. Hankins’ plans to offer more than 10,000 acres near Mesa Verde National Park – worsening air pollution problems the park is already experiencing from existing nearby drilling operations and coal-fired power plants.

It’s worth noting that bringing these oil and gas proposals back puts Dir. Hankins in direct conflict with the balanced approach to public land use that Interior Sec. Sally Jewell spent her weekend endorsing to Western governors.

You may remember that in early 2013, Dir. Hankins deferred the Mesa Verde parcels after the National Park Service, landowners, and community groups protested the threat posed to the park from drilling pollution. Her reversal demonstrates why Sec. Jewell should rein in the Colorado BLM office and ensure that Dir. Hankins is using innovative 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms such as “Master Leasing Plans” which allow a more balanced approach to energy development and look at on-the-ground impacts, including threats to air quality and tourism and recreation. Instead, Dir. Hankins continues ignore the balanced approach Westerners want and plays her part as the oil and gas industry’s real estate agent.

In the Durango Herald, Emery Cowan reported that the La Plata County Commissioners sent a letter to Dir. Hankins asking her to implement the Obama administration’s oil and gas leasing reforms.

County asks for delay in gas and oil lease

“However, by making the decision to lease (the La Plata County parcels in November), the BLM appears to be shutting the door on a (master plan) and a smart approach to protect the treasures that are so important to our local community and economy,” the letter said.

Scott Streater, writing for E&E News, noted that former park rangers weighed in on the original lease sale with concerns of how oil and gas leasing would affect one of the nation’s most iconic parks, Mesa Verde National Park.

BLM to put deferred parcels near Colo. national park back on the block

Among those that protested against leasing the parcels was the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which wrote a letter in February to Salazar complaining that development of the eight parcels “could further impair the already degraded air quality at Mesa Verde, harm important scenic values within the surrounding landscape and negatively affect the local economy, which depends greatly on the national park’s protected status.”

Writing in the Denver Business Journal, Cathy Proctor noted that Mesa Verde attracts more than half a million visitors annually.

Denver Business Journal: Feds to re-offer oil and gas leases near Mesa Verde National Park

The federal Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a controversial plan to offer about 12,000 acres of mineral rights in southwest Colorado for oil and gas drilling at its November auction — including parcels near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

As public outcry continues to grow, we’ll be watching to see if Dir. Hankins is allowed to continue making the Administration’s reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

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**

Big Oil’s API insatiable lust for taxpayer handouts continues; Industry group demands that U.S. double down on failed oil shale experiments

**UPDATE** API’s Erik Milito may want to check with Estonian Environment Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus before continuing to pressure President Obama to double down on costly oil shale speculation. In an article in today’s Postimees, Minister Pentus-Rosimannus said,

“Eighty percent of our waste, water use and greenhouse gas emissions are connected with the oil shale industry. We must think together how to reduce the negative impact. With that as bottom line, I do not consider it possible for the annual extraction volume of oil shale to grow in the future.”

Estonian oil shale giant Eesti Energia’s U.S. arm, Enefit, is one of the companies trying to develop oil shale in Utah. For more on that, see our recent series Eyes on Enefit.**UPDATE**

The American Petroleum Institute (API) – see: Big Oil – called on President Obama, today, to double down on a century of failed oil shale experiments and risk western water supplies.

API’s response to outgoing Interior Sec. Ken Salazar’s smart oil shale plan was shameless, but predictable (for more on the Salazar Plan, see articles in the SL Tribune, Denver Business Journal and an editorial in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel). Sec. Salazar adopted a reasonable approach that requires oil companies to prove any oil shale technology they might develop is commercially viable and won’t devastate water resources and air quality in the West.

The Government Accounting Office and industry experts have said oil shale could use up to 140 percent of what Denver Water provides its customers, today.

It turns out that common sense and good business practice aren’t slowing down API’s insatiable lust for taxpayer handouts. API wants to double down on 100 plus years of abject oil shale failure, despite the huge risks to the West’s scarce water supplies.

Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations, claims that ensuring the safety of western water might delay investment in the development of oil shale technology. He ignores the fact that oil shale speculators have failed for over a century to develop any such technology, despite the billions in taxpayer subsidies – and private investments – already risked.

Western families, farmers, ranchers and business owners, already in year two of the worst drought in a decade, can’t afford to have any more of their water risked on costly oil shale speculation. We need President Obama to put the security and safety of the West’s water and communities before Big Oil’s hunger for more taxpayer handouts.

Center for Western Priorities documentary series tells stories of drilling impacts on communities

The nonpartisan Center for Western Priorities (CWP) released its new LookWest interview series, today. According to a CWP release:

“Colorado communities struggling to balance their quality of life and local economies with industrial drilling and fracking operations are the focus of a new mini-documentary series by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP).”

The videos include interviews with residents and local business owners in Rifle and Paonia. People living in the Western Slope community of Rifle already have drilling in their midst, and are experiencing air and water challenges, explosions and truck traffic that make some of them wish they’d never moved there.

Farmers, ranchers and local business owners in Paonia talk about Colorado BLM’s plans to make 20,000+ acres in their area available for oil and gas leasing. Agriculture is a staple of the North Fork Valley, and the farmers and ranchers are scared of the impact drilling will have on their livelihoods.

“It’s an unknown practice,” said Jeff Schwartz, a Paonia farmer. “The risk that we’ve learned, that I’ve learned, about around the country is that there is a high risk of water contamination, and that’s a high risk to my family making a living.” Schwartz continued, “Anything that threatens the safety of our food crops threatens everything we do.”

Watch the Rifle video.

Watch the Paonia video.

CWP says that LookWest will continue visiting western communities to give people affected by oil and gas drilling a platform to have their stories heard. The videos will on the CWP website (www.westernpriorities.org) and YouTube page.

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