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.

Industry’s new leaf?

Maybe the oil and gas lobby’s latest efforts should strike hope in the hearts of Coloradans. Are they turning over a new leaf and willing to balance energy development with conservation interests? Maybe … maybe not.

From Colorado Oil and Gas Association Director Tisha Schuller’scharm offensive” to Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigely’spoll for the people,” oil and gas lobbyists are in high gear trying to stop a public relations mess that industry themselves created.

Clearly the effort is garnering them good press like Schuller reinventing herself as the environmentalist or Mr. Wigley taking a tired poll they rehash nearly every year and parading it as proof they want to know what Coloradans think.

Mr. Wigley makes broad claims about the support for energy development using his national poll, but he fails to take a look at what people believe in his own backyard. If industry really wants to know what Coloradans think, they don’t have too far to go far to find out. They want the health of their communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

A recent poll of westerners by Hart Research Associates found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65 percent) believe that “permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally” while less than a third (30 percent) feel that “making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development” is important.

Just this week, a delegation from the North Fork Valley traveled to Washington, DC calling for balance. The group included a winery owner, local official, and agricultural representative. After officials like Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins and industry failed to listen to the community, they took matters into their own hand and drafted a citizen proposal which allows for responsible energy development while protecting the booming agri-tourism economy of the North Fork.

This isn’t the first time that there have been questions about Dir. Hankins continually listening to the oil and gas industry instead of local communities and conservation interests. Industry proposals to drill near Mesa Verde National Park and place a drill rig near the visitor center of Dinosaur National Monument have faced severe backlash.

Yesterday, Boulder County Councilors decided to put a three-year oil and gas fracking ban on the ballot to give its residents an opportunity to speak and industry to listen. It’s no wonder so many local communities along the Front Range are proposing hard-lines like that after industry failed to “listen” to Coloradans and instead sided with Gov. John Hickenlooper to kill numerous bills which would have protected our water, our air, and our health.

Ms. Schuller and Mr. Wigley have one thing right. A rational conversation about oil and gas drilling is long overdue. We must put our communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

It’s time for the oil and gas lobby to turn over that leaf.

For House Republicans, the season of oil and gas giveaways has begun

As reported by Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Tuesday, House Republicans will spend the summer trying to breathe new life into tired ideas filled with industry giveaways. It’s no wonder given these politicians receive huge contributions from the oil and gas industry. Ironically, these “conservatives” want more mandates and quotas for oil companies while also cutting common sense protections for our air and water.

What Congress should focus its energy on – and what people in the West support – is balance between conservation and energy development. Instead of handouts to oil companies, our leaders in Washington should promote a diverse and thriving economy that supports main street businesses, farming and ranching, tourism, and outdoor recreation.

GOP House leadership has already said it will move the same failed giveaways it tried to push through last year, and the year before that. The problem they’re already running into is that they’ve already tried – and failed – to dupe Americans into thinking these handouts are anything else. Even a Republican energy adviser quoted in Restuccia’s story said, “It’s probably going to look a lot like it’s looked in the last four or five years.”

Westerners want more out of their elected officials than repeated political plays and messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. They want a real balance between protecting the public lands that support and attract high-wage businesses and using them to produce American-made energy.

Here’s a quick preview of the rhetoric we can expect to hear from House Republicans this summer, and the facts they will ignore:

The economy

numbers_graphicShot: Failure to open more federal lands to drilling will hurt job creation and economic growth in Western communities.

Chaser: Western states have grown out of the boom and bust cycle that comes with relying solely on energy development. Protecting as much public land as we lease will further build out the outdoor recreation industry, which already accounts for $64 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Price at the pump

Shot: These bills are an important step toward bringing down gasoline prices.

Chaser: In 2012, an Associated Press study showed that oil production has no effect on gas prices. Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs analysis found that Wall Street speculation was adding more than $23 to the price of crude, or as much as $0.56 per gallon at the pump.

Drilling on private lands

Shot: Increased pressure to develop on private lands is just one result of the slowdown of public lands energy development by this administration .

Chaser: The latest oil boom in the lower 48 states is due largely to an unconventional resource known as “shale oil,” (oil trapped within shale rock). The vast majority of both “shale oil” and “shale gas” (natural gas trapped within shale rock) is found under private, not public, lands. The location of these resources – not safeguards to protect air quality and water supplies – explain the shift in drilling from public to private lands.
shale_locationAdam Sieminski, U.S. House, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2 August 2012

Permitting delays

Shot: Regulatory hurdles, long delays, and policies that keep federal lands under lock-and-key have become all too common.

Chaser: Industry is responsible for the majority of permitting delays. Last year, BLM announced it is moving to an online permitting system that will hopefully help companies cut down the time it takes them to properly file permit applications.
permit_timingBLM Table of Average Application for Permit to Drill (APD) Approval Timeframes: FY2005 – FY2012

Permits

Shot: The Obama administration is playing fast and loose with drilling permit pledges.

Chaser: Industry does not use the drilling permits that have already been issued for oil and gas development. In fact, there are nearly 7,000 unused drilling permits that industry could develop on federal public lands.
unused_permitsBLM Approve Permits – Not Drilled table

Idle lands

Shot: President Obama and his Administration have actively blocked, hindered and delayed American energy production.

Chaser: According to the Department of Interior’s Oil and Gas Lease Utilization, Onshore and Offshore report, issued May 2012, “As of March 31, 2012, approximately 56 percent (20.8 million acres) of total onshore acres under lease on public lands in the Lower 48 States were conducting neither production nor exploration activities.
leased_productionDOI Oil and Gas Lease Utilization Report

The facts are not on House Republicans’ side, and neither is public opinion. A recent poll shows 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy. Seventy-four percent believe they help attract high quality employers and good jobs to western states.

It’s time we put conserving our treasured public lands back on equal ground with leasing them for oil and gas drilling. If oil- and gas-funded politicians continue to try and resurrect these industry giveaways, they’re just showing where their priorities lie – with the companies that fund them rather than the people they represent.

The team of oil & gas lobbyists behind Gov. Hickenlooper’s agenda

http://shareasimage.com/service/quotes/pro/05-30-13/his-relationship-to-the-oil-gas-industry-is-strong-3.pngIt should come as no surprise that in the 2013 legislative session alone, the oil and gas industry spent $1.06 million defending Gov. Hickenlooper’s pro-Big Oil agenda.

As a Chesapeake lobbyist wrote in a January 2013 memo that the lobby firm accidentally emailed to state legislators, “[Gov. Hickenlooper’s] relationship to the oil & gas industry is strong and he has been a national leader speaking out against the anti-fracturing forces that have invaded Colorado.”

Gov. Hickenlooper has had a team of oil and gas lobbyists supporting his administration’s work to gut or kill legislation at the state capitol. In fact, a Colorado Ethics Watch report released this week found that oil and gas lobbyists outnumbered oil and gas inspectors by a 28-to-17 margin during Fiscal Year 2012-2013.

That investment has paid off big for Gov. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry during the 2013 legislative session.

Gov. Hickenlooper gutted a bill that would have set mandatory minimum fines for oil and gas companies that pollute rivers and water. After the bill died, his administration announced it would not fine Williams Company for polluting Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with cancer-causing benzene so long as it adhered to a consent order.

His administration actually opposed an effort to add more oil and gas inspectors out in the field and opposed a bill which would have brought more balance to the commission that oversees oil and gas drilling and fracking operations in the state.

With huge sums of lobbying cash behind him, it is no wonder that Gov. Hickenlooper has been able to keep Colorado weak on polluter crime when it comes to oil and gas.

o&g lobby v. inspectorsThe report released this week by Colorado Ethics Watch found that the oil and gas industry has spent a whopping $4.7 million on lobbyists from Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2011-12 – more than any other industry in Colorado except the health care industry.

For those tracking Chesapeake closely, the company spent $130k on lobbying efforts over the last four years. Other top oil and gas lobbying spenders since 2009 include Pioneer Natural Resources at $640k, Shell at $571k, Encana at $415k, Bill Barrett Corporation at $376k, Marathon at $293k, Williams Energy at $285k, ExxonMobil at $272k, Anadarko at $260k, Black Hills at $224k, and, of course, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association at $402k.

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**

Welcome to Frackademia 101

This month, the Western Congressional Caucus held their first “class” for their sham oil and gas PR effort dubbed the ‘Western Caucus University.’ The amount of oil and gas contributions to caucus members is stunning. No wonder this “Frackademia” appears to have curriculum based on industry talking points.

Below were some of the lowlights and our grades for their content.

This is the first in a series of report cards we’ll be doing on “Frackademia.” It’s a shame taxpayer dollars are being used to push blatant industry talking points.

Western Caucus University   Academic Credibility Report Card

  WCU Claim  Accuracy    Grade   Fact
“Federal lands contain 46% of the proved crude reserves in the United States.”

F

Currently, 93% of all shale oil and mixed plays – which are the most viable and actively sought resources by industry – are located on non-federal lands. Even in the Rocky Mountain West, where more federal land is located, there are just 11% of all shale oil and mixed oil and gas plays on federal lands.
“The amount of time it takes to process a permit to drill on federal lands increased from 212 days to 228 days between 2008-2012.”

D

What the Western Congressional Caucus fails to mention is that oil and gas companies are the hold up on drill permits. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, it took industry an average of 236 days to process an application to drill permit on federal lands, while it took the Bureau of Land Management just 71 days.  
“Local governments in the West miss out on substantial tax revenues from potential energy extraction, mining, timber harvesting and other forms of economic development.”

F

A recent economic study found that western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of their land in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments and wilderness increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years. By comparison, similar counties with no protected federal public lands increased employment by only 83 percent. In 2010, per capita income in western non-metropolitan counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands was on average $4,360 higher than per-capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.In 2012, the outdoor recreation industry alone accounted for $646 billion in annual spending and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues in the United States

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.

Keystone XL Environmental Impact Consultant’s Cozy Relationships with Fossil Fuel Interests

ERMFossilRelationshipsBlogEnvironmental Resources Management (ERM), the consulting firm hired to perform the supplemental environmental analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline works for and has worked for fossil fuel companies with a stake in the Canadian Tar Sands. Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll exposed the conflicts of interest in an exclusive story, which included unredacted documents that show the recent work history of ERM’s consultants.

It’s no surprise that ERM painted a rosy picture of Keystone XL’s environmental impact. Their business depends on it. ERM’s major clients in the fossil fuel industry would steer clear of an environmental consulting company that determines fossil fuel projects are not environmentally responsible. ERM claimed in the report that the Keystone
XL pipeline would not lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions or significantly impact the environment along its route.

Last week, Steve Horn from DeSmogBlog documented major problems with another pipeline (the 1,300 mile-long Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC)) determined by an ERM environmental assessment to be “environmentally and socio-economically sound.” Horn wrote, “An Aug. 2008 Wikileaks cable discusses a BTC explosion in a mountainous area of eastern Turkey …which spewed 70,000 barrels of oil into the surrounding area.” The BTC
pipeline caused enormous environmental damage and failed to live up to the jobs hype created by the project developers, which included BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Total.

Horn goes on to quote Mik Minio-Paluello, co-author of The Oil Road - a new book documenting the slew of destructive impacts of BTC saying, “Supposedly an environmental consultancy, in practice ERM operated more like aPR firm representing BP and now they’re fulfilling a similar role for TransCanada.”

So why does ERM operate more like a PR firm than an environmental consultancy?

Let’s say ERM provided a review claiming a fossil fuel project was skirting safety precautions or moving too quickly to ensure quality seals on the pipeline (see Keystone XL’s faulty welding here). Would a fossil fuel company, whose financial interest is building more fossil fuel infrastructure, want to hire a consultant that results in delays and increased costs for developing that infrastructure?

Checks & Balances Project contacted ERM’s Global Head of Communications Simon Garcia multiple times over the past week without any response.  We requested comment on the following question: Has ERM ever determined that a proposed fossil fuel project was not “environmentally sound” in an assessment?

The answer is probably “no.”

 

 

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 496 other followers