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Winter ozone formation in Utah linked with atmospheric inversions and persistent snow cover

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Air quality worsening in rural areas affected by fracking

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dangerously high levels of winter ozone pollution in parts of Utah can be traced directly to chemicals released into the air by oil and gas exploration. The volatile organic compounds, common byproducts of fossil fuel exploitation, get trapped under atmospheric inversion layers and sunlight reflected by snow sparks the chemical process that forms the corrosive gas.

For example, in 2013, ozone in Ouray, Utah, exceeded the national air quality standards 49 times during the winter season. By contrast, in the densely populated, urban area of Riverside, California, the standards were exceeded about half that amount that same year, but during the summer. Continue reading

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USGS study links fracking wastewater injection with surge in Raton Basin earthquakes

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U.S. Geological Survey researchers have linked a surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with injection of fracking wastewater.

Scientists say it’s almost certain that massive injections of waste water caused recent quakes in the Raton Basin, including a 5.3 tremor in 2011

Staff Report

FRISCO — A surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and New Mexico has almost certainly been caused by the injection of fracking wastewater deep into the ground, U.S. Geological Survey scientists reported last week.

The study details several lines of evidence directly linking the injection wells to the seismicity. The timing and location of the quakes is clearly linked with the  the documented pattern of injected wastewater.

Detailed investigations of two seismic sequences (2001 and 2011) places them in proximity to high-volume, high-injection-rate wells, and both sequences occurred after a nearby increase in the rate of injection. A comparison between seismicity and wastewater injection in Colorado and New Mexico reveals similar patterns, suggesting seismicity is initiated shortly after an increase in injection rates.

For example, two injection wells near the epicenter of a 2011 5.3 earthquake had about 5 million cubic meters of wastewater injected just before the quake — more than seven times the amount injected at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well that caused damaging earthquakes near Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s. The August 2011 M 5.3 event is the second-largest earthquake to date for which there is clear evidence that the earthquake sequence was induced by fluid injection.

Continue reading

CU-led study urges grassroots approach to CO2 cuts

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Study says state plans are key to cutting concentrations of atmospheric heat-trapping pollution.

State energy policies key to reaching EPA greenhouse gas targets

Staff Report

FRISCO — State energy policies could be crucial to achieving the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to prevent runaway global warming. Mandatory emissions caps and indirect steps like encouraging production of renewable energy can be equally effective, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado, Boulder.

State policies are important because the EPA’s Clean Power Plan gives states a key role in reaching overall national goals. The plan would require each state to cut CO2 pollution from power plants by 30 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

“In addition to suggesting that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan can work, our results have important implications for the U.N. Climate Summit,” said Professor Don Grant, chair of the CU-Boulder sociology department and lead author of the study. “They indicate that while the world’s nations have struggled to agree on how to reduce emissions, sub-national governments have been developing several effective mitigation measures. Leaders at the United Nations, therefore, would be wise to shift from a top-down strategy that focuses on forging international treaties to a more bottom-up approach that builds upon established policy successes.”

The study was published online this week in Nature Climate Change. The study was co-authored by Kelly Bergstrand of the University of Arizona and Katrina Running of Idaho State University, and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Researchers had previously found it difficult to determine which state policies, if any, reduced power plants’ CO2 emissions because plant-specific data were largely unavailable, Grant said. That changed when the EPA began requiring plants to submit CO2 pollution information as part of its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Some states have policies that directly limit power plants’ carbon emissions and others have addressed carbon emissions indirectly by encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The study used 2005 and 2010 data to examine the impacts of strategies that are explicitly climate-focused such as carbon emission caps, greenhouse gas reduction goals, climate action plans (comprehensive strategies for reducing a state’s carbon emissions) and greenhouse gas registry/reporting system that require plants to register and record their emissions and emissions reductions.

Likewise, the researchers examined indirect policies with climate implications such as efficiency targets, renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to deliver a certain amount of electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources, public benefit funds that provide financial assistance for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and “electric decoupling” that eases the pressure on utilities to sell as much energy as possible by eliminating the relationship between revenues and sales volume.

The study found that emission caps, greenhouse gas targets, efficiency targets, public benefit funds and electric decoupling were the most effective policies for reducing power plants’ carbon emissions.

 

 

Judge blocks coal leases in Colorado after finding feds failed to tally cost of carbon pollution

The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.

The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world. Photo courtesy BLM.

Federal court order also voids part of Colorado roadless rule for National Forest lands

Staff Report

FRISCO — Arch Coal and the U.S. Forest Service will have to start from scratch before they plan any new mining activities in a roadless area near Paonia.

A federal judge this week vacated existing federal approvals for an exploration plan, for lease modifications and a site-specific exemption to the Colorado Roadless Rule, seen by conservation groups as a blatant give-away to the fossil fuel industry.

This week’s order follows up on a June ruling, when U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson said the U.S. Forest Service failed to account for the costs of carbon pollution associated with any new mining activities. Continue reading

Environment: New California fracking report leads to more questions than answers

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A fracking operation in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Some conclusions flawed by lack of adequate data, environmental advocates say,

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The battle over fracking probably won’t die down until humankind slurps up the last of the planet’s fossil fuel resources, and a new report by a California agency probably will intensify the debate.

The short-term study shows that fracking could threaten California ground water and pose human health risks, but was characterized as incomplete by environmental groups, who said it’s based on just a few months of data with big information gaps resulting from lack of complete reporting by state regulators. Continue reading

Colorado creates fracking commission

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From the air, it’s clear how far fracking impacts have spread on to the remote mesas of western Colorado and eastern Utah. bberwyn photo.

Stakeholder group may draft recommendations for state legislature on local control; community conservation groups feel left out of ‘secret’ deal

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A new commission formed to address fracking concerns will be able to make recommendations to the Colorado Legislature on issues related to local control over industrial fossil fuel extraction. But so far, the group doesn’t have a timetable or any other specific targets.

Governor John Hickenlooper announced the 18-member group and called for withdrawal of various fracking-related ballot measures. The environmental community has indicated it will withdraw its ballot initiative, which would have clarified the rights of local communities to regulate potentially harmful fracking, said Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project Director Bruce Baizel. Continue reading

Oil-eating microbes in the Gulf of Mexico left behind the most toxic remnants of the Deepwater Horizon spill

Impacts likely to persist for decades

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Oil: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil-eating microbes in the Gulf of Mexico may have helped break down some of the pollution from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, but some of the most toxic constituents of BP’s oil probably remain, most likely at the bottom of the sea.

Two new Florida State University studies in a deep sea oil plume found found that a species of bacteria called Colwellia likely consumed gaseous hydrocarbons and perhaps benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene compounds that were released as part of the oil spill — but not the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are a group of semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in crude oil and can cause long-term health problems such as cancer. Continue reading

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