U.S. Rep. Jared Polis co-sponsors bills to regulate fracking

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).

BREATHE and FRESHER acts would close significant clean air and water loopholes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Saying that the rapid expansion of fracking in Colorado has outpaced the ability of state regulators to monitor health and environmental impacts, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO.) is calling for federal legislation to protect the safety and the health of the communities where the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process is already taking place.

“New technologies have led to the rapid development of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and Pennsylvania before community members could fully understand the potential health, safety, and quality of life implications of drilling in their neighborhood,” Polis said, explaining that two new related laws would make sure that fracking is not exempt from the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act simply because fracking was not prevalent when these laws were initially written. Continue reading

Colorado: BLM presses on with controversial drilling leases

Conservation groups say energy development plans threaten agricultural, recreation values

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Oil and gas drilling leases are proposed for BLM lands near the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center. Photo courtesy NPS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Obama administration officials claim that they want to tackle global warming, but at the same time, they continue to push ahead with new fossil fuel development projects, including several proposed lease sales in Colorado totaling about 115,000 acres.

The oil and gas drilling lease sales include lands bordering Dinosaur National Monument, as well as in the North Fork Valley, near Paonia, and conservation activists are not happy about the new trend of leasing in areas valued for recreation and agricultural uses.

“Helen Hankins has forgotten the purpose of her office,” said Ellynne Bannon, Checks and Balances Project spokesperson. “She continually puts oil and gas company interests ahead of the public she represents. Hankins’ leasing plan will leave the North Fork communities and businesses impacted by these leases out in the cold. ” Continue reading

Colorado: More time to comment on White River National Forest draft oil and gas drilling plan

A map from the draft EIS shows areas with surface-use stipulations in one of the plan’s alternatives. Courtesy White River National Forest.

Agency will take input through Nov. 30

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Colorado citizens and other stakeholders will have an extra 30 days to comment on the new draft oil and gas leasing plan for the White River National Forest. Released in late August, the draft plan cuts some areas for energy development and sets protective stipulations in other areas.

The energy industry sees the plan as overly restrictive, while conservation advocates say it still leaves too many areas open for drilling. The extended comment period runs through Nov. 30. Continue reading

Environment: Texas gas company hit with $200,000 fine after polluting air in southwest Colorado for 12 years

A natural gas drilling rig. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Cleanup slated at the Ignacio Gas Treating Plant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Texas-based energy company has been hit with a $207,150 Clean Air Act fine after polluting the air around Ignacio, Colorado for more than 10 years.

After working with the EPA to resolve the alleged violations, Texas-based Elm Ridge Exploration Company, LLC will clean up its act at the Ignacio Gas Treating Plant located on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The company will also pay $67,850 in unpaid permit fees.

The plant has been in operation since 1999, accepting low-pressure raw and untreated natural gas from about 140 surrounding wells in the Ignacio Blanco Gas Field in La Plata County. The plan became a major source of nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde in 2000.

A 2010 inspection showed that the plant failed to show continuous compliance with various emissions standards and that the operators failed to obtain a required permit. Continue reading

White River NF to hold info sessions on oil and gas plan

Public comment still wanted on draft version

A map from the draft EIS shows areas with surface-use stipulations in one of the plan’s alternatives. Courtesy White River National Forest. Click on the map to see the draft study, including all the maps, online.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A draft plan that outlines several options for oil and gas development on the White River National Forest is still open for public comment, and the Forest Service is holding a couple of open house session to gather input and help explain the plan to the public.

The draft plan includes alternatives that cut the amount of land available from 416,000 acres to about 260,000 acres and outlines strict stipulations for drilling activities to protect surface resources, especially in roadless areas, where no surface occupancy would be permitted.

After the 60-day comment period, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams will choose from the options outlined in the draft for a final plan.

The open houses are set for Sept. 12, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Colorado River Valley Field Office located at 2300 River Frontage Road, Silt, CO 81652, and Oct. 2, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District Headquarters Building located at 301 Meadowood Drive, Carbondale, CO 81623. Continue reading

Draft report outlines greater sage-grouse conservation goals

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

States, BLM trying to stave off an endangered species listing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new draft report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may help provide a road map for greater sage-grouse conservation by identifying high-risk populations of the birds, outlining specific measures needed to avoid or mitigate impacts and setting population conservation goals.

The draft report is part of a multi-state planning aimed at protecting sage grouse and enabling economic growth, including oil and gas development, across the interior West.

The USFWS is working toward a court-ordered deadline for making a decision whether list greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. As part of that process, the Bureau of Land Management is updating land management plans across huge swaths of the West. At the same time, western states are also involved in trying to develop sage grouse conservation plans, hoping to forestall an endangered species listing. Continue reading

Colorado: BLM plans new air quality studies for drilling

Lawsuit over environmental studies and permitting continues

A spiderweb of drill pads lace the countryside around the Roan Plateau. PHOTO COURTESY SKYTRUTH.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The BLM  said this week that it’s moving for a voluntary remand of  three oil and gas drilling projects in Garfield County in order to study potential air pollution impacts.

According to a press release from Earthjustice, the BLM says it will not approve additional drilling permits implementing the projects until it completes its additional analysis, but environmental groups claim the agency has been using invalid studies to permit new wells on a regular basis.

According to Earthjustice, the BLM permitting has been a sort of regulatory shell game, with the agency using a study that doesn’t cover all of the geographic area for which it’s issuing permits. The voluntary remand covers the authorization nearly 400 oil and gas wells.

The permitting has been  challenged in federal court by conservation groups represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice. The groups — Wilderness Workshop, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Club — allege that the BLM violated federal environmental laws by approving oil and gas projects without conducting any environmental analysis of the air pollution they would cause.

Earthjustice attorney Alison Flint said the BLM’s decision doesn’t address the much larger problem targeted by the legal challenge. The three projects represent only a few examples of a broader practice in which BLM has approved at least 33 drilling projects – involving thousands of wells –with no air pollution analysis. Continue reading

Colorado: Roan Plateau drilling plan back in court

Conservation groups say BLM botched environmental analysis

Gas drilling pads dot the base of the Roan Plateau in western Colorado. PHOTO COURTESY ECOFLIGHT.ORG. Click the image for more photos.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-running battle over the fate of northwestern Colorado’s Roan Plateau was back in U.S. District Court Tuesday for oral arguments before Federal Magistrate Kristen Mix.

Conservation groups who challenged a Bush-era drilling plan for the plateau say the Bureau of Land Management violated federal environmental laws in its analysis by ignoring key issues like air quality.

Federal attorneys countered that the administrative record shows that the agency followed all the required steps under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The case dates back to 2008 when the BLM sold leases on the plateau worth  $114 million, said to be the highest-yielding lease sales in the U.S. up to that date, but planning for the plateau goes back to 2002. Read some of the background here. Continue reading

‘Startling’ increase in earthquakes linked with oil and gas drilling

Geologists document growing number of small quakes in the midsection of the country

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say they’ve detected a “remarkable” increase in the rate of earthquakes in the middle of the country, most likely related to oil and gas drilling activities.

All in all, the average number of quakes magnitude 3 or greater has increased six-fold since 2001 over 20th century levels. None of the quakes have caused injuries or property damage.

“While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production,” USGS researchers wrote in an abstract of a recent paper. Continue reading

Colorado: Air pollution from gas fields worse than thought

Methane leakage from the gas production fields of northeastern Colorado may be twice as high as previously estimated, according to new research from NOAA.

Tons of toxic benzene leaking into the atmosphere from drilling operations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil and gas drilling operations in Weld County are probably leaking twice as much methane into the atmosphere as previously estimated, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also reported leaks of toxic benzene gas after starting a routine tower-based monitoring program a few years ago.

“We may have been significantly underestimating methane emissions by this industry in this region,” said Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Some of the pollutants picked up are known to damage air quality. Another, methane, is 25 times more effective per molecule than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. The scientists were concerned. None of NOAA’s other air composition monitoring towers – there are eight, in total, scattered around the continental United States – had recorded anything similar. A link to the research is online here. Continue reading

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