Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 22nd

Here we go again: Tipton, Lamborn offer same oil & gas giveaways

The House Natural Resources Committee met Wednesday to debate a number of bills related to wilderness protection and energy issues. Among these bills were Congressman Doug Lamborn’s H.R. 1965 and Representative Scott Tipton’s H.R. 1394.

Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, working hard for Big Oil

Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, working hard for Big Oil

Rep. Lamborn’s bill mandates leasing quotas for oil and gas companies, encourages speculation, and bars the public, local officials and others from protesting potentially dangerous leasing decisions. It also endangers western water supplies and local economies by encouraging reckless oil shale speculation on public lands. Rep. Tipton’s bill essentially establishes energy development as the primary use of public lands. This would jeopardize the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Western jobs they create.

These bills have already faced outcry from Westerners who use these endangered public lands. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development noted that it is senseless to make more land available when the oil and gas industry already has more than 7,000 unused drilling permits.

New spills highlight need for better regulation

It was reported this week that more than 2,000 gallons of benzene contaminated water spilled from a well south of New Castle earlier this month. In another incident, a malfunctioning well sprayed gas and oil nearly 1,000 feet onto a neighboring farmer’s field. These incidents highlight the risks involved in fossil fuel development and demonstrate the need for this development to be properly regulated.

In the last legislative session, Governor Hickenlooper stalled bills that would have increased the number of well inspectors in the state and increased fines for companies who were negligent. This week’s news should raise further questions about who Governor Hickenlooper is working for, Coloradans, or oil and gas companies.

Wilderness report on places too wild to drill

A new report from The Wilderness Society highlights a dozen landmarks that are threatened by the encroachment of oil and gas drilling. These sites include Arches National Park in Utah and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The report calls on the Department of the Interior and Members of Congress to protect these American treasures. Jim Gale, founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands, was quoted in the report saying:

“Our National Parks protect America’s treasures, our natural and cultural  heritage, and we need to insure their protection from the harm that comes from oil and gas drilling. Arches National Park should not be surrounded by drill rigs. It seems obvious but apparently we need to keep reminding the oil and gas industry and the federal government, so Park Rangers for Our Lands will do just that.”

Arches National Park


Gas industry blows smoke on proposed BLM fracking rules

The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) released a faulty analysis of the proposed Department of the Interior fracking rule. It overestimates the annual cost of the rule by over $310 million

John Dunham & Associates, the firm that completed the study, claims that the proposed rule would cost companies $345 million annually. But, the firm arrived at this figure by misrepresenting the report in a way that inflates costs nearly ten-fold. The report makes assumptions about a rule that wouldn’t actually apply to gas drilling and uses that misapplication to grossly inflate the costs of the proposed rule.

Wyoming resident express concerns over water quality

The state of Wyoming is in the process of requiring baseline testing of groundwater for areas where drilling of oil and gas would take place. As the state decides how the testing will proceed, landowners want to ensure that there are the proper accountability measures included in these rules so that oil and gas companies who do contaminate ground water are punished for violations.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 5th

1. HAF-time at National Parks.
Hispanic Access Foundation President Maite Arce and her family are embarking on a 950-mile tour of four national parks threatened by drilling and fracking, to encourage Latinos to take an active role in protecting these natural wonders for future generations. Arce notes that increased use of these national treasures by Latinos will add a strong voice to protect these areas from the threat of reckless oil and gas development.

The Arce family will share stories from their journey through a video blog and social media. The 10-day trip starts in Denver and will end in Gallup, NM with stops at four national parks: Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Park.

You can follow Matie’s efforts on Twitter at @HispanicAccess and @maitearcedc.


2. Hickenlooper Delays Game on Oil & Gas Safety
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to fight against communities on behalf of his campaign donors in the oil and gas industry. County and municipal local elected officials from across the state are butting heads with Gov. Hickenlooper over the need to protect local communities from the dangers of drilling and fracking pollution. Just yesterday, Gov. Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission announced that it was joining the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit against Longmont citizens for enacting a fracking ban after Gov. Hickenlooper’s track record of ignoring local communities and failing to provide strong health and safety protections. The commission was already suing the City of Longmont for passing strong public health protections.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

Gov. Hickenlooper’s second misdeed
We posted the second blog in our “Governor Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” blog series highlighting how he blocked funding for 30 additional state oil and gas inspectors. To put his actions in perspective, a report found that 28 oil and gas lobbyists are supporting the Gov.’s oil and gas industry agenda while the state had only 17 inspectors in FY13 to cover 52,000 oil and gas wells across the state. This lack of enforcement and inspection helps to contribute to the likelihood of spills, like the one at Parachute Creek where, this week, OSHA handed down fines. On the other hand, Gov. Hickenlooper has yet to hold polluters accountable for the spill and issue a fine.

3.     CDPHE Huddles on Pollution Rules as Citizens Worry About Health
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment this week announced it would consider new rules designed to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations. These operations now account for the largest source of organic compound pollution in Colorado.

The Department is considering tougher rules at a time when the number oil and gas wells are expanding rapidly, leaving Coloradans concerned about the air they breathe. Citizen groups have asked that strong safety rules be put into place before more drilling is allowed.

4.     Sen. Bennett Touches Down in Dinosaur National Monument
Senator Bennett took a two-day rafting tour of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, the site of “the legendary launch of modern environmentalism.” He met with a range of stakeholders to discuss the state’s natural resources and how best to preserve them. Earlier this year, the Colorado BLM office tried to lease land next to the park’s visitor center to oil and gas companies. The leases were deferred in response to outcry from Park Rangers, conservation and community groups.

5.     Public Lands Program Scores for Veterans
Veterans have been speaking out about the importance of public lands and the need to put conservation and energy development on equal ground.  Also this week, the Laramie Boomerang reported on the Montana Conservation Corps’ Veterans Program. The program gives veterans an opportunity for job training and experience that helps them make the transition from service to civilian life.

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.

A Balanced Approach to Drilling on Public Lands

**Cross-posted from The Huffington Post**

By Ellis Richard

As a life-long Westerner, and former National Park Service ranger, I’ve spent a lot of time in and around some of America’s most treasured places. I dedicated my career to protecting these parks.

The future of our national parks, and all of the great open spaces of the west is important to me. These powerful American landscapes helped shape our national character, and defined a way of life, and a life style so many of us value. In many ways, these places define America and give meaning and vision to our lives.

With those concerns in mind, this week I took our cause of balanced oil and gas leasing to the Hill and joined the National Parks Conservation Association to brief Congressional offices about our work and the threat fracking and drilling poses to America’s national parks.

I was heartened by what I saw. Staff from more than 30 offices attended to learn about the need to place oil and gas drilling on equal ground with the future of our parks. In fact, it was standing-room-only. This kind of dialogue and interest is progress.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to work and live in communities across the West, from the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. It was good to share some of those experiences and see folks paying attention to the need for smarter approach to energy development.

I told those in attendance that we can do this by allowing responsible drilling in the appropriate places, while protecting those treasured landscapes that are part of the American heritage, and an important driver in so many of our local economies.

Energy development and conservation on our public lands is not a zero sum game. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. We can achieve balance. For instance, past administrations have protected an acre of public lands for every land leased to oil and gas development. We can achieve that kind of balance if we put our minds to it.

The Obama administration should be planning ahead to allow for drilling in places where it won’t threaten our cultural and natural treasures. But instead, drilling is encroaching on national parks and monuments, including, near Mesa Verde National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, and Pinnacles National Park. This past spring, federal officials in the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management wanted to allow drilling rigs right next the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument.

Just this week, a new poll showed a bipartisan majority of Western voters are more interested in preserving land for recreation and the enjoyment of future generations than in using them for oil and gas drilling. It’s clear from this poll that people living in the west believe that oil and gas production can be done on public lands while also preserving the values of those iconic landscapes we’ve put aside as national parks.

What tourists want to see a drilling rig or take a whiff of gas in the air when they bring their families on vacation? National Parks drive local economies across the United States, especially in the West. National Parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity each year. Visitors support local hotels, restaurants, stores and outfitters. Our great outdoors in the West also offer an unparalleled quality of life, which is why manufacturing and technological companies relocate there, providing job opportunities.

It’s a simple fact: our communities rely on national parks, and other open spaces to attract high-paying businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors to come to enjoy our world-class recreation resources just as much as we rely on energy development — done responsibly, in appropriate places. There are some places too special to drill.

Energy development on our public lands also provides economic benefits to our Western communities by creating jobs and providing American energy. I believe we can extract oil and gas responsibly from public lands and also provide the protection national parks need and deserve with a balanced approach to leasing.

My fellow rangers and I at Park Rangers for Our Lands believe we need to “look before we lease” our public lands to oil and gas development. If we take the time and do the work to plan ahead, we can stop problems before they start and protect the future of our parks.

We know some of these solutions will be hard to find, but that doesn’t mean we can just give up. We need the BLM and the National Park Service to work together to do the responsible planning needed to preserve the landscapes that can affect the values of the parks we have worked hard to set aside. If they will do the landscape level planning, we can safeguard those sensitive lands around the national park. It’s a balanced and reasonable alternative that extends protection to our parks while developing the energy resources our country needs.


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.

New survey proves Westerners want conservation on equal ground with drilling

Today, the Center for American Progress (CAP) announced new public opinion research that illustrates the stark gap between Washington’s public equal ground logoland use priorities – heavily weighted toward pro-development policies – and what Westerners believe is an appropriate balance between oil and gas drilling and protecting treasured landscapes for future generations.

This new research clearly shows a bipartisan majority of Western voters are more interested in preserving land for recreation and the enjoyment of future generations than in using it for oil and gas drilling. From CAP’s press release:

“When it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular (30%); instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreation opportunities (63%) and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations (65%).”

As CAP points out, this research confirms a severe lack of citizen accountability from our government.

  • On one hand, we have the Obama administration, which has leased more than 6.3 million acres of public land to oil and gas companies for drilling –  more than two and a half times as much as it has permanently protected for future generations;
  • And on the other, a Congress that was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as wilderness, national park, monument, or wildlife refuge – despite the opposing sentiments of their own constituents.

Read the full report.

The launch of the “Equal Ground” campaign also makes good sense in that it will push Congress and the Obama Administration to align their priorities for how we use public lands with the obvious expectations of communities across the West that rely on national parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces to attract high-paying businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors to come to enjoy world-class recreation resources just as much as they rely on energy development – done responsibly, in appropriate places.

One way the Obama administration could start achieving the balance Westerners expect from federal policymakers is to implement its own 2010 leasing reform directives, meant to drive our local economies with a real balance between protecting public lands to support and attract high-wage businesses in the West, and using them to produce energy. These reforms give federal officials crucial tools to look at the landscape before the leasing phase, and plan out the right places to drill and the right areas to leave alone because they bring major economic benefits to the community.

But in Colorado, federal bureaucrats have failed to implement these new directives – turning the President’s balanced reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

As John Podesta rightfully said today:

“This is a case where Washington’s policies and rhetoric are still locked in a drilling-first mindset, but Westerners want the protection of public lands to be put on equal ground. Voters do not see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands—including new parks, wilderness, and monuments—as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.”

The Equal Ground campaign is supported by a variety of individuals and organizations, including The Center for American Progress, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, and The Center for Western Priorities.