Proposal creates ‘monumental’ friction — the Valley Courier

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Proponents of an expanded national monument met with water leaders and some resistance on Tuesday in Alamosa.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Board Member Dwight Martin , who lives in the southern part of the San Luis Valley where the proposed expansion would occur, was clear in his opposition to expanding the existing Rio Grande del Norte National Monument northward from New Mexico into the San Luis Valley.

“I am adamantly opposed to this monument designation ,” Martin said. “We really don’t need this monument in Conejos County. I really don’t see what it serves.”

He added that the Conejos County commissioners are also opposed to the monument expansion. Martin said about 90 percent of Conejos County residents at a meeting he attended on the monument were opposed to the expansion, and he questioned why the expansion was needed.

Anna Vargas, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, the organization promoting the monument expansion, responded that the meeting Martin attended was a meeting hosted by opponents .

“There has been interest in supporting the national monument, and there has been opposition that has been raised,” Vargas said. “We have tried to address all the concerns.”

Vargas told water board members on Tuesday that Conejos Clean Water had accepted language recommended by the water district to safeguard water rights within the monument, if it is expanded into the Valley. The language also recognizes the existing Rio Grande Natural Area, which lies in the proposed monument expansion.

“We are not trying to trump any of the work that’s been done on the natural area,” Vargas said.

Vargas recently completed the intensive water leadership course sponsored by several water groups including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. She said the course gave her a better understanding of water issues and rights, such as the Rio Grande Compact. She said she had not viewed the monument expansion as affecting water rights but as more of a land protection issue . She said she now understood the potential problem implied water rights could generate.

“We don’t want national monument designation to have any implied water rights,” she said. The goal of the monument expansion, she said, is to preserve the land for traditional uses.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, encompassing 242,500 acres, was designated by presidential proclamation in 2013. The expansion proposal would bring the monument north of the New Mexico state line into the southern part of the Valley and would encompass about 64,000 additional acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Vargas explained.

She said the goal would be to preserve traditional uses such as piñon and wood gathering, hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. The monument would also prevent the land from being sold or leased for mining extraction. The turquoise mine would be “grandfathered in,” she said.

Vargas said proponents of the monument expansion want to be proactive in protecting the land from oil and gas activity.

“To us, that is a threat,” she said.

In 2007 that threat was real, she said, with four oil/gas sales involving 14,500 acres in the San Luis Hills and Flat Tops. The reason drilling did not occur, she added, was “basically because of a loophole” created because private landholders had not been notified of the sales.

“What we don’t want is a repeat of that,” she said. There might not be a loophole to prevent it in the future, she added.

Martin said, “This is really about oil and gas and not about protecting the land. All the monument will do is make it more restrictive for landowners.”

Vargas said that is why Conejos Clean Water is trying to get more community input and address these issues. She said there are rumors that the group is trying to prevent such uses as cattle grazing, but that is not the case. Such traditional uses are what the monument would protect, she said.

The land would continue to be BLM property, public lands, she said.

“We want it to stay publicly accessible.”

“Thank you for recognizing the concerns the district expressed,” RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told Vargas.

The district also sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and Colorado’s congressional delegation expressing the district’s concerns about the monument expansion without terms and conditions that would ensure water resources and the Rio Grande Natural Area are not adversely affected. The Rio Grande Natural Area, created through a federal, state and local partnership, integrates the management of federal and private properties along the Rio Grande between Alamosa and the state line to protect the riparian corridor for several purposes including Rio Grande Compact deliveries.

The district’s letter to congressmen regarding the monument expansion stated: “Every federal withdrawal or designation carries with it an implication that sufficient water will be made available to support the purposes of the designation unless specifically disavowed. The flows of the Rio Grande and the Conejos rivers in this area of the San Luis Valley are intimately tied to the economic and social health of the entire region, and reflect 150 years of water use practices that support the entirety of the San Luis Valley’s population as well as a water management structure designated to allow Colorado to freely utilize its share of the Rio Grande and its tributaries pursuant to the Rio Grande Compact. Any new federal land use designation that could impact or interfere with the water use practices in the San Luis Valley or Colorado’s ability to utilize the water resources to which it is entitled must be strenuously resisted by our elected federal representatives , as well as all of our state officials . This matter is of enormous importance.”

Representatives of the district also personally met with congressmen and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.

The district presented language protecting the Rio Grande Natural Area that it requested be included in the monument designation, were that to occur, and Conejos Clean Water has agreed to that language.

Robbins said the Valley’s congressmen and Department of Interior also assured the district they would not move forward with a monument expansion unless the district’s concerns were properly addressed.

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

Mineral owners assert property rights #keepitintheground

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation
Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

At a contentious meeting in Adams County in January that carried on until the early-morning hours, several mineral rights owners stood up before the commissioners and lambasted a proposed 10-month drilling moratorium as an abrogation of their property rights.

In late February, a group of mineral owners appeared before a state House committee to support HB-1181, a bill that would require communities that ban drilling to compensate mineral owners for lost royalties.

And on Tuesday, those who own minerals are being encouraged to attend a Greeley City Council special meeting in which the council will consider an appeal from Extraction Oil & Gas to drill up to 22 wells on the city’s west side. The plan was turned down by the city’s planning commission earlier this year in the wake of strong public resistance.

“It’s all about protecting the economic foundation of our country, which is private property rights,” Smith said. “The issue is this is my property, and I have every right to realize the benefit of that property right.”

That right, she said, is enshrined in the very fabric of the state constitution and reflected in Colorado’s long history of mining.

No simple line

But Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, said the issue is not that cut and dried. Where one person’s property right ends, he said, another’s begins.

Foote was one of five Democratic legislators on the State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee to vote to kill HB-1181 on Feb. 24.

“It can’t just be that someone has mineral rights and they say they can exploit those rights any way that they see fit,” he said. “You have surface property owners who are losing value in their homes when drilling is done right next door.”

Foote characterizes the clash of property rights revolving around oil and gas activity as a “big issue” playing out across the state. It has even reached the Colorado Supreme Court, where the high court is set to decide in the coming weeks on how far a local community can go in limiting oil and gas development.

Emily Hornback, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, has spent the past few years advocating for residents of Battlement Mesa. They worry about the impacts of a plan by Ursa Resources to drill 53 natural gas wells in the neighborhood.

In December, the company got special use permits from Garfield County but still must get approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before moving forward.

Hornback said residents of the 5,500-person community, many of whom are retirees, fear for their property values in the face of heavily industrialized activity on their doorstep.

But they don’t have the political power as an unincorporated community to do much to mitigate the impacts, she said.

“For the adjacent landowner, the world appears against them and they don’t have much legal recourse,” Hornback said. “Whose property right is winning and whose property right is losing?”

Doug Saxton, a retiree who has lived in Battlement Mesa for 11 years, said his wife has asthma that is exacerbated by emissions from oil and gas activity.

Saxton said with the dramatic advances in horizontal drilling technology in the last few years, Ursa should be able to get to the natural gas deposits under Battlement Mesa — and in turn pay the mineral rights owners for their assets — from a much farther distance.

“They have tremendous technology they like to brag about,” he said, “and they ought to be using it when they’re going to impact this many people.”

Key issue

Lance Astrella, a Denver-based attorney who has represented landowners and mineral owners alike, said providing “reasonable” access to minerals beneath the surface is the key issue under Colorado law.

That’s because the state operates under a “split estates” rubric, in which the surface rights and the subsurface rights are often owned by different parties.

Under state law, the mineral estate is considered the dominant estate and operators cannot be prevented from “entering upon and using that amount of the surface as is reasonable and necessary to explore for, develop and produce oil and gas.”

But that dominance isn’t unbridled.

Astrella helped draft a 2007 state statute that introduced the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for a surface owner affected by nearby drilling activity. The law states that an operator shall conduct its operations in a manner that minimizes “intrusion upon and damage to the surface of the land.”

The industry insists that it has made numerous accommodations to surface owners and communities over the years, buffering noise with berms and walls and reducing pad size through the use of directional drilling.

In some communities, oil and gas operators have agreed to abide by memorandums of understanding, which are specific agreements between companies and local governments spelling out stricter standards of operation than what the state mandates.

But Astrella said the people who own the oil and gas deposits that the companies are trying to extract find it hard to prevail in the court of public opinion.

“The ones who have the intrusion and negative effects of oil and gas drilling — their situation is obvious and they have the public’s attention,” he said. “The mineral owners are less likely to have that benefit.”

Smith, with the National Association of Royalty Owners, said that’s because the conflict is between a property you can see — a home — and one you can’t — a pocket of natural gas.

“We don’t have the same voice because the legislature will take care of the property right on the surface rather than the property in the mineral estate,” she said. “It’s out of sight and out of mind. However, it’s a property right you can buy and sell like any other property right.”

Paying the bills

Minerals rights can also be inherited. That’s how Mike Paulsen, a wine and spirits deliveryman in Denver, obtained his minerals in Weld County. He said he used to get $200 a month from his holdings, but the industry’s recent price and production drop means he now gets a $50 check every few months.

It’s harder for him to keep up on his bills and pay off his debts.

“I not only used it to pay my bills but to have something to pass on to my kids,” said Paulsen, 53. “There’s not going to be anything left by the time I get my bills paid.”

He worries about the rising movement to limit oil and gas operations spreading to where his minerals are and impinging on his property rights.

“It really bothers me,” Paulsen said.

The total amount of royalty income in Colorado is hard to determine, Smith said, because agreements between oil and gas companies and mineral owners are privately negotiated. But based on the $475 million in royalties paid out in 2014 on state and federal lands, Smith extrapolates that total payouts statewide were around $1.1 billion.

Jon Isaacs of Adams County showed off a measley $102 check from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. The money represents a year’s worth of royalty payments off a 30-year-old oil and gas well on Isaacs’ property.

It’s not much, he concedes, but the real value under his 40-acre spread located just 4 miles north of Denver International Airport lies in the future. He smooths out a spreadsheet in his basement office that shows estimated royalty collections should a firm using the latest highly productive extraction methods drill new wells on his land.

At $31 per barrel, Isaacs says he’d get $19,000 in royalties a year. That rises to $37,000 annually by 2021, assuming a rebound in prices to $75 per barrel.

It’s his retirement fund, he said. No different than someone who invests in stocks, bonds or cattle futures.

“It’s so I can stay here at this house that I’ve improved and plant crops on my land and stay in Adams County into retirement,” said the 58-year-old, who bought this windswept parcel only because it came with mineral rights. “I bought this land as an investment.”

Roni Sylvester of La Salle is also looking to the future, which she now deems “uncertain” given recent anti-oil and gas efforts in the state. Her husband was planning to donate a ranch he owns in Wyoming to Colorado State University’s agricultural college.

That plan is now on hold because the couple can’t be certain their royalty income stream will remain intact.

“There’s no way you can plan,” Sylvester said. “It knocks the foundation out from underneath you. You have to plan for the absolute worst-case scenario.”

“We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in [on oil and gas exploration]” — Nada Culver

Montezuma Valley
Montezuma Valley

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A Master Leasing Plan doesn’t sound provocative, but bitter lines have been drawn as a result of the Bureau of Land Management planning the future use of its federal land in Southwest Colorado, 92 percent of which is open to gas and oil development.

Debate now lingers over whether the BLM should engage in such a plan to further analyze when and where new wells should be drilled.

Conservationists and recreationists in support of a master plan say the study will give natural resources and recreational uses the same level of priority as gas and oil development, which the BLM has historically favored.

Energy companies and those dependent on the industry argue the BLM already has protections in place, and the call for additional review is a cheap attempt by those who wish to see fuels remain in the ground.

The BLM falls somewhere vaguely in between.

Leveling the playing field

Around 2010, the Tres Rios BLM office estimated up to 3,000 new wells would be drilled over the next 20 years for federally controlled minerals in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County.

And within the 820,000-acre area of minerals, only 62,000 acres would be closed to drilling.

The plan caught the ire of some community members who felt the boundaries come too close and adversely impact naturally valued lands, including the corridors into Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, around the mountain biking destination Phil’s World and on the edge of two wilderness study areas.

In February 2015, the BLM released an updated Resource Management Plan, outlining guidelines for land use, including future exploration and development of new well pads in the region.

But environmentalists say the resource plan fell short of keeping oil and gas in check, leaving too many areas of discretion and loopholes for over-development.

Concerned with effects on wildlife migration, cultural resources, water quality and air quality, the groups pressured the BLM to consider a master plan, which could tighten restrictions in the two-county area.

“We’re not going to make the entire area on the map a park,” said Nada Culver, director and senior counsel for the Wilderness Society. “The idea is to get more balanced with oil and gas. (A master leasing plan) takes resources like wildlife, recreation, agriculture – and evens the playing field.”

Bringing together interests from across the board, the BLM set up and assigned an advisory committee to draft a recommendation on whether a master leasing plan is warranted. A sub-group of that committee is holding public hearings in Durango and Mancos on Thursday.

Delay tactics?

But not all are in favor of a second look at resources and interests on BLM lands.

“This is being done for political reasons,” said Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, which is representing the energy industry on the sub-committee…

BLM has final say

BLM officials pointed to the $247 million the state of Colorado received in 2015 from royalties for all federal minerals, including oil and gas, as well as the more than 22,900 jobs tied to the industry’s operations on public land.

The BLM Tres Rios Field Office will receive the advisory committee’s recommendation in August, but ultimately, the federal agency has the final say whether it will undertake a master leasing plan project.

“We haven’t taken a stance one way or the other,” said Justin Abernathy, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios office. “We’re a multiple-use agency, and in my experience with BLM – the people, the employees really try to balance their approach on how we manage public lands we’re responsible for.”

The BLM ceased all gas and oil leasing on the area in question until the matter of a master leasing plan is resolved. Still, the federal agency has 35 previously authorized leases covering about 13,500 acres within the master plan’s boundaries.

Between the 3,740-square-mile area that covers La Plata and Montezuma counties, the most recent data show nearly 6,000 gas wells dot the countryside.

Throughout the mineral-rich San Juan Basin, the total number of drilling operations are hard to pin down, yet some reports reach into the tens of thousands.

And numbers like those make the battle for the landscape of the West worth fighting for, the Wilderness Society’s Nada said.

“This is a new culture,” Nada said. “The BLM has historically left it up to the oil and gas industry to decide when and where they drill.

“We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in.”

COGA statement on new COGCC rules

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (Dan Haley):

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners – my name is Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA). Thank you for allowing me a few minutes to speak to you regarding the important and complex rules that are before you today.

COGA is not new to rulemakings and engaging in our state’s ever-changing regulatory process. Over the last several years, COGA has stepped up to work with the administration, local governments, citizens and, other stakeholders to achieve constructive, meaningful, and practical solutions to tough issues faced in setback, groundwater, enforcement, citizen complaint, spill reporting, and floodplain rulemakings by this Commission. The outcome of these rulemakings resulted in the oil and gas industry operating under one of the most stringent regulatory environments in the nation.

Again, we find ourselves working in coordination with numerous stakeholders in yet another significant rulemaking – this one geared to the implementation of two of the unanimously approved recommendations by the members of the Governor’s Task Force, many of which are parties you will hear from today.

COGA fully supported the 9 recommendations submitted by the Governor’s Task Force in March 2015. In fact, our members said yes when the Governor asked industry to serve on the Task Force to help find ways for state and local governments to better collaborate and coordinate efforts for oil and gas operations. It was in the interest of all parties on the Governor’s Task Force to have a meaningful dialogue and work hard to seek ways in which the concerns of local jurisdictions, operators, and the state could be addressed and to provide constructive recommendations for policy on how best to achieve these goals.

In the end, all 21 task force members voted to adopt the language in Task Force Recommendations 17 and 20. Those recommendations were thoughtful and meaningful in approach and, by their unanimous support, addressed many of the issues before you today. These recommendations would bring a big change in the way oil and gas locations are permitted in Colorado. The changes proposed in Recommendation #17 are significant because for the first time:

  • The State would have a process and a standard for reviewing whether operators have worked in good faith to achieve agreement with local government on issues of concern about large facilities in urbanized areas.
  • There would be a record of negotiation to help the State decide what site specific mitigations may be necessary to respond to local concerns.
  • There would be established expectations that provide all parties with an understanding of when and with what conditions state permits will be considered.
  • These are meaningful changes.

    And with regard to Recommendation #20, for the first time, the State would identify parameters for industry to share longer-term planning information with local governments.

    COGA supports this rulemaking, however, maintains that the COGCC proposed rules must be modified to uphold the intent, meaning, and integrity of the task force recommendations.

    If Recommendations 17 and 20 were written the same as the draft rules before you, the industry representatives and maybe even a few non-industry members would NOT have voted in favor of the recommendations, and as such would not have passed out of the Task Force. In fact, as you will hear during the Industry presentation, there are certain elements of the rules that were outright rejected by the task force.

    That is why today, COGA, along with CPA and CPC, will be presenting an alternative rule that is based on the COGCC’s proposed rules, but reflects needed modifications in order to respect the intent, meaning and integrity of the actual recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force. The industry’s alternate proposed rule is based on the 3 C’s of Clarity, Consistency, and Certainty – you have heard this in prior rulemakings and we will explain in later testimony how our alternate rule follows the 3 C’s. Industry’s proposed rule maintains the intent and purpose of the unanimous recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force, while providing language that allows for the practicable and realistic application of an early evaluation process.

    Please keep in your mind that, in addition to the two recommendations before you today, industry task force members voted to support the other 7 recommendations, and COGA communicated and supported those recommendations to the legislature, as necessary. A lot is getting done, and today we are talking about two additional important recommendations to be implemented for further improvements in the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas resources.

    COGA recognizes that this is a very important hearing and that you have heard and will hear a lot of testimony, from many perspectives. We appreciate your patience and consideration and also want to say thank you to the staff for their very hard work on these tough issues. COGA asks that you strongly consider our alternative rule as presented later today by Ms. Jost as we do believe our proposal provides clarity, consistency, and certainty for all stakeholders, not just Industry.”

    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau
    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

    COGCC approves new rules to enhance local government participation in locating and planning for oil and gas operations

    From email from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

    The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) today approved new rules that amplify the role of local governments in siting large oil and gas facilities near communities and further bridge the regulatory roles between state regulators and local jurisdictions.

    The regulations address two recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. Specifically, the rules will:

    Provide earlier notice to local governments and opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities.
    Require additional mitigation measures and best management practices at these locations to address the potential impacts of oil and gas development activities.
    Require operators to share information with municipalities about future oil and gas development plans to encourage discussion and improve planning for both parties.
    Monday’s decision followed extensive public involvement, including three and a half days of testimony on the proposed rules dating to late last year, three stakeholder meetings in October and 11 statewide outreach meetings over the summer that included 39 local governments as well as several citizen and industry groups.

    “I appreciate the hard work of the COGCC staff and Commission to develop rules that implement the intent of the Task Force recommendations,” said Bernie Buescher, a Task Force member who supported the recommendations that led to the new rules. “The consultation and information sharing provisions reflect the desires of the Task Force to create more collaboration and communication between local governments and operators on large facilities near communities.”

    “The new rules provide meaningful opportunity for operators and local governments to negotiate siting issues early in the permitting process,” said Kirby Wynn, Oil and Gas liaison for Garfield County and representative for a coalition of Western Slope local governments at the rulemaking. “This was an extremely challenging rulemaking with diverse, entrenched, opinions. COGCC is to be commended for finding balance between the needs of local governments to consult with industry on well pad locations while providing sensible time limits for that consultation to occur.”

    “Going into this rulemaking, there were many expectations about its purpose, but the discussions among local and state governments, industry, and citizens have increased understanding on all sides of how local and state authority can be exercised in a complementary fashion to protect the public from oil and gas-related impacts,” said Barbara Green, an attorney specializing in local government issues and a participant in the rulemaking.

    The new rules are tied to recommendations (Nos. 17 and 20) of the Governor’s Oil and Task Force. On February 24, 2015 a two-thirds majority of the Task Force approved nine recommendations. Two of those required action by other agencies and two required action of the General Assembly. Five others required action by the COGCC, but only two of those five required a rulemaking process by the Commission.

    All documents, party statements, meeting audio and many other materials related to this rulemaking are housed on the COGCC website here: http://cogcc.state.co.us/reg.html#/rules/gtfrulemaking

    The rules approved Monday are the latest activity in a years-long effort at COGCC to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado. Since 2011, the COGCC and the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to lengthen distances between drilling and neighborhoods, reduce the effects of light, noise and odors, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.

    The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, increased ease of access and volume of data available to the public, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

    From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission left several sides of the debate – including environmental and industry interests – dissatisfied with certain results, suggesting that the process struck a compromise…

    Under the rule-making that concluded Monday, operators are required to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities.

    Perhaps the biggest issue was defining a large-scale facility. The definition for large facilities was connected to “urban mitigation areas,” which include areas within 1,000 feet of at least 22 homes, a school or a hospital.

    Commissioners set the trigger for operators to consult with local governments in urban mitigation areas at eight new wells, or 4,000 new or existing storage barrels, not including water storage. The motion passed on a 5-4 vote.

    No operations in La Plata County would fall under the definition, according to the La Plata County Energy Council. The county has only two urban mitigation areas, which were built after natural gas wells were drilled.

    Some counties, including La Plata, pushed for counties to be included in the mandate to register with local governments, as opposed to just requiring registration with towns and cities. The COGCC ultimately included counties in the registration process.

    But La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat, who co-chaired the governor’s task force, said counties are left with a limited voice.

    “It doesn’t require companies to provide counties with the same information they will be required to provide municipalities,” Lachelt said. “This is an erosion of local control.”

    Having dedicated six months to the task force, Lachelt was disappointed with the end result. She said the commission fell short of providing better protections for communities.

    “This process did not achieve those goals,” Lachelt said. “We have much work to do in Colorado to protect communities and local control.”

    Not all of La Plata’s three county commissioners, however, are concerned. Republican Brad Blake believes counties have had and continue to have a strong voice.

    “I’m not thrilled with the outcome, or sad with the outcome, because I think we still have the authority to look into these issues,” Blake said.

    He and the La Plata County Energy Council were disappointed that the county joined an alliance of several Front Range governments – led by Boulder – in calling for stricter rules. They wanted La Plata to represent its own interests.

    “La Plata entered into rule making with counties that they have absolutely nothing in common with,” said Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council.

    She also pointed out that there are existing memorandums of understanding with operators and a quarterly notification process in La Plata County.

    “La Plata County operators have been the leaders in sharing information and participating in local land-use codes and complying with COGCC regulations for decades,” Zeller said.

    Meanwhile, anti-fracking interests have proposed a slew of ballot proposals for this year, including banning fracking altogether and mandating larger setbacks of wells.

    “It’s not just the wells or the drilling, or the noise and lights and traffic 24 hours a day,” said Shawndra Barry, with the newly-formed League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “It is being disenfranchised with no due process.”

    From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch):

    A contentious state rule-making process intended to give local governments more say in the siting of large oil and gas facilities in their communities ended Monday as divided as it began almost a year and a half ago…

    But on the heart of the matter — how big a proposed oil and gas facility must be to trigger local government involvement — commissioners were split, just like the many industry representatives, environmental groups, local government officials and members of the public who testified during the marathon, day-long hearing.

    Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of defining “large scale” as eight new wells or 4,000 barrels of new or existing storage, not including water.

    Tripping either threshold gives local governments a say on where the well pads can be sited and provides nearby residents with more stringent protections regarding noise, emissions, fire control, etc. — but only when the proposed facility falls within an urban mitigation area.

    Urban mitigation areas, as defined by state law, are areas where oil and gas operations are within 1,000 feet of 22 or more homes or a large facility such as a school or hospital.

    Whether the new rules, which will go into effect 20 days after publication by the secretary of state, are enough to head off future conflict remains to be seen.

    Industry representatives and advocates of local control expressed disappointment immediately after the commission’s vote.

    “We’re disappointed that the COGCC chose to go beyond the original task force recommendations, especially in these economic times with oil prices the way that they are and jobs suffering,” Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said.

    “But we do very much appreciate the process that COGCC staff ran. It was a very thorough and very well-vetted process,” she said. “We’ll continue like we always have, to work with local governments and stakeholders.”

    Oil and gas companies had advocated for a much higher 12-well or 9,600-barrel storage threshold.

    Allied Local Governments — a pro-local control consortium representing Brighton, Broomfield, Erie, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, and Boulder and La Plata counties — hoped the commission would err on the side of requiring more communication, triggering local input at 2,000 barrels of on-site storage including water, and 45,000 feet of well-bore length.

    At the beginning of Monday’s hearing, the COGCC staff proposed 90,000 feet of well-bore length and 2,000 barrels of storage, not including water.

    Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

    “The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org
    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

    Turning the Corner on #ClimateChange in 2016 — Western Resource Advocates

    From Western Resource Advocates (Jon Goldin-Dubois):

    As we begin the New Year I am filled with hope for real and concrete progress to protect the incredible place we call home. The past year has provided a strong foundation that we can build upon to reduce climate pollution and to protect western rivers and landscapes. Here’s what I mean:

    Coming out of the climate agreements negotiated by 195 countries in Paris that concluded in December, many of the world’s nations are expected to take their first steps to address climate change. For the U.S. and most developed nations, this means cutting carbon emissions. For developing nations, the accord calls for financial incentives that will help them leapfrog carbon intensive development. Importantly, the agreement endeavors to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (scientists argue we must keep warming to under 2 degrees Celsius to stop climate change’s most devastating impacts).

    Certainly, some advocates have argued that the agreement didn’t do enough. To be truthful, I would have liked to see stronger commitments to cut carbon pollution more quickly as well. But I think the agreement provides reason for hope. I say this for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that earlier in 2015 the EPA issued the Clean Power Plan, mandating carbon pollution reductions from U.S. power plants of about 33%. Clearly that’s not enough to address the U.S. share, but it does send a very strong message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is prepared to take action. In issuing the new standards earlier this year on coal-fired power plants, the Obama administration and EPA have taken our nation’s first real steps to address the carbon pollution that we know is leading to climate change. The rules have some other compelling attributes, including cleaning up air quality in communities across the country, substantial reductions in asthma attacks and other negative health impacts of dirty air, and saving consumers money.

    The Paris Agreement, coupled with the Clean Power Plan, sends a strong message to power providers but also offers some predictability (which utilities want) and sets the stage for a carbon restrained, if not a carbon free, future.

    I’m also optimistic because we now know that clean energy sources such as wind and solar can compete with coal on a cost basis, and that they are getting cheaper every day. This is a big part of the reason that in 2014, far more clean, renewable energy than fossil fuel-based energy was added to the electric grid in the United States. We will soon see the 2015 numbers, but this trend is projected to continue. In 2015 major utilities in our western region stated clearly that clean, renewable wind energy is now predictably their lowest-cost source for energy generation. And several solar projects are beating coal and gas on a head-to-head basis, leading to new projects that will come on line in 2016.

    My hope goes beyond recent action on climate change. The end of 2015 provided some expectation that we will begin to face up to some of the severe challenges to the health of our western rivers. In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper signed the state’s first water plan. This year presents the first opportunity to take action that forwards the plan’s goals of conservation, reuse and water sharing. 2015 also saw Governor Sandoval in Nevada addressing the region’s water challenges as he convened a drought forum to develop solutions for Nevada. While it is still unclear what the ultimate impact of the current El Nino weather system (which can bring above average precipitation to the Colorado River Basin) will mean to the West and our water supply, it seems like it is finally sinking in that we shouldn’t rely on the weather when it comes to water. We need to take action throughout the Colorado River states to ensure that we have the water we need to serve 40 million people that rely on the River. But we also must ensure that our rivers not only sustain life in our cities, but also can continue to provide the thrilling opportunities to raft and fish, and the habitat to sustain abundant wildlife – just a few of the things that make the West so spectacular.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of challenges.

    • The nations of the world need to respond to the Paris agreement in the spirit with which it was crafted. Individual countries (and our states here in the West) need to respond by developing aggressive plans to reduce carbon pollution.
    • Our western states similarly need to take smart steps to protect and restore our rivers, as we plan for population and economic growth. This includes conservation, reuse, recycling, sharing water between urban and agriculture users, and smart storage solutions.
    • There are several ill-advised – okay, let’s be honest – flat out stupid plans to develop oil shale and tar sands throughout wilderness-quality lands in northeastern Utah that are still on the table. These plans need to be stopped.

    We’ll take on these and other issues, like protection of Great Salt Lake and other iconic landscapes in the West, while working to find smart solutions on the climate, clean energy and river- and water-related efforts described above by building on the many successes of 2015.

    Six days in to 2016, and yes, I am truly excited and hopeful about the prospects for making even more progress to protect the many places that we care about here in the West.

    From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)
    From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)