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September 27, 2013 08:56 AM MDT

Why Colorado Agriculture Should Care About Fuguitive Natural Gas Emissions

  • by: MichaelBowman

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Earlier this year the Climate Change Program OfficeAgricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture released a report, “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation” . The report was the first, comprehensive report on the effects of a changing climate and the need to address adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to US agriculture. In Colorado we’ve witnessed extreme droughts in the southeast over the past decade; our farmers in the northeast are challenged with diminishing water flows in the Republican River. As a result, large tracts of irrigated land are being retired; Bonny State Reservoir has been drained. On the west slope, predictable timing of runoff poses increasing challenges to agriculture – while they wrestle with many demands downstream for the water. The Ogallala Aquifer, once the worlds largest underground source of water trapped millions of years ago is now in what many describe as ‘the fourth quarter’.

While carbon dioxide emissions is the pollutant, as determined by the United States Supreme Court in 2007, that enjoys the bulk of media attention – there is another gas more potent, and increasingly playing a role in the Colorado air quality challenges: methane. In particular, fugitive methane emissions from Colorado’s natural gas industry and coal mines.

A recent study completed by USDA-ARS, “The Effects of Ozone Air Pollution on Plants” determines that increased levels of ozone has a dramatic effect on crop production when the concentration increases beyond certain levels. For Colorado agricultural producers, the results of the study should elicit a policy response: winter wheat, the predominant crop in eastern Colorado, begins to see production degradation at 40 parts per billion [ppb] Ozone; corn production is negatively affected above 55 ppb. Our entire state now experiences ozone levels above 55; the Front Range corridor is in a ‘red zone’, and according to the report is likely suppressing corn yields by 10%.

10% yield reduction on our Front Range corn production? That doesn’t really sound like too big a deal, yet in Weld County alone a 10% reduction in yield in today’s market is costing Weld County agriculture $12 million in lost production. Colorado winter wheat production in 2013 was projected at only 49,500,000 bushels (based on the USDA’s estimate of yield on July 11, 2013, down 33 percent from 73,780,000 bushels produced last year, and down 31 percent from the 10-year average crop of 71,978,000 bushels. A 10% degradation in state-wide wheat production attributed to increased ozone levels may have cost Colorado producers an estimated $24 million.

As we address the issue of fugitive methane emissions from Colorado’s fossil fuel production, we must account for the cost of not capturing those emissions in their totality. To date, our agriculture community has been nearly absent from this discussion. It’s time to bring the two state agricultural organizations to the table; scientists from CSU and USDA-ARS should also contribute to the discussion. Our complacency in the climate change discussion is affecting our bottom line; the support for a regulatory framework that eliminates these fugitive emissions is both in our best economic interest and economically and technologically feasible.


10 thoughts on “Why Colorado Agriculture Should Care About Fuguitive Natural Gas Emissions

  1. We'd like to promote this post but the image appears to be broken. Normally we would attempt to fix this, but we can't even find the URL for te image in the source code. If you can fix this, we'll promote this post right away.

  2. Michael, you asked about images earlier. The only reliable way I've found to put images in posts on here is through the image button (the "picture" button right above the font size button), and then paste the url of an online image in the dialog box that pops up. 

    Otherwise, I fart around with uploading and pasting, and it never quite works. 

  3. Thanks Pols and MMJ….just stepped off a plane.  I'll attempt to get this fixed right away.  The picture is a screen shot from the study [the embedded link] that I converted to jpg.  It lets me paste it into the body of WordPress [using visual] and when I have it in preview the box has the standard pic with "JPEG" but now the picture itself. 

  4. I'd like to see all of the climate change ostrich heads yanked out of the sand and forced to deal with reality.

    Perhaps Rep. Polis' proposed hearings on the damage to CO agriculture from climate-change induced flooding, with sloppy regulation of oil and gas production, will be the wake up call.

    1. Agreed, Mama.  This whole debate needs to be looked through the lens of its benfits and costs from a systems approach.  Getting our arms wrapped around the fugitive methane issues isn't [or shouldn't be] a big deal.  We know how to do it.  The technology exists.  And as soon the industry is mandated to do it – they will.  Water issues, a woefully-inadequate severance tax structure and the environmental exposure related to the currents regs all need to be on the table.

      There is a guest commentary in today's paper by John Harpole that is, unfortunately, similar to industry arguments we've seen before: always through a single lens when it should be viewed through a prism.  Like John I, too, had a grandmother who counted pennies.  She tapped the assitance when she needed it.  I guess it's not my style; I wouldn't have written guest commentary using my financially-challenged grandmother to promote the idea that fracking should continue, unabated and unregulated. It's intellectually dishonest.

      My personal opinion is that his editorial misses the mark on the real discussions we should be having.  $2 /mcf natural gas hasn't produced the significant benefits in our economy he'd like you to believe. We had a stronger economy when gas was north of $4.  It's akin to the argument about $5 wheat or $7 corn; when there is sufficient money in the sector, investments are made in technology that make everything better.  And from a public policy perspective I'd rather we have an industry paying severance tax on $4 gas, not $2. 

      In Yuma County, our next years assessed valuation has fallen dramatically.  The culprit? $2 gas. This, while we're swimming in Class 5 wind resources and trapped natural gas.  You'd think it wouldn't take an Einstein to connect the dots that, instead of Tri-State promoting the construction of a coal plant in Kansas, that they would link eastern Colorado wind and natural gas resources.  Better for everyone, right?  But no -we suffer through these fake "War on Rural Colorado" campaigns and today suffer through yet another Vince Carroll disingenuous diatribe on renewable energy. 

      And now we know there are real-time costs to Colorado agriculture that have yet to be a part of any industry discussion.  As with any industry sector conversation that describes their product as "cheap", whether it be food or energy, it's usually yet another argument for our current public policy that socializes all of the negative externalities of said product, while preserving the privatizatoin of their profits.

      I'm not anti-natural gas; I'm for a transparent, well-regulated industry that serves the entirey of our society as it should.  This shouldn't be an "either/or" discussion, yet we've allowed the industry to frame it as one. 


      1. When it comes to O&G, Michael, they have always controlled the dominant narrative. It took a massive messaging effort and a huge coalition to get the new rules written.

        Then, we had the voice of Bill Ritter to carry our message. Now, have John Frackenlooper in the pocket of COGA and the CPA.

        Big difference.

        1. With all of the push for Colorado to be known for its "Innovation Economy" there is no better place to make sure we're implementing all of the associated natural gas technologies for both the environment and job creation. 

          The Colorado Collaboratory and the School of Mines are precious resources in this realm. Places like Southwest Research have cutting edge technology that can capture gas from flares and low-head wells and turn it in to syndiesel. Yet we, the richest nation on Earth, have become so drunk in our arrogance that we think we can waste these kinds of resources.  I've heard the Governor talk often about his mother washing Saran Wrap and re-using it.  Same rule applies in the gas patch:  every one of us should all be insulted to our very core anytime we see this kind of mass waste and destruction to the environment around us.  We should be having our "Saran Wrap" moment.

          In North Dakota they're flaring of 1/3 of everything their pulling from the Earth in the Bakken.  $100 million/month literally going up in flames.  A resource that could be trapped.  [I understand that's a North Dakota argument, but there is a lot of technology that could be deployed and made commercial here and then taken north]. 

          We're not proving to be the smartest species on the planet.

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