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November 20, 2013 08:32 AM UTC

Hick's Fracking Fracas Goes On Despite Air Quality Progress

  • by: Colorado Pols

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports:

A day after celebrating a compromise between the oil and gas industry and environmental groups on a new set of air quality rules to reduce emissions from Colorado well sites, Gov. John Hickenlooper faced new calls Tuesday for an all-out ban on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, from liberals on both coasts.

In Washington, Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, blasted the state’s rules around natural gas extraction, approved last year, and touted by Hickenlooper as a national model.

“The fracking rules are overseen by an oil and gas commission that is heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry,” Polis said on the House floor.

He also said that homeowners “don’t have at their disposal the independence or the ability to enact real penalties for violations of our laws and their charge is not first and foremost to protect homeowners and families and health.”

The Denver Post's Allison Sherry also took note of the blue-on-blue exchange between Rep. Jared Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper over Colorado's protections (or lack thereof) for homeowners from oil and gas drilling:

“[O]ur state doesn’t have any meaningful regulation to protect homeowners,” Polis said, in the floor debate on a series of energy measures. “Unfortunately the fracking rules are overseen by an oil and gas commission that is heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry. They don’t have at their disposal the independence or the ability to enact real penalties for violations of our laws and their charge is not first and foremost to protect homeowners and families and health.”

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office disagreed, pointing out Colorado’s “robust and leading-edge regulatory process for oil and gas drilling.”

“We respect the congressman representing his constituents,” said Hickenlooper’s spokesman Eric Brown. “And we understand the genuine anxiety and concern of having an inudstrial process close to neighborhoods. Yet the Colorado constitution protects the rights of people to access their property above and below ground.”

In addition to very public criticism of Colorado's oil and gas drilling rules by Polis, and by extension the Hickenlooper administration, the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee points us to a video (above) released by Americans Against Fracking, with a number of minor celebrities–we recognized the one who plays Claire on Modern Family–calling on Hickenlooper to entirely ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in Colorado.

Perhaps most interesting about all of this, though we believe it to be coincidental, is that Hickenlooper is fresh off a round of highly favorable pro-conservation press after Monday's announcement of new air quality rules for drilling and storage. We talked earlier this month about the opportunity Gov. Hickenlooper had, after a very rough Election Day including the passage of four local measures to ban or suspend fracking, to recover some standing with the Democratic base by doing something bold with these air quality rules. The revised draft is considerably stronger than the first one, which was rejected by conservationists as inadequate. 

Hickenlooper's proposal to make Colorado the first state to regulate methane emissions indeed is a very significant development, and he should get credit for it from conservationists. In addition to being a major suspected driver of climate change, methane emissions contribute heavily to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution. With Colorado oil and gas production areas frequently out of compliance with federal air quality standards for ozone, this plan may be as much about keeping the feds at bay as anything else. That shouldn't take away from the good that will be done, but it's worth noting that it wasn't exactly altruistic on the part of the industry.

And as you can see, it's just one piece of a much larger struggle over safe oil and gas production in Colorado. Between the growing calls for a total ban on fracking, which is not realistic, and the present status quo that has pushed fearful homeowners to enact local bans in direct conflict with state law, there must be a middle ground that can balance the need to produce energy with public health and environmental safety.

Hickenlooper's make-or-break political challenge as Governor is to strike that balance.


24 thoughts on “Hick’s Fracking Fracas Goes On Despite Air Quality Progress

  1. Well, the proposed new regs are a step in the right direction.  But only a step.  From my first cursory look, it seems as if they neglect the tens of thousands of existing wells.  The rule seems to cover only the issuance of permits for new wells.

    Much of the front range is in an ozone non-attainment area – which means that ozone frequently reaches an unsafe level.  Recent studies have shown that the biggest single contributor to ground-level ozone in the front range is oil and gas operations on the plains – those tens of thousands of existing wells.  Any meaningful regulation needs to address this problem.

    And, as Rep. Polis mentions, there are still valid concerns with the current legislative supremacy of mineral rights versus surface rights.  This is not in the Constution.  And, my personal reading of Gerrity vs. Magness (disclaimer: I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice) is that surface rights owners do have valid claims to damages if the mineral rights holder violates legislative or executive rules.  So, Hickenlooper and the state legislature could in fact do much more to protect property rights.  He needs to stop hiding behind the Constitution, it does not cover as much as he thinks it does.

  2. of this…


     worth noting that it wasn't exactly altruistic on the part of the industry.

     …you can be certain. Altruism is a foreign word to the corporations that annually take billions of dollars of profit from our state, while fouling our environment and putting our health at risk. It is in THEIR best interests to capture and sell fugitive methane emissions. The DJ Basin operators big challenge is to wrangle cooperation from the rest of the industry…particularly the drilling companies and the owners of stripper wells who see this as a nuisance or an unacceptable expense, respectively.

     It is also significant that COGA and the CPA did not sign on to these proposals, which are just that…proposals. They are not rules and may never become such. It is a common ploy of the industry, and its political spokespersons, to make a big media hoopla about some proposed agreement, only to deep six the proposal at a later date.

    As Pete Maysmith recommends in the video, I will wait until I see this proposal enacted as an actual rule before I get excited about it. Until then, it is just a publicity stunt.

    1. Fully agree, Duke.  As I mentioned in another post, give some thanks – but the devil will be in the details: implementation. And in my opinion, this is just one leg of our "three-legged stool" of challenges.  The fracking issues aren't going away – and the Byzantine severance tax code that cripples our treasury really must be fixed. 

      Even the spokesman for Noble Energy mentioned in his comments after the release that he's concerned at how the low prices are challenging producers.  It reminds me of the story of the child who murdered his parents and then pleaded mercy on the courts because he's an orphan.  I, like most of us, are rational people.  The industry itself is what's giving us low prices via the present day "Gold Rush" to prove reserves and increase their stock value. They can/should fix that part of the equation.

      As I've opined before, low gas prices are creating a dysfunction in the marketplace, etal. – it's not creating a panacea of jobs and environmental healing.  Natural gas could play that important bridge role – but today, it falls woefully short of those attributes.  Our Colorado [and national] economy would be functioning more sanely with higher gas prices [assuming we fix the severance tax code].  With higher prices the case can be made for innovation, methane capture and conservation – and contributing appropriately to state treasuries.

      1. "Hickenlooper's proposal to make Colorado the first state to regulate methane emissions indeed is a very significant development, and he should get credit for it from conservationists" does make him significantly preferable for less than satisfied Dems and anyone with environmental concerns who also are possessed of more sense than a piece of toast to vote for Hick in 2014 rather than any R alternative or the alternative of throwing away a vote on a third party or refusing to cast a vote. Especially since it shows that pressure to push Hick a step or steps in the more desired direction isn't a complete waste of energy as it would be with any R. Just sayin'. 

        1. As I said before, BC, the gas producers are not interested in saving the world. They are interested in saving and selling methane. This is the one thing Hick can do that gets a minimum of pushback from the industry. I see nothing that mentions VOCs, a precursor to ground level ozone. I give him zero credit for this announcement, which, until the new rule is in place and enforced, is just a bunch of noise designed to cover his ass. It is a proposal…nothing more.

          I will be impressed when he delivers full disclosure of fracking fluid ingredients, establishes a 1,500 foot setback, recinds the ad valorem tax credit, and holds O&G companies liable for damage and clean-up.

          Until then I will persist…

          Nice try, though. smiley

            1. Hey I didn't say this was terribly impressive. Just said it demonstrates that he's preferable to any R and he's what we're going to have as an alternative to that. Also shows pressure may not push him far but it probably can push him a little. Wasn't "try"ing to paint it any rosier than that

              Like I always say… you have to deal with what is first. What is right now is Hick or a much worse R. I also think "what is" is that Hick is going to win. 

              1. I don't doubt his re-election for a minute….and , as you say, he is definitely being pushed. I received an e-mail from his office today touting the proposal that seemed little more than a "lady in the black pantsuit" sort of offering. He is scrambling to find someway to appease the environmental community, but this isn't impressing anyone I know.

                Gov. Frackenlooper has been less than honest with us before. A press conference and a proposal that is not accepted by CPA and COGA is only slightly north of meaningless. Regulating methane is not a big lift…


                1. Here's a perfect example of the less-than-honest from the other day's press conference:

                  The inspections would be done by the industry, not state regulators. The state estimates that the new rules could prevent 92,000 tons of emissions per year.

                  "If you need some perspective, if you took every car in the state of Colorado off the streets for an entire year, that's about 92,000 tons of emissions, so this is significant," said Dr. Larry Wolk, the state's public health director.

                  Wolk was referring specifically to emissions called volatile organic compounds (VOC,) which are less prevalent in car emissions than in leaks from oil and gas production. Cars emit other pollutants like nitrous oxide, which means that the new rules wouldn't have the same impact as taking all cars off the road.

                  Still, the estimate seems to portray oil and gas production (an industry the governor champions) as a big polluter.

                  When the line of questioning circled in on that point at Monday's press conference, Gov. Hickenlooper stepped in.

                  "While this is earth-shattering and significant, it's not that earth shattering, or that significant," Hickenlooper said.

                  1.  Every knows that the best regulation is self-regulation by industry, right??

                  2.  When Hick constantly pooh-poohs the impact of these polluters — this time at the same damn press conference announcing the possible rule-making — does anyone really believe he's committing to anything other than a good game of three-card monte?

                  3.  And lastly, asking here because I don't know for sure, but will these new gee-whiz-bang rules have to pass the same state COGA Commission that has been packed with industry shills??  If so, then . . . well you know who this joke is on!!

                  1.  And lastly, asking here because I don't know for sure, but will these new gee-whiz-bang rules have to pass the same state COGA Commission that has been packed with industry shills??

                    I believe the AQCC is a part of the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE), so , no it isn't up to the COGCC.

                    That isn't much consolation, but, it may improve our chances a bit.

                    1. Duke – I appreciate all of your input on this.  Since I don't live in your war zone, I can only sympathize, not empathize.  And I remember how hard it was to implement Amendment 37 after we won at the ballot box in 2004 – that journey took nearly two years as we had a defiant Xcel Energy to work through [Wayne Brunetti was the CEO then – not a nice man]. 

                      I spent a lot of time on the Amendment 58 campaign in the Ritter era [raising the severance tax rate] – so the tax issue is very high on my list.  While I fully support adequate funding for public education – and thus was supportive of Amendment 66 – I would have much prefered that we fixed the severance tax construct first.

                      We need a grand bargain…not sure that's possible.

                  1. Agreed, my friend. We all have our role to play. I don't see any Republican unseating the Guv…

                    and I sure as hell haven't met one that I would vote for.

  3. Like the Apostle Paul once wrote to the BattlementMesanites: . . . "Regulation without enforcements is dead." . . . 

    As for Hick, someone needs to clue him in that these days there's a whole lot more Coloradoan voters living above ground than extracting obscene tax-subsidized profits from below ground . . . 

    1. I'm totally unfamiliar with the New Testament except for the most basic stuff, like Jesus walked on water, something with wine, something with fishes, died, rose, etc., so I'll have to take your word for that quote. wink

        1. Nah, actually I was riffing some old Sunday School (doesn't matter how many years pass, or how much you try to be a good athiest, you can't hardly ever forget those floggings lessons of your misspent youth) — actually from the Book of James (not one of Paul's), that "faith without works is dead" portion . . . 

          Anyway, for BC, I though I'd point out that James addresses his letter in it's first verse with, " . . . To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:  Greetings."  So, there you go BC — Greetings from the NT! wink

      1. Something with wine?  SOMETHING WITH WINE?!?!  Cat, Jesus turned water into wine, which if that really happened would be a Bidenesque big fucking deal.

  4. Great post. Excellent comments.

    An additional byproduct of fracking near homes is that banks and insurers are actively redlining properties afffected by drilling, directly impacting property values and salability, as well as liveability.

    Jared Polis appears be experiencing this firsthand. And his constiuents apparently share his views, as evidenced by their recent votes on fracking.


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