Air Quality is Being Harmed by Oil And Gas Development

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sometimes it seems that a headline should be too obvious to write, a title too trite and true. The “Dog Bites Man” story.

But there it is. And here we are–policy-wise–debating as if it is actually a question whether Colorado’s air quality is harmed by industrial development known to spew methane and volatile compounds.

Such is the power of money and slick PR. And it doesn’t just buy opinion and confound the public, it seems to buy congressmen too.

Congressman Scott Tipton represents Colorado’s Third Congressional District, home to America’s largest concentration of methane pollution from oil and gas development.

Earlier this month a new NASA study put to rest any doubt that America’s largest cloud of methane pollution was tied directly to oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin, the Durango Herald is reporting.

A two-year study released by NASA on Monday confirmed suspicions that energy extraction practices are largely responsible for the methane hot spot in the Four Corners.

“The argument that most of the emissions are from natural seeps, definitely, we can put that to rest,” said Christian Frankenberg, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Most of the plumes we observed were directly related to industrial facilities.”

Shortly after the study was made public, a coalition of local and regional oil and gas associations in Colorado and New Mexico decried NASA’s findings, calling it limited in scope.

“They did not fly the entire outcrop,” Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said of the area where methane naturally escapes from the Earth’s surface. “We disagree with it (NASA’s study) wholeheartedly. We know and believe the largest sources are that outcrop.”

And this past Tuesday the state health department issued a pollution alert for the Front Range according to the Denver Post:

The Front Range corridor from El Paso County north to Larimer and Weld counties, including the Denver-Boulder area, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Greeley, is under the alert.

Ozone concentrations are expected occasionally to reach unhealthy levels for sensitive groups Tuesday and Wednesday.

People exercising outdoors and those doing physical jobs or tasks outdoors should be aware of the conditions and react accordingly, the health department advises. Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.

As the Gazette reported from Colorado Springs, yesterday:

Ozone occasionally accumulates at high concentrations near the ground during the summertime, when pollution from vehicle exhaust, paints, cleaning fluids and other chemicals react with sunshine.

Image depicts plumes of methane pollution from oil and gas operations.

The Front Range has been out of compliance with the federal ozone standard for almost ten years, which was tightened even further last year.

Colorado has reason to address emissions causing ozone pollution and it’s not just the feds. Poor air quality is a public health menace and a drain on public resources.

In the days between the Four Corners methane report and this recent public health warning, another a first-of-its-kind study was being reported out of CU Boulder. That study also linked oil and gas development to local air pollution—the very kind threatening Coloradans’ health this week.

A new study is the first to directly quantify how emissions from oil and gas activities influence summertime ozone pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem.

The CU Study found that oil and gas operations in the region contributed nearly one-fifth of the ground-level summer ozone pollution along the Front Range.

The northern Front Range has seen a big boom in oil and gas activity in recent years: The number of active wells in central Colorado’s Wattenberg gas field nearly doubled to over 27,000 between 2008 and 2015, according to state data.

…[The CU study] found that the VOCs from oil and gas contribute an average of 17 percent to local, chemically produced ozone during the summer. “Seventeen percent is small but potentially still significant,” said Steven Brown, co-author and scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. “

America’s largest cloud of methane pollution hovers over the San Juan Basin oil and gas field and the home of Rep. Scott Tipton.

The CU study is relevant, not only because Coloradans are literally being warned about exercising outside, but because the federal government is working to address this very problem through new regulations clamping down on fugitive oil and gas emissions.

Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have recently implemented or are finalizing rules to limit methane leakage from oil and gas facilities.

Of course these efforts to clean up our air are being opposed by the oil and gas industry–as the top quote in this post makes clear.

And from the Albuquerque Journal article, also on the NASA study:

The report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said about 250 individual sources — including gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and processing plants — appear to account for about half of all methane emissions in the area. Of that, about 50 percent is coming from just 25 individual sources, meaning two dozen points of emission are responsible for about one-fourth of all the methane spewing into the atmosphere in the Four Corners.

… The study comes amid debate over new Environmental Protection Agency rules released in May, plus forthcoming Bureau of Land Management regulations, that require industry operators to cease venting natural gas into the air, repair leaky infrastructure and monitor their assets for methane emissions. Those policies aim to slow global warming, since methane is about 80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas over the first 20 years after entering the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

…Industry leaders, however said new regulations should await the results of more research now underway.

“We believe a whole lot of additional studies are needed before we can say massive policy changes are called for in the San Juan Basin,”

A disappointing response from industry, perhaps, although not unexpected. But the worse of it is that it is not only oil and gas spokespeople that are denying the science and downplaying the threat. Chief among the opponents of cleaner air are a few of Colorado’s own congressmen.

Children are at particular risk from bad air quality, like that caused by methane pollution from oil and gas operations.

Take Third Congressional District representative, Scott Tipton for example. He not only represents the area that is “home to America’s largest methane cloud,” but he hails from the region as well.

Rather than working with the agencies to help address a serious problem plaguing his district and the State of Colorado, Rep. Scott Tipton has chosen to side with the industry instead, as reported in his hometown newspaper the Cortez Journal:

Rep. Scott Tipton urges federal agency to get rid of new methane rule

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, joined 56 other members of Congress on Wednesday in signing and sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell asking her to withdraw the Bureau of Land Management’s new methane venting and flaring rule.

… Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Basin is home to part of the highest concentration of methane in the country.

Representative Tipton’s position on oil and gas has long been clear: he’s all for it. And that appears to be regardless of what local communities or elected officials think. As Gail Schwartz, his Democratic opponent this November, noted at a recent stop in Pueblo, and as reported in the Chieftain:

“Scott Tipton represents his largest donors, which are oil and gas. He doesn’t represent his communities,” she said.

Some things a bit too obvious to state. That oil and gas development pollutes and that pollution is harmful, for instance. Or that an elected representative should look out for constituents and the public good foremost, rather than for the benefit of out-of-state well-heeled donors.

This November we can set both these matters on a more sensible course. Elections matter, including to the very air we breathe.

7 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. PKolbenschlag says:

    Here is a question, maybe of interest to other authors, about lack of comments. Does that mean the post is not getting "traffic" or just that it is so totally complete and awesome that there is simply nothing else to say? 

    • Duke Cox says:

      The latter, my friend. Such a good and comprehensive diary, there is nothing to add but kudos, which I neglected to do when I read it.

      The mental narrative that goes down when I read your stuff goes like this…

      "uh-huh…yep…you got that right…uh-huh…agreed…the greedy bastards…that's correct…yep…nice work, Pete…nailed it!"

      I just forgot to mention it this time.smiley

    • Pseudonymous says:

      I read it, and thought it well-written and informative, but I tend not to reply to comments or diaries unless I believe I have something "else" to say.  If you've said what I would have, there's not much reason to fire up the keyboard.

      It would be nice to get some idea about traffic, but it might be problematic.  Many diaries don't run over the space provided on the main page, and I expect many folks, like me, never click through if that's the case and they have nothing to add. Maybe some sort of “like” functionality would work.

  2. mamajama55 says:

    It is a good summary and call to action. I've been busy with prep for the start of school and frothing about the unholy abortion activist / insurance broker / timid Dem legislator coalition against Amendment 79.

    But I am particularly concerned with the Bella Romero School fracking operations in Greeley. Literally, right in the school's backyard, within 100' from its playground, methane pollution will be emitted and trucks will be trundling down the narrow road adjacent to the school. Poor and low income kids, obviously. Methinks this would not happen in Cherry Creek, or anyplace outside of Greeley. 

    Activists have canvassed the neighborhood and gone to school board meetings. Most of the parents had no idea that their kids would be put at risk for someone else's "mineral rights". But so far, the school district is only trying to cash in and get sidewalks in exchange for allowing the operation.

    Ken Buck, of course, is all for it. Must frack. Must frack everywhere possible. Even Democratic Greeley rep Dave Young is very concerned  – not about the kids so much, as that the owner's mineral rights might be "taken". I had buttonholed Dave at the recent Rural Development Initiative meeting.

    I wouldn’t be too concerned with the lack of comments. Can you seriously hope to compete with news about five naked statues of Trump? There is also a certain laziness that sets in, and it takes someone like Duke to break the ice and make the first comment. I’d say, if you want traffic and comments, post on Kos. Most of what gets posted there is crap, and your diary will stand out.

    Anyway, another fine diary, and thanks for writing it. La lucha continua.


  3. PKolbenschlag says:

    I wish Pols would have a system whereby authors could see how well their work is doing.  

    • BlueCat says:

      Since there's no "like" button maybe we should be more consistent about posting the "like" symbol ourselves (many of us often do) when we think something is very good but don't have anything to add or don't have the time. That would give a pretty idea of how much traffic a comment is getting. 


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