If you show up to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearings this week and think you‘re having déjà vu of the very same arguments from the very same small gathering of anti-energy activists from the May and June COGCC hearings, you’d be right. And it’s not just limited to the COGCC anymore, activists finally started showing up to the Air Quality Control Commission meetings recently, as well. But as EID noted last time, the activists are split in their approach to SB 181.
EID has been tracking these same arguments now for years! So, we put together this simple, yet direct pre-buttal (again) to the arguments that will be made during public comment time.
And while activists have every right to make their presentation, we simply ask those covering the hearings to acknowledge that state regulators have listened and answered many of these concerns before. Industry, too, has listened and responded as appropriate, as was the case to address school setbacks last year. But if history is any indication, we know that some reporters simply want the usual “activists versus industry” storyline.
Here is what you should expect to hear from activists.
CLAIM: There should be a statewide moratorium until the SB 181 rulemaking process concludes.
FACT: Backers of a statewide moratorium never supported SB 181, a law that didn’t envision a ban on production.
Many of the activist groups including Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, and Be the Change never supported SB 181 while it made its way through the legislative process, contending that it didn’t go far enough. But since passage, they have attempted to hijack the rulemaking process by using the law as a mechanism to call for a statewide moratorium. Those requests have been repeatedly denied by the COGCC, with Director Jeff Robbins explaining that a moratorium “is contrary to intent of Senate Bill 181” and that the administration has suggested that the permitting process continue while rulemaking is completed.
Gov. Jared Polis has said that he hoped the passage of SB 181 would mean “that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over.” And in many ways, it has. With the exception of these KIITG activists who won’t be satisfied until a full ban is in place, a variety of stakeholders, including environmentalists, the oil and natural gas industry, and regulators have all come to the table to draft reasonable and comprehensive regulation.
But at the local level the governor’s sentiments about the “wars” being over is far from true. In contrast to the writers of SB 181’s assurances that the bill would not lead to a “de facto ban,” eight different counties have used their new local control authority to put in place a temporary moratorium. These actions highlight the divide between Democratic leaders and the activists and community leaders who make up the base of the party.
CLAIM: Living near oil and natural gas wells leads to poor health outcomes.
FACT: Colorado’s Health Department has shown the state’s oil and natural gas operations are protective of public health.
Throughout this rulemaking process, activists continue to cite Colorado University Researcher Lisa McKenzie, whose research on potential health impacts from fracking has been met with significant criticism for its severe limitations. For instance, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has called her research “misleading.”
One of the biggest limitations in much of her research, including her most recent study attempting to link oil and natural gas development with heart defects in newborns, is that she doesn’t take actual air or groundwater samples. Yet she continues to make unsubstantiated claims in each new study published, as EID shows in a rundown of McKenzie’s typical playbook.
Additionally, CDPHE published its own research that reviewed 12 relevant epidemiological studies covering 27 different health impacts and found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.” The department ranked the majority of recent studies claiming to find a link between oil and natural gas activity and adverse health effects as “low quality, primarily due to limitations of the study designs that make it difficult to establish clear links between exposures to substances emitted directly from oil and gas and the outcomes evaluated.”
CLAIM: Well sites have had excessive emissions.
FACT: CDPHE has said that producers are meeting their required standards to address emissions.
WildEarth Guardians, an activist group that’s rallied support behind a statewide moratorium, has filed numerous lawsuits claiming excessive emissions at well sites. But the CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division head Gary Kaufman said his team has conducted on site investigations at these sites, finding that “in each and every instance they had the required control equipment, it was operating properly and there weren’t emissions issues.”
Kaufman also spoke about the combination of improved regulations and industry innovation in reducing emissions even as production increased:
“I think it’s misleading and inaccurate to say that we haven’t made a lot of gains in the air quality environment for oil and gas…. we’ve seen a huge increase in production – probably 5- 6-, 7-fold, since 2004 – doubling in the last few years. And in the face of that increase, in particular since we passed the 2014 regulations, we see almost an exponential growth in production and have cut the emissions concentrations in half, which speaks a lot to the effectiveness of the regulation.”
CLAIM: Natural gas is bad for the environment.
FACT: Natural gas is why the United States leads the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. government data show this is simply incorrect. The wide adoption of natural gas as a baseload energy source is the main reason the United States has been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels not seen since the early 1990s, despite an expanding economy. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data show that in 2017, methane emissions decreased by 8 percent while natural gas and oil production both increased. And since 2005, total CO2 emissions decreased by nearly 14 percent while oil and natural gas production increased more than 80 percent and 51 percent, respectively.
CLAIM: Fracking causes Colorado’s elevated ozone levels.
FACT: Out of state sources are the primary driver of Colorado’s ozone.
Colorado faces distinct challenges when it comes to ozone. Topography, elevation and weather all have an impact on the state’s elevated levels. Those factors also exacerbate the background ozone that travels into the region from outside sources like China.
A 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study “found that increased pollution from Asia, which has tripled its nitrogen oxide emissions since 1990, is to blame for the persistence of smog in the West, despite American laws reducing the smog-forming chemicals coming from automobile tailpipes and factories.” Another recent study found that 70 to 75 percent of Denver’s ozone is due to sources that originate from out of state. Further, a 2016 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study found that oil and natural gas emissions account for an average of only 17 percent of daily volatile organic compounds that create ground level ozone.
Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry is doing its part to address the ozone issue. Industry has halved its emissions of VOCs in the Denver area over the past six years, during a time when production quadrupled statewide.
As noted above, the usual cast of characters have a long week in front of them, with meetings at the AQCC meeting Monday, COGCC hearings Wednesday and Thursday, and a House of Representatives field hearing in Boulder on Thursday. We will be at each of these meetings to correct the record and provide information as always. Look for us on Twitter.
This post appeared first on Energy In Depth.