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The NTSB Firestone House Explosion Report

In April 2017, the Martinez house in Firestone Colorado blew up for no apparent reason. Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin were killed in the explosion. Erin Martinez lived, but suffered extreme burns across her body. That’s when I got the phone call. “We know how you feel about fracking, would you come take pictures.” That began a year long process of being in Firestone taking pictures of the first public event as the Mayor, Police Chief, and Fire Chief introduced the NTSB Federal Investigator. Through the funeral, the dedication of the ballpark, the Heroes Ceremony, and the one year raising of the flag to honor the family. It was determined that leaking methane had caused the explosion while Mark and Joey were installing a water heater. Mark and Joey didn’t do anything wrong in how they were installing the water heater. Mark and Joey never did anything wrong to deserve to die like that.

Firestone continues to put fracking wells next to schools, churches, and houses…

Chris Cleary


The decision by local officials to allow homes to be built on land near oil and gas drilling facilities without complete knowledge of buried pipelines in the area contributed to the fatal explosion of a house in Firestone in 2017, federal investigators say.

“Contributing to the accident was the approval by local authorities to allow occupied structures to be built on land adjacent to or previously part of oil and gas production fields without complete documentation from the operator, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, on the location and status of its gathering system pipelines,” the National Transportation Board said in a seven-page, final report on the blast released this month. 

The NTSB also found that the severed natural gas pipeline that caused the blast likely had been cut in 2015, during construction of the same house it later destroyed. 

Three severed pipelines were found beneath a concrete pad about six feet from the home’s foundation, the NTSB said, all of which were originally connected to nearby natural gas wells. 

Only one of those three pipes, however, was still connected to a well near the residence. The well — initially drilled by Gerrity Oil and Gas, then purchased by Patina Oil and Gas Corporation and eventually bought in 2013 by Anadarko Petroleum — had been dormant until less than three months before the explosion.

The Firestone explosion was directly caused by odorless natural gas that had seeped from the severed pipeline into the basement of a home owned by Mark and Erin Martinez. The house was lifted off of its foundation and rearranged into a fiery pile of debris when the gas ignited.

“It is important that pipeline owners and operators maintain and distribute accurate information on the location of pipelines since inadvertent strikes during construction and excavation work is a leading cause of pipeline damage and accidents,” the NTSB said.

The April 17, 2017, explosion in Firestone, which killed Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joe Irwin, has been a central focus of the debate on oil and gas safety in Colorado. It was one of the driving factors behind Democrats’ measure rewriting state drilling regulations, Senate Bill 181, passed during this year’s legislative session. 

Mark Martinez and Irwin were replacing a water heater in the basement of the Martinezes’ home when the blast happened. Investigators have said they did not contribute to the tragedy.

Erin Martinez, who was severely injured in the explosion, has pushed for better mapping of oil and gas flowlines in the state. The Denver Post, however, reported recently that the state’s underground pipelines are still not fully mapped after then-Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered them mapped after the Firestone explosion.

In a statement released Tuesday, Erin Martinez said she was disappointed by the NTSB report “in its brevity and lack of any recommendations whatsoever to protect public safety and prevent further tragedy.”

“As I’ve said many times since I lost my husband and brother: ‘With great tragedy should come great change,’” the statement said. “The NTSB report clearly doesn’t acknowledge the horrific nature of my family’s loss, nor does it provide any guidance for preventing similar tragedies in the future.”

The NTSB says the final report is expected to be their final word on the blast.

“As you may know the NTSB conducts very thorough and methodical safety investigations,” NTS spokesman Keith Holloway told The Colorado Sun. “In the report the NTSB determines the probable cause and provide information as to how that caused was determined. NTSB is not a regulatory agency so the safety investigation highlights the safety issues as a result of this investigation. No further action is expected at this time.”

Senate Bill 181 requires better flowline and leak detection requirements. As part of that mandate, rulemaking by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission related to the management of flowlines, abandoned wells, and the inspection of shut-in wells before they are returned to production is scheduled to begin Nov. 19 in Greeley.

In Broomfield, new construction permits in a neighborhood in the Anthem Highlands subdivision are being withheld while COGCC Orphaned Well program mitigates natural gas leaking from a plugged and abandoned well. The leak was detected by the city’s soil and gas testing program.

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Wind Power Could Meet Entire World’s Electricity Needs 18 Times Over

Wind power could meet entire world’s electricity needs 18 times over, says International Energy Agency

Wind power accounts for just 0.3 per cent of the world’s energy – but as costs fall and green policies rise, it is on course to grow into a trillion-dollar industry.

And ultimately, it has the potential to provide sufficient clean electricity for every person on Earth 18 times over, a major industry report has now claimed.

What’s more, the winds of change are blowing at high speeds. Global offshore wind capacity could increase 15-fold and attract around $1 trillion (£800bn) of cumulative investment by as soon as 2040, the International Energy Agency report finds.

“The UK is on course to lose its crown as the nation producing most offshore wind power as huge capacity is due to be in place in China by 2025”

The IEA says this boom is being driven by the declining costs in installations, supportive government policies and “remarkable technological progress” with components such as larger turbines and floating foundations.

Outlining the rapid pace of change, which the authors say has been led by European countries including the UK, the report says the global offshore wind market grew nearly 30 per cent per year between 2010 and 2018.

There are now about 150 new offshore wind projects in development around the world, with China adding more capacity than any other country in 2018.

“Yet today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential,” the authors write

“With high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 terrawatt hours per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.”

But the agency says “much work” must be done to bring a clean energy revolution to fruition.

“Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3 per cent of global power generation, but its potential is vast,” said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. 

“More and more of that potential is coming within reach, but much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of clean energy transitions.”

Growing awareness of the climate crisis and political responses to environmental concerns are also contributing to growth in the sector, the report indicates.

In just 20 years, wind could become Europe’s main source of energy generation.

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Report: Just One Accepting Adult Can Save an LGBTQ Young Person’s Life

LGBTQ youth are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers — but acceptance can go a long way toward addressing that crisis.

new report from the Trevor Project shows that just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40 percent.

This support is greatly needed. An additional report released Thursday by the Trevor Project shows that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ young people (ages 13 to 24) contemplate a suicide attempt each year in the United States.

The survey was conducted with over 25,000 LGBTQ young people in this age range as part of the Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

These findings are significant. Previous studies focused on the impact of accepting parents toward their LGBTQ children. However, the data shows that any supportive adult can have a beneficial impact on this demographic.

Minority stress — created by stigma, discrimination, bullying, or a perception of bias — is credited as the main detractor to the mental health of LGBTQ youth. 

The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, transgender, bisexual, gay, queer, and questioning young people. The group offers a number of volunteer opportunities for adults, such as its 24/7 TrevorLifeline (866-488-7386), TrevorChat, and TrevorText programs, which offer young people feeling suicidal an avenue to talk.

Colorado Health Study Finds Significant Risks From Fracking

A long-delayed public health study commissioned by Colorado regulators found that oil and gas drilling poses health risks at distances greater than current minimum “setback” distances, a development that is poised to send shockwaves through a regulatory environment already in a state of transition and uncertainty.

“Exposure to chemicals used in oil and gas development, such as benzene, may cause short-term negative health impacts…during ‘worst-case’ conditions,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a press release. “The study found that there is a possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 feet out to 2,000 feet.”

The state’s current rules require new oil and gas wells to be at least 500 feet from single-family homes and 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings. Proposition 112, the statewide ballot measure pushed by environmental groups and defeated by Colorado voters in 2018, would have imposed a 2,500-foot minimum.

State toxicologist Kristy Richardson said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that the results of the study are consistent with the health impacts that have been reported by Colorado residents near oil and gas sites in recent years.

“We’ve received, since 2015, about 750 health concerns that have been reported through our hotline,” Richardson said. “About 60 percent of those concerns reported to us are things like headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory issues, skin irritation.”

The study, conducted by consulting firm ICF International, is one of the most comprehensive analyses of its kind, and was submitted for peer review and publication in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association. Its modeling is based on air samples collected near oil and gas sites along the Front Range and in Garfield County on the Western Slope.

“I haven’t come across any data like this in the world,” state epidemiologist Mike Van Dyke told CPR News when the study was first announced in 2017.

“This study is the first of its kind because it used actual emissions data to model potential exposure and health risks,” John Putnam, the CDPHE’s environmental program director, said in a statement on the study’s release.

The study is also consistent with a large body of existing health and environmental research finding risks associated with oil and gas development. A 2016 analysis published in the scientific journal PLOS One reviewed nearly 700 peer-reviewed studies on the health impacts of fracking and found that 84 percent of them “contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes.”

As it faced repeated delays over the past two years, the study achieved a somewhat mythical status in environmental-advocacy circles. Anti-fracking activists were suspicious when the study’s initial release was pushed back until after the 2018 election, when Coloradans voted on Proposition 112.

Oil and gas groups, in turn, speculated earlier this year that the study’s release was being delayed until Democrats could pass Senate Bill 181, a package of oil and gas reforms that strengthened health and safety protections and granted local governments greater authority to regulate drilling.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is already undertaking an overhaul of its rules following the enactment of SB 181, but has not halted any permits during rule making, issued a response to the study that outlined a series of immediate changes to its review processes.

“Working with our partners and CDPHE, we will immediately enact stricter and safer precautionary review measures to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment,” COGCC director Jeff Robbins said in a statement.

Those measures include ensuring that “a protective review will occur for all wells under 2,000 feet from well to building unit.” Following the passage of SB 181, the agency had already said it would subject permits under 1,500 feet to additional review.

Anti-fracking group Colorado Rising, which has called on the state to impose a moratorium on new drilling permits, said the study highlights the inadequacy of the state’s approach to regulating oil and gas. Anne Lee Foster, the group’s communications director, pointed to cases in which residents impacted by fracking have undergone blood tests showing elevated levels of benzene — which researchers wrote was the “critical toxic effect” identified by the study.

We have a lot of corroborative data showing people, especially children, with very high levels of benzene in their blood,” says Foster. “I think this goes to support the case that we need to pause the permits. We don’t know what level of harm is being done, especially when it comes to cumulative impacts.”

The COGCC said the study’s findings will impact the SB 181 rulemaking process, and the agency will continue to work with CDPHE to review health impacts from oil and gas development.

“This study just reinforces what we already knew: We need to minimize emissions from oil and gas sources,” Putnam said.

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Denver Climate Strike with Greta Thunberg

I had the unique experience of being on the stage and taking pictures of the Denver Climate Strike on October 11, 2019. It was incredible, it was emotionally overwhelming, it was one of those experiences that when reflected upon, still makes my eyes tear up. I went to see Greta Thunberg speak in person. Greta has inspired the global youth to speak up and speak out about our current Climate Crisis. Adding to the gravitas and magic of the day, Native Elders led the Ceremony with Traditional songs, Native youth spoke, Earth Guardians, 350.org, and Mother’s Out Front were all present. The painted handprint across their faces was to bring awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.

Thank you all again for an amazing day.


American Solar Jobs Eclipse Fossil Fuels

Clean energy jobs in California now outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry five to one, a new study has found, an increase driven by the state’s ever-expanding renewable energy and climate laws.

More than 512,000 people are employed in jobs related to clean energy  — from installing solar panels to building electric cars — making the state home to 1 in 7 such jobs in the United States, the study found. Those numbers are expected to grow further in the coming years, as California further ramps up efforts to address climate change.

“The clean energy industry is a large and growing part of our economy, certainly here in California, but nationally as well,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a non-profit group with offices in San Francisco and San Diego that compiled the data.

“With the right policies, we can keep these clean energy jobs growing in red states, blue states, purple states,” Keefe said, “and in every county in California from Humboldt to San Diego.” 

The study was based on an annual survey of businesses called the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, a snapshot of the energy industry that in the past was put out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

But the survey was discontinued after President Trump took office in 2017. In recent years, the report has been compiled instead by two non-profit groups using the same methodology, the Energy Futures Initiative, and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

Among the study’s findings for California:

  • Statewide, there were 512,934 jobs in the clean energy industry in 2018. Those included jobs in renewable energy, like installing solar and wind power, building electric and hybrid vehicles, doing energy efficiency work in buildings, manufacturing clean fuels and building battery storage projects.
  • That same year, there were 89,059 jobs in fossil fuel industries, including drilling jobs at oil and gas fields and offshore platforms, oil refinery work and mining jobs, but not attendants who work at gas stations or the stations’ convenience stories.
  • Nearly four in 10 solar jobs in America are in California.
  • The only state with more clean vehicle jobs than California is Michigan.
  • The top counties ranked by total clean energy jobs are Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco and Alameda.

Growth was largely flat last year compared to the year before, the study found. California’s 2018 clean jobs total was just slightly up from its 2017 total of 512,233 clean jobs. The reason was a 7.5 percent dip in solar industry jobs, which industry officials say was in part a result of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese-made solar panels, which increased the costs for U.S. homeowners considering installing solar on their roofs.

That trend is expected to change this year, Keefe said, because California regulators have passed new rules requiring all new homes constructed after Jan. 1, 2020 to either have solar panels on their roofs or be powered from electricity from a solar farm.

“We’ll start to see that swing back in the other direction very soon,” he said.

As the Earth continues to warm, California has ramped up its clean energy laws. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring 60 percent of the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030 and 100 to come from “carbon-free” sources, which can include nuclear and large hydro-electric dams, by 2045.

This year, 34 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from renewable energy, according to the California Energy Commission. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2004, and have fallen roughly 15 percent since then. By the end of this year, more than 1 million homes in California will have solar power on their roofs.

And the highways are greening. There are now more than 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in California, more than any other state.

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Broomfield Crescent Grange Fall Harvest Festival 2019

Broomfield’s Crescent Grange had a wonderful Open House and fundraiser for the ADA bathroom and ramp. There was Live Music, Food and Refreshments, a Raffle, and a Silent Auction featuring Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Arvada Center, Rocky Mountain Ski and Wake, Peggy Dyer Photography, the Studio (haircut), Iwa Dojo, the Sanctuary Spa and Salon, CO Dog Academy, Jack Bilariusz Photography, and History Colorado.

Truman Dinner 2019 – Part 2

This year I was the lead photographer for the Truman Dinner. It was the veritable Who’s Who of the Democratic Party. The keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The event was held Sept. 21 at the Glenn Miller Ballroom on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. The first part of the event took place on the fifth floor rooftop, where AOC met various representatives within the democratic party, outstanding members of the community, and all of the scholarship winners. The second half of the event covered the awards acknowledging the various accomplishments and contributions within the party over this past year, and then the keynote by AOC. I was sitting on the edge of the stage, twelve feet from the podium, during the entire presentation. There were enough great pictures of the event, I’ll be breaking this into two posts. 

Cheers,
Chris

Truman Dinner 2019 – Part 1

This year I was the lead photographer for the Truman Dinner. It was the veritable Who’s Who of the Democratic Party. The keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The event was held Sept. 21 at the Glenn Miller Ballroom on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. The first part of the event took place on the fifth floor rooftop, where AOC met various representatives within the democratic party, outstanding members of the community, and all of the scholarship winners. The second half of the event covered the awards acknowledging the various accomplishments and contributions within the party over this past year, and then the keynote by AOC. I was sitting on the edge of the stage, twelve feet from the podium, during the entire presentation. There were enough great pictures of the event, I’ll be breaking this into two posts. 

Cheers,
Chris


Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics & PV Restoration: Innovations at the nexus of Food – Energy – Water sciences.

[The Barron-Gafford research group is a collection of broadly-trained biogeographers, ecosystem ecologists, and plant ecophysiologists tackling a wide range of environmental topics.]

What is agrivoltaics?

agrivoltaics = agriculture + photovoltaics
(photovoltaics = renewable energy production from solar panels)

We are investigating the potential for reintroducing vegetation into the typical PV power plant installation in drylands.  Why??  We think that this novel approach may lead to increased renewable energy production, increased food production, and reduced water use!

Why might this benefit agricultural plants?
Plants need sunlight.  The truth is, though, that plants don’t continue to do increasingly well as you add more sunlight.  At some point, their potential to use the sunlight for photosynthesis plateaus out, and if they experience too much light, they can actually become less productive. Think about it – plants in drylands have adapted to deal with the excessive amount of energy in lots of cool ways.  Unfortunately, many of our agricultural plants are not desert adapted; we make up for this lack of adaptation by giving them plenty of water through irrigation. 

What if we mimicked nature?  One desert adaptation is to grow the shade of another plant. How might the shade of a solar panel array overhead lead to cooler temperatures and less excessive sunlight for agricultural plants? Our preliminary work suggests that there are measurable benefits for some species!

Why might this benefit renewable energy production?
Larger solar installations create a heat island effect, and that is bad for the PV panels because as they get too hot, they become less efficient. Basically, there two ways for the excess sun energy that is not converted into electricity to leave the area: sensible heat (the energy you can feel) and latent heat loss (the energy used to convert liquid water to water vapor).

In a natural ecosystem, this latent heat loss happens when plants transpire during the process of photosynthesis. The problem is that most PV installations don’t have plants in them any longer, which means they don’t have a way for sun energy to leave through latent heat loss.  This means that excess energy can only leave through sensible heat loss (which is why these areas become hotter). 

We are trying to increase the latent heat loss from plants so that there is less sensible heat loss.  Such a simple concept that can potentially have a big impact?  Yeah, we had our doubts too until we tried some preliminary experiments!

Why might this benefit water resources?
Water evaporates away more slowly in the shade, no? If we reduce the direct sunlight hitting the soil, we believe that water from each irrigation event will remain in the soil longer to do the work we put it there to do – sustain plants!

Why might this benefit people?
In addition to potentially producing equal or greater amounts of food and renewable energy with reduced water use, we anticipate our agrivoltaics approach to help humans in 2 key ways:

1. Drylands are often really hot environments, making our farm worker population prone to heat stroke and heat-related death.  Our preliminary data suggests that skin temperatures can be up to 20°F cooler when working under the PV array!  That makes for significantly more comfortable working conditions! 

2. We have partnered with the UofA Community & School Garden Program to help educate our next generation about all aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math), while integrating art and ecology.  See more about our Agrivoltaics Learning Labs below. 

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Front Range Residents Fight Fracking

Fires, explosions and toxic releases: Front Range residents fight fracking boom. How oil and gas production is devastating Colorado communities and endangering the climate.

For Barb Binder, the bad news arrived with a knock on the door. That’s when she learned from a local activist that a patch of open public space across from her “forever home” in Broomfield County, the Denver suburb where she and her husband planned to retire, was about to become an industrial site.

Initially, she was comforted by the thought that state officials would not possibly allow residential hydraulic fracturing – or fracking, as it is known – to begin if it was not safe.

But two years on Binder feels naive for being so trusting. She believes her asthma has become worse since the construction near her home began, and blames the drilling mud that has been used on the site. And then there is the constant worry. 

“I had to educate myself about exactly what’s involved in industrial-scale fracking,” she says. “It meant looking at the dangers – the fires, the explosions, the toxic releases, and recognising: ‘Oh my God, I am going to be living right next to this.’”

Binder now spends most of her free time opposing the plans of Extraction Oil and Gas, the Denver-based company that has plans to construct 84 wells around her neighborhood, 16 of them “literally” – she says – in her backyard.

She is not alone. Since the advent of the fracking boom in oil-rich Colorado – where there has been a fivefold increase in oil and gas production since 2008 – new wells and production sites have sprung up around residential neighbourhoods in the Front Range faster than environmental researchers can track them.

There are 40,000 active and inactive wells across the Denver basin, and new permits issued every month for more. They are built close to schools, playgrounds, and clusters of family homes.

The boom has coincided with anecdotal tales of ill-effects – from children’s nosebleeds to asthma – and a health study that shows more children being born with congenital heart defects in areas of Colorado with high-intensity oil and gas activity compared with areas where there is low or no activity.

Extraction Oil and Gas told the Guardian it had used new technologies to “minimise the impact of oil and gas development” in the Front Range, compared with the way oil was extracted in previous decades.

A spokesperson said the company had learned some lessons from an incident on its Livingston site, after it voluntarily switched a drilling fluid it had been using because residents complained about the odour. It said air monitoring results had found “no health impact” from the smell.

“To date, all published air-quality monitoring results have been stellar, and conclusively show that any effects of our development on the air we breathe are negligible,” the company said. 

“We understand that there will always be those who oppose all oil and gas development whatsoever, or want to ‘leave it in the ground’, but we will continue our endeavours to minimise impacts of developing the energy we all use each day – and we will never stop innovating for the betterment of Colorado and our state’s economy.”

Yet the conflicts – between industry and residents, and sometimes neighbour versus neighbour – have felt, in the words of the local reporter Chase Woodruff, like a “civil war” at times.

And there have been accidents. In 2017, two men were killed, and a woman and child injured, after a house in Firestone, Colorado, exploded because of a leak of “fugitive gas” from an uncapped pipeline that was connected to a gas well near the home.

Erin Martinez, who lost her husband and brother in the blast, has moved house again after a new well began construction across from her home.

Environmental researchers from the not-for-profit Earthworks group travel from site to site in what sometimes seems like a game of whack-a-mole, using a special gas-finding imaging camera to track, document, and report what they describe as plumes of pollution that are being emitted from the sites, in what they claim is evidence of dangerous releases of methane and other volatile organic compounds that are not visible to the naked eye. 

Oil companies have claimed that the plumes are not evidence of toxic emissions. The industry has claimed the plumes are a “heat signature” caused by high temperature drilling mud.

Dozens of complaints have been filed to state authorities, but regulators have deemed that most of those emissions are in the allowable range.

One proposal that would have forced oil and gas wells to be located at least 2,500ft (760 metres) – or half a mile – from homes and other buildings was voted down on a ballot initiative last year by a vote of 58% to 42%, in a significant blow to anti-fracking activists. 

Oil and gas advocates argue the “setback” proposal would have decimated their operations in Colorado, in effect barring new drilling from the Denver suburbs where nine in 10 new wells are being constructed.

Colorado Rising, one of the leading activist groups in the state, reportedly raised about $1.2m (£1m) to support the initiative, but were outspent when – activists say – industry sources pumped $41m into the race.

Opponents of fracking have, however, won one big victory since then. Last April, Colorado’s new Democratic governor, Jared Polis, signed a new mandate into law that forced one of the state’s most powerful institutions, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), to completely upend its mission.

Instead of fostering the oil and gas industry, Senate bill 181 (SB181) has forced the COGCC to regulate it, with a specific priority on public health and safety and focus on the environment.

The new law has raised questions: about whether a state with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry can ever really change, and whether fears about the climate crisis, and the ill-effects of fracking, will ever make a difference.

For years, the oil sector has argued that Colorado needs the multibillion-dollar industry and the hundreds of thousands of job it sustains.

Sara Loflin, the executive director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, a campaigning group that helped get SB181 passed, says the legislation was a product of decades of Coloradans living with oil and gas in their communities, and seeing the effect of its pollution: the industrial waste, the bad air, the noise, and the constant low thumping vibrations that have made residents physically ill.

For years, Loflin told the Guardian, locals who were concerned about debris from abandoned sites, or the way soil at a local playground had changed colour, would have to make more than a dozen calls to get answers from public officials, and still be treated with hostility.

Now her organisation is seeking to remind local governments, who have also been given more power under SB181, that they have “the jurisdiction, the right, and the responsibility” to say no to new permits if health and safety is jeopardised.

But despite its legal firepower, there is no sign of rapid change within the Colorado market. At a recent meeting of the COGCC in Thornton, on an unseasonably hot autumn day, residents’ frustrations were aimed at Jeff Robbins, the director of the COGCC, who was appointed by Polis.Advertisement

Since May, Robbins and the COGCC have approved 650 drilling permits and 82 location sites. Some permit applications have been delayed, but not a single one has been denied, despite the COGCC’s new mandate.

Pressed by the Guardian about whether he saw it as his job to say no to industry, Robbins said he believed it was his mission to take “a close look” at permit applications that were located close to homes.

“And that’s exactly what I’m doing,” he said. “What 181 says is that we don’t want to see all of the pending permits get a free pass. And we don’t want to see all pending permits be under a moratorium. It says we want you – director – using objective criteria to permit those that can be permitted, and potentially delay others that can’t be permitted, because they are not protected.”

When he was asked whether the climate crisis would affect the COGCC’s permit allocations under the new law, Robbins said climate could potentially be considered since SB181 required the commission to evaluate the cumulative effects of oil and gas operations on the environment.

But Robbins said he would look for “stakeholder input” for guidance. He meets once a month with environmental activists and residents, and twice a month with industry.Advertisement

For residents like Connie Beach, who returned home from a vacation in November 2017 to a letter that said she would soon be living next to a 30-well mega-pad for drilling, and was told there was “nothing to do about it”, the promise of SB181 is losing its lustre.

On a local Facebook group, people in her neighbourhood post about favoured local candidates who will fight industry. Most end up being challenged by opponents with deep pockets and ties to oil and gas.

Joe Salazar, a former Democratic state legislator and civil rights lawyer who recently became the head of Colorado Rising, is keeping his eye on a proposed fracking site called Acme, which has been described by environmental experts as one of the most problematic in the state of Colorado. Permits have not yet been approved, but if they are, the site will contain 36 wells within 500ft (150 metres) of homes, and 100ft from a small airport runway.

The COGCC recently reopened a public comment period, inviting residents to air their views before the commission makes a decision.

“This is going to be one hell of a test case,” Salazar said. “The community is fighting like hell to get the COGCC to deny that. It really is left to the whims and wishes of the director … that’s why there is so much pressure on him.”

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Colorado Rising Files Complaint to Halt O&G Permitting

***PRESS RELEASE***

Colorado Rising – Wednesday October 9, 2019

Colorado Rising Files Complaint to Halt Oil & Gas Permitting in Colorado

COGCC violating due process in permitting of new wells

DENVER, COLORADO — Today, Colorado Rising, on behalf of Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee, filed a complaint requesting judicial review in Denver District Court concerning the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s process of approving new oil and gas permits.

On July 3rd, 2019, Extraction Oil and Gas filed for a permit for a wellbore spacing unit in Broomfield, well after SB-181 was signed into law. SB-181 is the oil and gas reform bill, passed by the state legislature this spring, that requires the prioritization of health and safety, evaluation of cumulative impacts, increased financial assurances for new drilling, among other things.

When mineral owners (Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee) in the area of the spacing unit brought the considerations of the new law to the COGCC’s hearing officer, the officer first expressed concern for not knowing how to proceed with permitting of the spacing unit because no rules where in place to fulfill the new requirements and address the concerns raised (paragraphs 15-17 in the complaint).

Later, Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee requested a stay on the hearing and for discovery to be granted in regards to health and safety, the financial health of Extraction Oil and Gas, and other considerations included in SB-181. Those motions were denied by the hearing officer and Wildgrass was told that the old rules would apply to the permit application. That decision triggered the complaint and request for relief.

Colorado Rising and Wildgrass have requested a stay on all permitting until the full rulemaking has taken place.

Anne Lee Foster, Communications Director for Colorado Rising said, “This case is an example of a systemic problem at the agency. Governor Polis has created a quagmire by flipping oil and gas permitting on its head all while declaring that fracking approvals must continue. Unfortunately, everyday people are the ones caught in the political crossfire and are suffering in their homes due to industrial fracking nearby. Pausing the permits is the responsible thing to do.”

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Colorado Rising is powering the grassroots movement to protect public health & safety from dangerous oil & gas operations.

To learn more, please go to www.corising.org