Posts Tagged ‘Jared Polis’

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”

Political battle lines drawn over fracking in Colo.

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in The Colorado Independent’s ongoing series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here and the third part here.

As concerns mount over oil and gas rigs inching closer to several Colorado schools, legislators are looking toward 2013 to sort out whether local controls should take a backseat to state regulations.

Trailers are used as sound barriers at a new drilling operation near schools and homes in Erie. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

In the Colorado General Assembly’s last session, which adjourned in May, the Republican-controlled House tried to centralize power with the state and override municipal authorityto zone drilling while the Democrat-led Senate sought to give cities, towns and counties the ability to decide where rigs go.

“I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” State Senate President Brandon Shaffer said in an interview this week. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”

Industry groups, Republicans and Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper contend the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. When Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with the implied threat of a lawsuit should council move forward. Residents have responded with grassroots action, forming groups like Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont and Erie Rising to stand up for their rights to clean air and water.

Hickenlooper et al. promote Colorado as having the strongest hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, disclosure laws in the country. Critics argue the state often doesn’t enforce its own rules, repeatedly failing to punish companies that break laws or spill oil and gas.

“I think companies engaged in oil and gas drilling should have to prove to the community that what they are doing is safe,” said Mike Foote, a former deputy district attorney who is running as a Democrat to succeed Matt Jones as the next representative of House District 12, which includes the Boulder County portion of Erie where fracking has crept awfully close to multiple schools.

“Right now I don’t see that,” he said. “I see the oil and gas companies coming in and saying they are going to drill and people protesting and the companies basically saying, ‘That’s too bad. We’re going to drill there anyway.’ People have legitimate concerns about whether the process is safe and the oil and gas companies don’t seem to be doing a good job addressing those questions.”

Messages left with oil and gas companies and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association were not returned.

Tisha Casida, an independent running against incumbent Republican Scott Tipton and Democrat challenger Sal Pace to represent the Western Slope in Congress, worries government is trampling the individual property rights of people living in energy-rich communities.

“The ‘fight’ must get down to the local level where the actual stakeholders are – these are the people that live in the community, and are intricately invested in the community,” she said. “I have spoken to many in our campaign – and the one thing that we can agree on is that there are big companies and ‘big government’ that are ultimately deciding on and benefiting from the development of these resources. This never really gets back to the individuals in these communities.”

While Colorado politicians wrangled over local versus state controls, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both D-Colo., urged the federal government to require drillers to disclose what chemicals they pump into the ground.

But in a concession to the oil and gas industry, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed a rule that wouldn’t require the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids until after the drilling of a well is completed. DeGette and others believe disclosures should be made before drilling.

The Environmental Protection Agency has preliminarily linked groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., with hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are flushed into the earth to dislodge natural gas or oil.

Industry representatives dispute that fracking can contaminate drinking water.

“We need to have some standards in place for the types of chemicals that are used to make sure we are not injecting cancer-causing chemicals into the ground and potentially contaminating water supplies for populated areas,” Shaffer said. “But ultimately I think it’s a state and local government issue. There is a responsible way to explore for natural gas. We just need to make sure it’s done in a responsible way.”

Shaffer is now running for Congress against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in CD 4.

His opponent, Rep. Gardner, whose district includes heavily fracked areas like Erie, has been an ardent supporter of the oil and gas industry, consistently voting to weaken environmental protections.

“My opponent has now received more contributions from oil and gas interests in his short year and a half tenure than [Gardner's predecessor] Marilyn Musgrave [a Republican] received her entire six years she was in Congress,” Shaffer said. “For sure, there is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to influence the policies that are in place at the federal level.”

Gardner and his spokespersons did not return messages seeking comment.

The congressman isn’t alone. Oil and gas money has long poured into the campaign coffers of politicians across America. This year is no different. The oil and gas industry is the ninth biggest giver to Congress, donating $11.7 million so far in 2012, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Eighty-six percent of the funds went to Republicans and 14 percent of it to Democrats.

In Colorado, fracking near schools

Posted on: June 4th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

ERIE, COLO. — Flaggers in bright yellow vests stopped traffic on the parkway in Erie, Colo., Wednesday as a convoy of semi-trailer trucks rumbled toward Red Hawk Elementary hauling sound barriers to muffle a gas extraction project that is vexing many residents in this once peaceful family neighborhood. (more…)

House approves shale plan

Posted on: February 17th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

A bill designed to encourage oil shale development cruised through the House on Thursday evening. But a wind production tax credit didn’t fly, and now layoffs and abandoned projects loom.

The Republican-controlled House approved U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bill to increase oil shale development on public lands in addition to plans to drill onshore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico waters. But the representatives didn’t stop there. They also voted to try to force the approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The energy package passed 237-197 with 21 Democrats joining the GOP majority and an equal number of Republicans siding with the minority. It will now go to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Oil shale is a commercially unproven commodity. It requires immense quantities of water and energy to heat the rock, which ushered in what became known as “Black Sunday” in 1982 when ExxonMobil pulled the plug on a huge oil shale operation in western Colorado that left the region in disarray.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tucked Lamborn’s oil shale bill into a broader transportation package, most of which hasn’t made it out of the House. Despite efforts over the last century that failed to make oil shale profitable, along with a Congressional Budget Office report that projects oil shale leases will total less than $100,000 annually over the next decade, Boehner has said energy drilling will fund his $260 billion transit package. The Congressional Budget Office report, however, projected Boehner’s bill would, over 10 years, leave the highway trust fund $78 billion in the red.

Shell in-situ oil shale research project in Colorado's Rio Blanco County (USGS photo).

“Oil shale will not fund a single road or bridge repair,” said Matt Garrington, the Colorado-based deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project. “I’m afraid the Speaker and Rep. Lamborn have sold Congress on a plan that will actually increase the national deficit. Oil shale is a failed resource which will generate zero revenues, and Americans will have to pay the price.”

Whereas Lamborn’s bill authorizes up to 2 million acres of public land for oil shale exploration in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management recommends a half million acres be set aside for leasing.

U.S. Reps. Diane DeGette and Jared Polis, D-Colorado, argued against Lamborn’s proposal, saying that Coloradans oppose oil shale leases since they would hurt the state’s agriculture and recreation economy by depleting limited water resources and allowing oil companies to lock away more public land at fire-sale prices. The last time oil shale production went bust in Colorado, $85 million in annual payroll disappeared in Garfield and Mesa counties over two years, DeGette said on the floor.

“Shell Corporation estimates it could be 2020 before a company could be ready to develop a federal oil shale lease,” DeGette said. “We need real solutions for funding our nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Using H.R. 3408 as a funding source for the surface transportation reauthorization is not a good faith effort to create the jobs Americans so desperately need.”

Polis introduced an amendment to strike the oil shale legislation from the highway bill but it failed.

Indeed, it was a good week in Congress for fossil fuels and a bad one for renewable energy.

An extension of the wind production tax credit was initially folded into an earlier version of a plan to extend the nation’s payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance bill. But when a deal was reached Thursday, the wind production tax credit was left out. All of Colorado’s congressional delegation except Lamborn support the extension of the wind tax credit, which debuted in 1992.

The wind power tax credits could still be tied to other bills or come as stand-alone legislation.

“Colorado will suffer tremendous economic dislocation if the wind production tax credit is not renewed on a timely basis this year because our state has become a hub for wind industry manufacturing,” said Craig Cox, executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance. “Colorado is also the nation’s eighth-largest generator of wind power and hosts the world’s leading national laboratory in wind and other renewable energy technologies. … If Congress fails to renew the production tax credit on a timely basis, many of Colorado’s 5,000-plus wind industry jobs are at risk, along with tens of thousands of jobs nationally. We have developed a truly American industry in the past five years, with over 60 percent of a typical wind turbine’s components manufactured right here in the United States. Failing to renew the production tax credit puts these jobs, and America’s international competitiveness, at risk.”

Lamborn’s excuses blowing in the wind while Polis sets sights on oil shale ‘boondoggle’

Posted on: February 15th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Asked why he was Colorado’s lone congressional holdout in calling for the extension of the wind tax credit, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn responded that his “preference is to help industry grow by reducing federal regulations and mandates as opposed to carving out special interests in the tax code.”

There is no question the Republican who represents central Colorado has been trying “to help industry grow by reducing federal regulations and mandates” as he has been a persistent thorn in the Environmental Protection Agency’s side since first getting elected in 2006. But the congressman’s suggestion last week that he could not support the federal wind production credit because it tinkers with the tax code doesn’t jibe with how he has treated fossil fuels. Over and over again, Lamborn has voted to protect subsidies and special tax breaks for oil and gas.

A year ago, he voted against an amendment to repeal $53 billion in oil subsidies. A month later, he voted against a motion that would have stopped oil companies from getting any subsidies. Combined, Lamborn and Colorado’s other conservative congressmen voted 18 times to protect tax breaks for oil companies in 2011. Lamborn’s record (pdf) shows that he has not only routinely sided with tax breaks for oil companies, he stiff-arms renewable energy whenever given the chance. Last July, for instance, Lamborn shot down an amendment to increase funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as an amendment to boost funding for the Department of Energy’s solar energy program and he voted in favor of eliminating all funding for energy efficiency and renewables.

The closest support Lamborn has shown for the development of wind energy may be his push to mine rare earth minerals, which generate radioactive waste and are used to manufacture wind turbines.

Lamborn’s spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment for this story.

The congressman has indeed been a good fossil fuel foot soldier. He is the architect of the Pioneers Act, which would fast-track more oil shale exploration in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management, however, is recommending a much different plan. Whereas Lamborn wants to open up to 2 million acres of public land in the three states for oil shale exploration, the BLM believes a half-million acres would do. Adding to the drama of dueling blueprints for energy exploration is House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who announced he plans to use oil shale revenues to rebuild the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. New numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, however, reveal oil shale leases under the Pioneers Act would total less than $100,000 annually over the next decade. Infrastructure improvements are estimated to cost $40 billion.

Congressman Jared Polis, D-Colorado, is planning to offer an amendment today to strike mandated commercial oil shale leasing from Boehner’s pending highway bill.

“We’ve heard of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 proposal; oil shale is the 0-0-0 proposal — no energy, no revenue, and no jobs,” Polis said. “It’s worth research, and there are plenty of research leases out there, but it isn’t ready for prime-time. We shouldn’t risk thousands of real Colorado jobs in agriculture or our recreation economy on a giveaway to oil companies. Congress shouldn’t hand two million acres of public lands to oil shale speculators and lock these areas away from Colorado families, ranchers and recreation jobs.”

Industrial scale oil shale development could require as much as 150 percent of the amount of water the Denver Metro Area consumes annually, according to Bureau of Land Management estimates. Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado, recently voted against an amendment to Lamborn’s bill that would have required the U.S. Geological Survey to complete more study of the effects of oil shale exploration on water resources before allowing commercial development.

“Oil shale is technologically unproven for commercial development and its water demands not fully studied,” said Colorado Wildlife Federation Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill. “It is only common sense that we pursue a research-first approach instead of fast-tracking leasing of additional federal public lands for hoped commercial development that could impact further the lands and waters Coloradans use for economically significant hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.”

Matthew Garrington, co-director of the Checks and Balances Project, released a video this week of what he calls the “oil shale boondoggle” that is the centerpiece of an online ad campaign in the National Journal, Politico, The Hill and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The video is below.

Colorado residents ask Feds to withdraw lease parcels to go up for oil, gas auction

Posted on: February 13th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Scores of residents in Colorado’s North Fork Valley aren’t nearly as keen about oil and gas drilling as the wide-eyed Democrats and Republicans who talk about tapping America’s energy reserves. (more…)

Polis leads congressional effort to reform No Child Left Behind

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by The American Independent 5 Comments

On the heels of news that the Obama administration has granted Colorado and 10 other states a waiver from the controversial requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind education law, Colorado Democratic Congressman Jared Polis introduced a House version of the Growth to Excellence Act (H.R. 3845) written by Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. The bill would rework No Child Left Behind by granting greater authority to the states to develop student achievement and school accountability policies. (more…)

Colorado congressional delegation pushes for wind energy tax credit

Posted on: February 8th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Eight of Colorado’s nine congressional delegates are calling for the extension of the federal wind production tax credit to be added to the nation’s pending payroll tax-reduction package. (more…)