This week and part of next, a series of public events are set to unfold that will advance efforts to safeguard clean air and rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution in Colorado. You can show up, speak out, and help make a difference!
Billed as a “Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado,” WildEarth Guardians will be joining a coalition of allies to show up on the frontlines and ensure strong, new rules are adopted that put Colorado on the path for clean air, a safe climate, and healthy communities.
To really win, we need your help! Everyone in Colorado has a chance to engage. Below is the schedule of events. Scroll down even further for more background info.
Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado!
- Tuesday, December 10: The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is holding a public comment hearing from 6-8 PM in Rifle (on the Western Slope) around new rules to rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution and holding a public comment hearing. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Wednesday December 11: The Air Quality Control Commission will hold another public comment hearing from 6-8 in Durango. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Thursday December 12: This morning there’s a big federal court hearing in WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit against seven oil and gas companies for violating the Clean Air Act in Colorado. This lawsuit challenges industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole, which allows companies to frack without legally required clean air permits. The hearing starts at 9:30 AM and will take place at the federal courthouse in Denver.
- Monday December 16: The Air Quality Control Commission is holding another public comment hearing for oil and gas clean air rules, this one is in Loveland and starts at 4:30 PM, This is a chance for Colorado Front Range residents to show up and speak out for stronger rules, click here for more info >>
- Tuesday December 17 through Thursday December 19: The Air Quality Control Commission is set to kick off its formal rulemaking hearing. WildEarth Guardians will be providing testimony and advocating for stronger rules on behalf of the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition. We’ll also be fighting back against industry efforts to weaken new rules.
If you can’t show up to one or more of these events, then at least sign our petition calling on Colorado Governor Jared Polis to get behind stronger clean air rules, including a ban on flaring!
The oil and gas industry’s toxic emissions are not only fueling dangerous levels of ground-level ozone, particularly along the Front Range, but also threatening communities and residents with cancer-causing benzene and other harmful gases.
It’s no wonder regulators have been blunt that current levels of fracking pollution are “not acceptable.”
Spurred in large part by the passage of new state legislation that puts public health and safety ahead of the interests of the oil and gas industry, the Air Commission is weighing whether to adopt new rules to clamp down on emissions.
Deemed a “first step” to fully confronting the oil and gas industry’s pollution, the rules stand to eliminate loopholes, tighten controls, and ensure greater transparency around companies’ emissions.
The proposed rules come as report after report shows regulation is dangerously inadequate.
Current rules are not only flawed, but not effectively enforced. Researchers also continue to confirm that regulators have drastically underestimated total emissions, erroneously claiming that industry’s pollution has been reduced.
What’s more, health studies continue to confirm significant short and long-term risk to people and communities in proximity to fracking sites.
Compounding these health risks, the Denver Metro/Front Range region continues to fail to meet health standards for ozone, the key ingredient of smog. On December 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will declare the area a “serious” nonattainment area for ozone.
To top it off, industry is chronically violating clean air laws, abusing a loophole that in some situations allows companies to obtain permits to frack after drilling and beginning production.
Last May, WildEarth Guardians sued seven companies in federal court under the Clean Air Act to put an end to this abuse and these widespread violations. A hearing in this case is scheduled for this Thursday, December 12 in Denver.
There is a need for stronger clean air rules in Colorado, to eliminate loopholes, and to slash emissions. And the Air Quality Control Commission has adopt new rules as a first step forward.
However, from our perspective, the science is clear that to truly restore clean air, the state has to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction.
Coupled with the need to fully safeguard public health and protect the climate, Colorado needs to ultimately get off fossil fuels.
If the Governor is serious about clean air and health, then he has to support the Air Quality Control Commission and also push for even deeper pollution cuts and a move away from oil and gas extraction.
We’ll see how everything unfolds over the next week or so. Hopefully Colorado will take the first big step toward reining in the oil and gas industry’s toxic air pollution and set the stage to help the state transition away from fossil fuels.
While Colorado has made bold commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if Governor Jared Polis overlooks the full carbon footprint of the oil and gas industry, the state stands to fall short of achieving meaningful climate action.
Implementing the Colorado Climate Action Plan
This week, officials with the Governor’s Office, Department of Public Health and Environment, and Energy Office are set to unveil a roadmap for meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals.
At the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s monthly meeting this Thursday, they’ll share more around the “development, scope, and timing” of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
The briefing comes as the Air Commission will develop rules to implement House Bill 19-1261, otherwise known as the Colorado Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution. The Plan sets three key goals for reducing climate pollution:
- Achieve a 26% reduction (below 2005 levels) in statewide greenhouse gases by 2025;
- Then achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030; and
- Finally achieve a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050.
Without a doubt, these are aggressive goals. Achieving them is exactly the bold action needed to confront the climate crisis right now.
However, if Governor Polis and the Air Commission aren’t careful, any statewide climate gains could be erased in the face of ramped up fracking.
The reason: Colorado is a huge exporter of oil and gas.
Colorado’s Outsized Climate Footprint
That means Colorado has an outsized climate footprint that extends far beyond its state lines. But just how big is this footprint?
We can calculate that using factors developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that estimate how much lifecycle carbon pollution (i.e., from production to consumption) is tied to oil and gas production.
According to these factors:
- For every barrel of oil produced, 0.43 metric tons of carbon dioxide is ultimately released.
- And for every thousand cubic feet of gas produced, 0.0551 metric tons of carbon is ultimately released.
Doing some math, we can see how much climate pollution Colorado exports as it pipes, trucks, and otherwise ships oil and gas out of state.
Let’s take oil and gas production in 2018.
According to a query of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission production data, companies sold more than 176 million barrels of oil and more than 2.2 billion thousand cubic feet (i.e., 2.2 trillion cubic feet) of gas in 2018, an unprecedented amount.
Crunch the numbers and that adds up to nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emission.
Based on projections for 2019, where even higher levels of production are expected, we’ll likely see emissions associated with oil and gas production exceed 200 million metric tons.
The table below shows total production by year and estimated carbon emissions.
To put this all into perspective, Colorado’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory report discloses that in 2015, total statewide emissions from ALL sectors amounted to nearly 127 million metric tons of carbon.
By 2020, regulators project statewide emissions of a little over 125 million metric tons of carbon.
That means oil and gas production is responsible for nearly twice as much climate pollution as all other sources of emissions within the state of Colorado.
Also to put this into perspective, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, 200 million metric tons of carbon equals the amount of climate pollution released every year by 51 coal-fired power plants.
Now it’s true, not all oil and gas produced is shipped out of state to be burned.
Yet with more than 90% of oil and the vast majority of all gas exported, it still means statewide emissions pale in comparison to the climate footprint of the oil and gas industry.
Confronting Colorado’s Full Climate Impacts
This means at current rates of fracking, even if Colorado achieves its greenhouse gas reduction goals, it will still be responsible for a huge amount of climate pollution.
Any climate action plan that refuses to acknowledge this or do anything about it would be an utter failure.
So what can Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission do?
Even though Colorado’s Climate Action Plan is based on statewide greenhouse gas reductions, it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t prioritize opportunities to reduce emissions that lead to reductions in oil and gas emissions even outside the state.
For example, the Air Commission could prioritize setting rules that actually decrease the level of oil and gas production in Colorado, such as through a declining cap on emissions and an offsetting program.
And it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t start to disclose total lifecycle oil and gas industry emissions associated with oil and gas production.
Ultimately, Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission have to acknowledge the need to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction in the state.
That may be a tough political pill to swallow, but to do otherwise is nothing short of climate denial. The reality is, Colorado can’t frack its way to a safe climate.
A Healthy Move
Helping Colorado transition away from oil and gas production wouldn’t just be good for the climate, it stands to greatly improve the state’s air quality and health.
Along the Front Range “unacceptable” levels of oil and gas industry air pollution have pushed ground-level ozone concentrations to dangerous highs. Ozone, which is a key ingredient of smog, is such a serious problem along the Front Range that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to sanction Colorado for failing to comply with health standards.
The study underscores that reining in fracking near homes and communities will safeguard public health. In doing so, it will also keep greenhouse gases in check.
A Call to Action
WildEarth Guardians and its partners are calling on Governor Polis and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to clamp down on fracking and help the state transition from oil and gas.
However, we need your help to make this happen! If you haven’t yet, sign the petition today and tell Colorado’s Governor and the Air Commission that they need to clamp down on the oil and gas industry and rein in their toxic pollution.
If Colorado has any chance of meaningfully confronting the climate crisis, it has to rein in fracking and oil and gas extraction.
Fracking is decimating clean air in Colorado, putting health, safety, and communities at risk.
That’s why WildEarth Guardians and several other partners are stepping up to ensure the state adopts strong new rules to rein in the oil and gas industry’s pollution and start putting people first.
In a Prehearing Statement filed last week, we spearheaded efforts to defend Colorado’s clean air, climate, and health from fracking.
Together with Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front, the Lookout Alliance, Fort Collins Sustainability Group, and the Larimer Alliance for Health, Environment and Safety–collectively the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition–we called on the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt new rules that:
- Eliminate oil and gas industry loopholes
- Ratchet down aggressively on oil and gas industry emissions statewide
- Ensure comprehensive emission inventories of industry’s toxic pollution
- Make sure industry controls its air pollution as early as possible
- And most importantly, prohibit flaring
On the last point, our goal is put an end to the dirty and wasteful practice of flaring at oil and gas well sites. If a company has to flare, they shouldn’t be allowed to drill, frack or produce. Period.
We’ve already called on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to stop letting the fracking industry burn its gas. Now we need state air regulators to step up.
Our Prehearing Statement was filed as part of a rulemaking proceeding before the Air Quality Control Commission. The proceeding will culminate with a three day hearing in mid-December in Denver where we intend to provide testimony and urge the Commission to clamp down on the oil and gas industry.
This rulemaking was spurred by the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 19-181, which directed the Air Commission to take further steps to rein in the oil and gas industry’s air pollution.
Our Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition is engaging for one reason: to compel Colorado air regulators to start saying “no” to the oil and gas industry.
As we’ve said previously, “if Colorado’s Governor is serious about reining in unhealthy air pollution, we have no choice but to set real limits on fracking and oil and gas production in the state. In the face of ramped up drilling, better emission controls simply won’t cut it.”
– Colorado Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition
Stay tuned for more as this rulemaking process unfolds and get involved as opportunities arise! There will be public hearings throughout the state in December, including on the Western Slope in the towns of Rifle and Durango, and one along the Front Range in Loveland.
Oil and gas spills continue to be the norm, not the exception in the State of Colorado.
This week we updated our series of maps documenting oil and gas industry spills in the state and highlighting the terrible toll the fracking industry continues to take on clean water, air, lands, and more.
Of note, in 2018, there were nearly 600 spills reported in 2018, a rate of nearly 12 per week.
Check out our story map series below and see for yourself how the oil and gas industry is endangering public health, safety, and the environment in Colorado on a daily basis. You can also click here to access a stand-alone version of the map series >>
The data, which is from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, paints a disturbing picture of the oil and gas industry’s impact to the state. Among other things, the data shows:
- Spills are happening across Colorado, in particular on the Western Slope and in the Denver Metro Area along the Front Range;
- Noble Energy, Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas, and PDC Energy, Inc. were the top three spillers in Colorado in 2018;
- The Colorado Front Range region, in particular Weld County, is the area most heavily impacted by oil and gas industry spills;
- Many spills are happening in close proximity to densely populated communities along Colorado’s Front Range; and
- Since 2015, 377 spills have impacted ground and surface water in Colorado.
Although legislation was passed earlier in 2019 mandating that public health, safety, and the environment come first when it comes to oil and gas regulation, it’s clear that Colorado still has a long way to go to put people over fracking.
And that’s why calls for a time-out on fracking are mounting in Colorado. In fact, the public is increasingly vocal about the need for restraint when it comes to fracking in Colorado.
With another study confirming #Colorado’s health threatened by oil and gas, it’s clear we need to put brakes on new #fracking. @GovofCO @jaredpolis, we need a #TimeOut on new drilling! #PausethePermits, #ProtectHealth, #COForCleanAir
— Laura LaVertu (@LauraLaVertu) November 1, 2019
The justification for a time-out on new fracking in Colorado is growing stronger by the day.
In the past month, we’ve seen new studies confirming health risks from fracking, ongoing health and environmental impacts from fracking along Colorado’s Front Range, more evidence that oil and gas pipelines remain a major threat to public safety in Colorado, and more confirmation that the oil gas industry is eroding away clean air in Colorado on a near-daily basis.
It’s crazy that Governor Polis, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and the Department of Public Health and Environment aren’t exercising more restraint when deciding whether to approve more fracking in the state.
Colorado’s health, safety, and environment continue to take a backseat to the oil and gas industry. We hope that changes soon.
With oil and gas extraction still taking a tremendous toll on Colorado’s health and Colorado, WildEarth Guardians joined several other partners last week to confront the fracking industry’s toxic emissions.
In a filing with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition requested party status in a new rulemaking process promising to take the first critical steps toward reining in the industry’s pollution.
The Coalition includes WildEarth Guardians, Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Colorado, Mothers Out Front–Colorado, The Lookout Alliance, the Fort Collins Sustainability Group, and the Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, and the Environment.
The filing ensures our coalition has a seat at the table as the Air Quality Control Commission decides whether and to what extent to adopt new rules limiting oil and gas companies’ air emissions. The Commission is set to make its decision in December as part of a three day rulemaking hearing.
Our message to the Air Quality Control Commission? Go bold or go home.
With ramped up fracking continuing to take a toll on Colorado’s clean air and public health, it’s clear the Commission needs to move as aggressively as possible to curtail the oil and gas industry’s emissions.
Air regulations have already said the current level of oil and gas industry air pollution is “not acceptable.”
And with Governor Jared Polis saying the interests of Coloradans “are best served by moving aggressively forward and without delay” to rein in unhealthy air pollution, there’s simply no excuse for not moving quickly and effectively.
The need for heightened safeguards was underscored last week with the release of the latest healthy study in Colorado confirming significant health risks from fracking.
That study, commissioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, found exposure to oil and gas emissions up to 2,000 feet away threaten peoples’ health. The study also confirmed that health risks are highest when companies are drilling and fracking.
Armed with this study, which is just the latest addition to a huge body of other scientific reports detailing the negative health risks and impacts associated with oil and gas extraction, our coalition plans to call on the Air Quality Control Commission to do the following:
- Eliminate the 90-day loophole, which allows the oil and gas industry to frack without legally required clean air permits.
- Prohibit flaring, which is not only dirty and wasteful, but also not allowed under the state’s oil and gas laws.
- Require all oil and gas storage tanks to have pollution controls.
- Ensure emission controls are used as early as possible, including during drilling and fracking.
- Don’t allow the permitting of oil and gas well sites within 2,000 feet of homes or other occupied buildings.
On the latter issue, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has already taken steps to more closely scrutinize fracking permits for well sites within 2,000 feet of homes. It simply makes sense for the Air Commission to similarly draw the line on allowing any toxic emissions within this same distance.
Ultimately, we need rules that compel Colorado air regulators to start saying “no” to the oil and gas industry.
Indeed, if Colorado’s Governor is serious about reining in unhealthy air pollution, we have no choice but to set real limits on fracking and oil and gas production in the state. In the face of ramped up drilling, better emission controls simply won’t cut it.
The bottomline is, there’s too much pollution in Colorado and the only solution is to rein in the industry’s footprint. Put another way, we have to start keeping oil and gas in the ground.
That’s not just good for Colorado’s clean air, that’s good for the climate and good for the health of Coloradans.
Stay tuned for more as this rulemaking process unfolds and get involved as opportunities arise! There will be public hearings throughout the state in December, including on the Western Slope in the towns of Rifle and Durango, and one along the Front Range in Loveland.
In the meantime, our Coalition is going to do everything we can to hold the oil and gas industry accountable to our clean air, climate, and health.
In case you didn’t know, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program does a lot of tweeting at the handle @ClimateWest. We often post threads on Twitter, which are a series of tweets that help us tell more robust stories. We thought we’d try to convert some of our threads to blog posts so folks who aren’t on Twitter (or just aren’t keen on Twitter) can also have a chance to read and enjoy.
With that said, enjoy our first of what are likely to be many Twitter threads transformed into what we hope are even more insightful blog posts. And if you’re into Twitter, be sure to follow us @ClimateWest. Scroll down to read more!
It’s been an amazing week of youth-led global climate strike actions!
Here in the American West, the scenes have been the same: people are overwhelmingly turning out to demand CLIMATE ACTION NOW!
In Denver, the scene was full of energy and inspiration as thousands took to downtown streets to demand Colorado Governor Jared Polis support the Green New Deal and a full transition from fossil fuels.
The climate strikes are far from over and in Colorado, this past week of action is culminating with a huge event tomorrow in the community Broomfield, where we expect to join many others in calling for an end to fracking.
Broomfield has been under siege by the oil and gas industry, with rigs and fracking operations encroaching into peoples’ backyards and open spaces. Together with local residents, we’ve teamed up to try to block the industry and defend the community. Unfortunately, Colorado’s oil and gas industry is relentlessly pushing to frack communities.
Tomorrow, we’ll be standing up with countless others to demand that we Stop Fracking Our Future!
WildEarth Guardians today put Suncor Energy on notice that it intends to file suit against the company over thousands of clean air violations at the company’s oil refinery in the Denver Metro Area.
Every year, Suncor’s refinery spews out more than 900,000 tons of toxic air pollution, including benzene, hydrogen cyanide, lead, hydrogen sulfide, and methane.
The refinery is also a major contributor to the Denver Metro Area’s brown cloud and summertime ground-level ozone problem. In 2019, high ozone levels were recorded throughout the Denver Metro Area.
The company’s own monitoring reports show the refinery violated its pollution limits at least 2,750 times between December 31, 2018 and June 30, 2019. The violations come amid growing controversy over the refinery and calls for it to shut down.
“The Suncor oil refinery is a clean air disaster, putting public health in the Denver Metro Area at extreme risk,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We’ve had enough of the company’s blatant and ongoing air quality violations, it’s time to clean up this dirty refinery once and for all.”
Read the press release.
And while WildEarth Guardians is pushing back to put an end to this illegal practice, sadly, state air regulators are continuing to turn their backs on the problem, letting the fracking industry trounce Colorado’s clean air.
Worse, they’re turning their backs on the problem even as Colorado Governor Jared Polis is calling for tighter regulation of oil and gas companies and “aggressively” moving forward to curtail smog in the Denver Metro Area.
The 90-day Loophole
In case you missed the news last April, oil and gas companies are abusing a regulatory loophole in Colorado, constructing and operating massive production facilities before obtaining permits that actually limit harmful emissions.
Referred to as the “90-day loophole,” Colorado’s regulations actually allow companies to avoid submitting applications for legally required air pollution permits at oil and gas well sites for up to 90 days after beginning production.
The loophole effectively allows companies to avoid obtaining permits for months, sometimes even years, after drilling wells, fracking, and beginning to produce oil and gas.
As the Denver Post reported, hundreds of oil and gas well facilities are now operating in Colorado without permits. With no permits, there’s no assurance that companies are controlling their toxic emissions.
For people and communities near these oil and gas well sites, no permits means no ability to ensure companies are limiting harmful pollution. That means no ability to ensure companies are fully protecting public health and the environment.
In the words of Berthoud, Colorado resident Stephanie Nilsen, who lives next to Extraction Oil and Gas’s Trott facility, which is currently producing oil and gas from 18 wells without a permit, “It is just unfair. Air quality? They screwed me.”
Industry Abusing Loophole
The thing is, while there is a loophole in Colorado’s air quality regulations, it only applies to small sources of emissions.
In the Denver Metro Area, which is designated a “nonattainment area” because of violations of federal health limits on ground-level ozone (i.e., the key ingredient of smog), a small source is any facility with the potential to release less than 100 tons of smog forming volatile organic compound emissions.
If an oil and gas production facility has the potential to release more than 100 tons of volatile organic compounds, then that source is considered a “major source” and subject to stringent permitting requirements.
A major source permit requires companies meet very stringent emission limits, offset emissions to achieve a net reduction in pollution, and comply with other strict provisions. Put another way, a major source permit ensures companies achieve the highest level of clean air protection.
More importantly, if an oil and gas production facility is a major source, Colorado’s regulations don’t allow companies to use the 90-day loophole. Instead, if a facility is a major source, companies must obtain a major source permit before even beginning construction.
Unfortunately, oil and gas companies in Colorado have acted as if the 90-day loophole is a free pass to pollute for any production facility, no matter the level of emissions.
Even as fracking has boomed in the Denver Metro Area and pushed ground-level ozone to dangerous highs, industry asserts major sources of emissions don’t have to obtain permits before beginning construction and production.
They’ve gone so far as to argue the 90-day loophole provides an absolute exemption to major source permitting.
Colorado Regulator Complicity
Industry’s arguments are flat out wrong. Unfortunately, regulators with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division have refused to push back and have even gone along with industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole.
Over the years, they’ve looked the other way and allowed hundreds of oil and gas production facilities that are major sources of air pollution to avoid obtaining major source permits.
In doing so, they’ve foreclosed opportunities to reduce emissions and hold the fracking industry accountable to the best clean air standards.
Even in the Denver Metro Area, where emission cuts are critical for curbing the region’s smog, the Air Division has refused to enforce major source permitting requirements when it comes to fracking.
Coupled with ineffective regulations and seeming collusion with the oil and gas industry, it’s no wonder the region’s pollution woes are only worsening. This past spring, the American Lung Association reported that Denver’s ground-level ozone pollution is on the rise.
Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.
– JoAnna Strother, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association in Colorado
And even though earlier this year, the Air Pollution Control Division indicated it planned to investigate “if the (state’s) regulatory structure complies with the technical requirements of the Clean Air Act,” there’s seemingly been no changes to date.
In fact, the Air Division appears to be moving more aggressively than ever to let the oil and gas industry off the hook when it comes to major source permitting.
Right now, the Division is proposing to approve around 30 new air pollution permits for oil and gas production facilities that would let companies avoid major source permitting. Most of these facilities are located in the Denver Metro Area.
Under the proposed permits, companies like Noble Energy and Extraction Oil and Gas would be allowed to avoid major source permitting, even though the companies have already built major sources and started producing oil and gas.
WildEarth Guardians has opposed the Air Division’s proposed permits. In comments submitted last Friday, we objected to permits allowing Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy, SRC Energy, and other companies to avoid major source permitting requirements.
That the Division has proposed to approve these permits seems a clear indication that industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole remains condoned by regulators.
New Hope or Business as Usual?
To be certain, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has ushered in a new era of oil and gas regulation that prioritizes public health and the environment. In April, he signed Senate Bill 19-181 into law, which directs Colorado air regulators to adopt new rules limiting harmful emissions from fracking operations.
However, the Air Pollution Control Division seems to be moving slowly and uncertainly, at best, to meet Senate Bill 181’s mandate.
It was only last Friday, July 5, that the Air Division announced its first public meeting regarding a “Potential Fall 2019 Air Quality Rulemaking.”
That meeting isn’t scheduled to take place until July 29. And while the Division is asking for public comment, it’s unclear exactly what the public is commenting on at this point.
In May, WildEarth Guardians, together with partners at Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, and Mothers Out Front, submitted concrete expectations for new rules under Senate Bill 181.
Among other things, we called on the Division to eliminate the 90-day loophole, adopt an aggressive oil and gas industry emission offset program, and hold fracking companies accountable to the most stringent of air pollution controls. We have yet to receive a response to this letter.
However, given the lack of substance and clarity so far around the process, there’s reason to be concerned the Air Division may not be on track to meet these basic expectations.
Most importantly, with the Division continuing allowing oil and gas companies to avoid major source permitting, there’s reason to be concerned clean air is taking a backseat to the fracking industry in Colorado.
In the Denver Metro Area, we estimate there are currently over 50 fracking facilities operating without legally required major source permits.
The map below shows where these facilities are located. The bigger the circle, the higher the level of volatile organic compound emissions. Zoom in or click to see a larger version of the map to learn more.
In spite of this, the Air Division is letting the companies behind these facilities avoid major source permitting.
Instead, they’re obtaining weaker permits that don’t ensure stringent pollution controls, don’t offset emissions, and don’t achieve the high level of clean air protection required for major sources.
For the Denver Metro Area, this means more smog pollution and more danger to public health. This certainly is not the “aggressive” clean air action that Governor Polis intended.
We Need a Change
As part of our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative, we’re taking aim at industry’s illegal abuse of the 90-day loophole.
In a Clean Air Act citizen enforcement lawsuit filed in May, we targeted seven companies, including Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, and others for violating Colorado clean air laws by failing to obtain legally required major source permits.
This federal case is unprecedented in the American West. Never before has a citizen suit been filed against the oil and gas industry in this region. However, never before have we faced such a widespread failure of the fracking industry to comply with our clean air laws.
While our legal case promises to secure the accountability we need for our clean air and health, the reality is, we need Colorado regulators on board with safeguarding air quality in Denver and beyond.
We know the Governor genuinely wants to see clean air restored in Colorado. Citing “outrage” over delay, earlier this year, he stepped up to keep the Denver Metro Area’s smog clean up on track. In statements, he’s made abundantly clear his support for bold action to reduce air pollution and protect public health.
We have to do everything in our power right here at home to make our air cleaner and our people healthier as soon as we possibly can.
– Colorado Governor Jared Polis
With the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division continuing to let industry abuse the 90-day loophole, it’s urgent the Governor step up to set things right.
That’s why we’ve reached out to our members and supporters to stand with us in calling on Governor Polis to ensure clean air and health comes first in Colorado. Hundreds of Coloradans have so far signed the petition, which we intend to deliver to the Governor next week.
But the Governor also needs to hear directly from Coloradans. Call him or send an e-mail today, click here for contact information >>
So long as the oil and gas industry is allowed to abuse the 90-day loophole and pollute without permits, clean air and public health will suffer in Colorado. It’s up to the Governor to change this and give Coloradans the breath of fresh air they deserve.
Earlier this year, WildEarth Guardians launched its Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative, a campaign to defend communities and our climate from fracking in and around the Denver Metro Area.
The campaign has been in high gear since February and this month, we kicked it into overdrive.
In a groundbreaking lawsuit filed in federal court on May 3, we challenged seven oil and gas companies over ongoing clean air violations at 15 production facilities, all of which are located in Weld County north of Denver.
To our knowledge, it’s the first citizen suit under the Clean Air Act ever filed against the oil and gas industry in the Rocky Mountain West. And it promises big results for clean air and the climate.
The lead outlaw in the case includes Extraction Oil and Gas, a notorious fracking company that has rankled Front Range communities for its residential drilling practices.
The company is developing more than 80 oil and gas wells and related infrastructure in the City and County of Broomfield, a move that has drawn intense local condemnation and legal action by WildEarth Guardians.
Other lawbreakers include Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, Great Western Oil and Gas, PDC Energy, Bonanza Creek Energy, and Mallard Exploration.
The suit takes on the fracking industry’s abuse of a loophole in Colorado’s clean air regulations.
That loophole allows small oil and gas production facilities to avoid submitting pollution permit applications for up to 90 days after first beginning production.
Unfortunately, over the years the oil and gas industry has expanded the loophole and argued that it also applies to the largest production facilities. Sadly, under former Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, an ardent supporter of the oil and gas industry who once drank fracking fluid to underscore his allegiance , that argument gained traction.
Now industry routinely constructs massive multi-well fracking facilities that have the potential to emit thousands of tons of toxic air pollution without ever obtaining permits. In some cases, companies may operate well sites for years without ever having a permit in hand.
We’ve mapped out at least 50 oil and gas facilities in the Denver Metro Area that aren’t subject to the 90-day loophole, yet are currently spewing out massive amounts of unchecked air pollution with out a permit. Check out the map, which we’re still building out, here >>
And it underscores that, despite popular rhetoric, Colorado doesn’t really have the strongest oil and gas air quality rules in the nation.
In fact, the 90-day loophole, coupled with a complete lack of effective inspections and completely toothless enforcement, has basically created an environment where the oil and gas industry can pollute as much as it wants, when it wants, wherever it wants, and with no consequences.
As a former inspector for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division put it:
It’s cheating, plain and simple.
– Former Colorado Air Pollution Control Division Inspector, Jeremy Murtaugh
We aim to change that.
Leveraging the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, we’re exercising our right to enforce violations of our clean air laws and secure long overdue accountability that is long overdue. That includes seeking maximum penalties, which we estimate likely exceed $1 billion.
Given that, by our estimate, the companies enjoyed economic benefits of more than $400 million, this is a more than appropriate deterrent.
And our track record of success on Clean Air Act enforcement cases gives us reason to believe we’ll win this case, too.
Over the years, we’ve won every Clean Air Act enforcement case we’ve brought, either by securing a successful court ruling, settling on favorable terms, or compelling polluter to do the right thing.
Our Clean Air Act enforcement cases have shut down coal-fired power plants, forced power plants to meet stringent air toxic limits, and secured resources for energy efficiency and renewable projects in low income communities as coal-fired power plants retire.
As for as our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement initiative, we’re not just suing industry head on, we’re also challenging illegal permits, including several recent permits proposed for ConocoPhillips, Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, and other companies.
Crestone is currently under fire for proposing to develop dozens of new oil and gas wells in and around Erie, Colorado.
We’re also continuing to challenge federal fracking approvals. In a letter last week, we pushed back against U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to auction off lands for fracking near Brighton, Colorado.
All told, these sales of lands by the Bureau could open the door for 500 new oil and gas wells in the region.
Finally, we’re also weighing in to ensure that new rules adopted under recently enacted Senate Bill 181 ensure the fracking industry is held to the highest standards of accountability when it comes to clean air and public health.
Senate Bill 181, which became law in April, requires the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt new rules to rein in oil and gas industry air pollution.
Together with our allies at Colorado Rising 350 Colorado, Mothers Out Front Colorado, and Frack Free Colorado, we called on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the Air Quality Control Commission, to meet a number of expectations and recommendations to ensure strong rules and accountability to public health, particularly along Colorado’s Front Range.
Most importantly, we called for rules that ensure if the Denver Metro-North Front Range region fails to meet federal health standards limiting ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, that no new air pollution permits will be issued to the oil and gas industry.
We believe SB 181 provides enormous opportunities for the Department, Division, and Commission to get a complete handle on air pollution from the oil and gas industry, to make meaningful progress in protecting our clean air, and to ensure that public health is fully safeguarded.
– WildEarth Guardians, Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Frack Free Colorado, Mothers Out Front
With the Denver Metro Area’s smog problem getting worse and Colorado in general facing increasing strains on its iconic clean air, now is not the time for Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his agencies to give the oil and gas industry a break.
Along Colorado’s Front Range and in the rest of the state, we need tough action to defend our clean air. And in holding the oil and gas industry accountable to clean air, we can make meaningful steps toward safeguarding our climate.
In Colorado and beyond, our clean air challenges and climate crisis go hand in hand because they’re both fueled by fossil fuels. Our strategy is to rein in air pollution and start making some serious progress for the climate.
So far, we’re on track. Stay tuned for more updates around our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative.