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.
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Congress had the wisdom to designate Joshua Tree as a national park, one part of the California Desert Protection Act. The designation elevated these magical lands to one of the highest levels of protection possible for our nation’s public lands.
A quarter century ago I also joined the staff of WildEarth Guardians, and swore to protect, defend and restore the public lands that are central to the identity of the American West.
Anniversaries like these should be a time to celebrate the past; instead I’m worrying about the future. In the case of Joshua trees I worry because not even a national park designation is sufficient to protect them.
That’s because the climate crisis is warming our planet so fast that species, including Joshua trees, will not have the time to adapt. In fact, scientists from the UC-Riverside found that even under the best case scenario — meaning with aggressive action to reduce greenhouse emissions — only one in five Joshua trees will survive the next 50 years.
That’s a bleak scenario, one that WildEarth Guardians is doing everything in our power to prevent. It’s a Guardian’s duty to stand up to the government when the government isn’t doing its job. The Guardian’s charge is now ever more critical under an Administration that continue to disavow and deny the biodiversity and climate crises before us.
On Nov. 4, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration decision to ignore the science when it denied Endangered Species Act safeguards for the Joshua tree.
When the very icons and namesakes that define our national parks can no longer survive, we have a problem that should alarm every citizen of our great nation. Sadly, that is the reality we’re facing not only with the Joshua tree, but also with the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park and the declining Saguaros of Saguaro National Park.
Instead or working to remedy these problems the Trump administration is only making them worse. Whether through issuing oil and gas leases to allow fracking on millions of acres of public lands, attacking public participation in decisions affecting our national forests or recently eviscerating the Endangered Species Act this administration is undoing environmental safeguards at an unprecedented pace.
While the blueprint for destruction is being clearly deployed there’s also a countervailing restorative blueprint for our lands, wildlife and our democracy that invokes the power of the public voice. That blueprint keeps me hopeful during these dark times.
After all, there’s a long history of inspired citizens and a caring government protecting species and lands, including the Joshua tree. Marshaling science and engaging in legal action will no doubt extend the Joshua tree a lifeline, but these acts alone can’t save it.
The Joshua tree was named for its distinct, ascending branches that reminded early Mormon settlers of the Biblical figure Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. My prayer today is that the Joshua trees’ millions of fans — its famous musicians, poets, writers, and mystics among them — will speak out and refuse to allow the loss of such a beloved and irreplaceable figure of the natural world.
If they do so we can not only save the Joshua tree as an American treasure, but we can also reclaim and restore our democracy.
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.
Called a motion for summary judgment, our latest filing calls on a federal judge to order the U.S. Department of Transportation to immediately begin inspecting more than 120,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing public lands in the United States.
Most of these public lands are located in the American West.
By law, the Transportation Department must ensure pipelines on public lands are inspected at least once a year.
Unfortunately, the agency has no records of any inspections being conducted for any oil and gas pipeline on public lands. Worse, the Department has conceded it deliberately refuses to inspect whole categories of pipelines that are, unfortunately, widespread on public lands.
Last year, WildEarth Guardians sued the Transportation Department to compel them to follow through with their legal obligations. In a lawsuit filed in Montana, we detailed how the agency’s failure to inspect puts wildlife, clean air and water, climate, communities, and recreationists at risk in the American West.
When we filed this lawsuit, we put together an interactive story map series. Check it out below and learn more about our efforts to defend public lands from oil and gas pipelines:
In response to our lawsuit, the feds tried to have our case dismissed. In May, however, the federal judge rejected the Transportation Department’s attempts to throw us out of court.
Now, we’re briefing the heart of the case and calling on the judge to formally order the Department of Transportation to start inspecting pipelines and protecting our public lands.
Stay tuned for more. We still have a few months of briefing, but in 2020, we should be getting a ruling in our lawsuit.
With fracking taking a terrible toll on our public lands, we need to up the pressure on the oil and gas industry any way we can. By ensuring pipeline inspections, we force greater transparency and accountability to our health and environment.
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.
Yet rather than ramp down fossil fuel production and rein in greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis, New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is instead looking to dump toxic oil and gas industry wastewater into streams, drinking waters, and on crops.
Claiming it would be “good for New Mexico,” the Governor’s new policy push is an extremely dangerous approach to regulating the fossil fuel industry and stands to leave New Mexico’s diminishing water supplies poisoned and unusable.
Worse, it only stands to compound the very climate crisis threatening New Mexico’s water in the first place.
With the Governor recently proclaiming that her environmental regulators work for industry, New Mexicans should be very worried.
A Frackwater Disaster
Driven by the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas extraction is surging in New Mexico. The production of oil and gas leads to the creation of massive amounts of wastewater. Not only do companies produce wastewater in hydraulic fracturing, but they extract water from the deep geologic formations they’re tapping for oil and gas.
In southeast New Mexico, the amount of water used for fracking increased by more than 700% between 2011 and 2016. Recent estimates indicate the amount of fracking wastewater produced in the region will double in the coming years.
This water (often called “produced water”) is too toxic to treat. It contains contaminants that can’t be removed, including radioactive materials, heavy metals, and extreme salts. Environmental regulations require industry to dispose of this wastewater deep underground to ensure it never reaches the surface. Even then, this disposal method has not been proven to be safe.
Rather than slow or even stop production, industry has convinced Michelle Lujan Grisham Administration to simply reclassify their frackwater as “not toxic.” The industry’s strategy is to re-label their waste so they can more cheaply dump it into rivers, onto crops, and into drinking water supplies.
In 2019, the New Mexico Legislature, at the urging of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, passed a law that allows (but does not mandate) that fracking wastewater to be regulated.
This law has set the stage for the dumping of the oil and gas industry’s toxic waste into New Mexico’s water supplies. The State is now moving to adopt rules that would “regulate” oil and gas industry wastewater.
The aim of these new regulations? To condone the dumping of toxic fracking wastewater into water supplies.
New Regulations Portend a Public Health Scam
New Mexico is now moving to adopt rules that officials claim will “regulate” the oil and gas industry’s fracking wastewater.
In a series of public meetings scheduled this month and next, the state intends to solicit public input on the issue of using fracking industry wastewater “outside the oil and gas industry.”
These public meetings and this process are nothing more than a front to justify dumping toxic oil and gas industry waste into New Mexico’s rivers and water supplies.
In fact, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proclaiming this week that she has told her environmental regulators that they work for the oil and gas industry, it seems clear that new regulations are a scheme to justify rolling back public health safeguards.
Meetings are scheduled in October and November in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Farmington, and Las Cruces. It’s critical that the public show up and oppose any regulation of fracking industry wastewater.
The oil and gas industry’s toxic waste should not be regulated, it should be prohibited. For New Mexico’s health, environment, and safety, we can’t let fracking wastewater be dumped into streams, drinking water supplies or on crops.
The oil and gas industry in New Mexico is trashing the climate right now. The surge in fracking, especially in the Greater Carlsbad Region of southeast New Mexico, is fueling a massive increase in climate pollution.
With the climate crisis impacting New Mexico more than most other states, the last thing the state needs is more oil and gas extraction.
The fracking industry’s waste is too toxic to be treated. It needs to be banned, not condoned. We need to send the message to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that prohibition, not regulation, is key to safeguarding the climate in New Mexico.
Last week, we filed a new lawsuit to defend our public lands and climate from fracking. Despite court win in March, the Trump Administration is continuing to sidestep the law, do everything it can to sell off our lands to the oil and gas industry.
Thankfully, we’re pushing back. Read our latest Twitter thread for more background:
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!