Colorado a Model of Irresponsible Oil and Gas Development
On March 20 Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project released a new report, COGCC: Inadequate enforcement means current Colorado oil and gas development is irresponsible. Part of a national assessment of state oil and gas regulatory enforcement, highlights of the Colorado-specific findings include:
- As the number of wells drilled increases in Colorado, the number of inspections is decreasing.
- It is physically impossible for existing Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) inspection staff to inspect every well once per year.
- Many rule violations are not recorded, and very few violators are penalized.
- For those who are penalized, $1000/day maximum fines are inadequate to deter irresponsible operations.
“The COGCC’s mission is to foster responsible oil and gas development by balancing drilling with protection of landowners, public health and the environment," said Gwen Lachelt, Earthworks’ OGAP director. “Right now, the COGCC’s rules, like its mission statement, are just empty words on a page. There is no balance here,” she said.
As this report is released, the Colorado Legislature is considering whether to follow Pennsylvania in stripping local governments of the ability to regulate oil and gas development. If local control is removed, only the COGCC will regulate drilling within the state. Other legislative proposals would require counties to adopt ‘a one size fits all’ set of oil and gas regulations rather than being able to adapt to local conditions. On Colorado’s Front Range, which is experiencing a drilling boom, many local governments are considering ordinances that prohibit drilling within city limits, in part because of the state’s inadequate enforcement.
“When it comes to oil and gas drilling oversight, the Legislature should not make things worse,” said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks’ OGAP senior staff attorney. "This report shows that the COGCC does not have it covered when it comes to drilling oversight. If anything, the Legislature should consider slowing COGCC’s permitting until they get their house in order," said Baizel.
The COGCC’s role in enforcing state regulations is particularly important because many federal environmental statutes contain special exemptions for the oil and gas industry.
“The COGCC’s failure to enforce its own rules highlights the need to close oil and gas loopholes in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ policy director. “COGCC’s inadequate performance shows why citizens need to have federal standards, as well as state regulations. In Colorado’s case, state regulation means inadequate regulation, and therefore, irresponsible development," she said.
The report closes with common-sense recommendations to improve COGCC enforcement of oil and gas development regulations including increasing inspection staff, standardizing and publicizing inspections, and increasing fines for violations.
“Responsible gas development cannot occur without adequate enforcement,” said Earthworks’ Gwen Lachelt. “To fulfill its mission to ‘foster responsible development’, COGCC must hire enough inspectors to adequately enforce existing regulations, publicly report and track violations, and use penalties to provide a credible deterrent to irresponsible operations.”
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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