Hickenlooper Not the Only Government Official Trying to Frack Colorado
Over the past few weeks, Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper has gotten a lot of negative attention. First, for telling a U.S. Senate committee that he drank Halliburton's frack fluid and second, for threatening to sue the City of Fort Collins for its ban on fracking.
But Hickenlooper isn't the only government official trying to frack Colorado.
Helen Hankins, who directs the Colorado office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has also been in the very-uncomfortable glare of public fracking scrutiny, and for a good reason. The Colorado BLM has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy over the past year proposing fracking in three areas of the state.
First, in Denver metro's watershed, Hankins's BLM has proposed drilling in Park County along the South Platte River, which would put Denver Metro's drinking water at risk to toxic fracking. Three reservoirs exist along the river, holding drinking water for Denver and Aurora, serving more than two million metro area citizens.
Second, in the North Fork Valley along the North Fork of the Gunnison River, Hankins's BLM proposed a large number of oil and gas wells in a verdant agricultural valley well-known for being one of the organic farming breadbaskets of Colorado. The valley contains dozens and dozens of farms, local artisanal restaurants, world-class wines from local vineyards, and produces the majority of apples and peaches for the whole state.
Third, near Colorado's national parks and monuments, Hankins' BLM proposed drilling and fracking right beside the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument in Northwest Colorado, and on lands next to Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado. The drilling at Dinosaur would have been so close that visitors would see the drill rigs while supposedly enjoying the pristine National Monument experience.
Fortunately, in each case, the public has risen to the challenge and so-far fought off Hankins's threat.
After considerable public outcry from Park County leaders, residents, sportsmen and clean water advocates, Hankins deferred the leases in the Denver metro watershed citing concerns about fracking and drinking near water supplies. Part of that outcry came from the Denver-based environmental group, Clean Water Action, which knocked on several thousand doors in the metro area and delivered 2,000 letters and postcards to Hankins at the BLM's February meeting. Those letters and postcards called on BLM to immediately complete a Master Leasing Plan in South Park to protect Denver's water. While Hankins's deferral is an important short-term band-aid, the parcels can be put on the auction block again in the next few months thus renewing the threat. In fact, that's exactly what Hankins has done on other BLM land in Colorado—first delay, and then later lease.
Similar short-term good news came for the residents of the North Fork Valley. A few days before the BLM's February meeting, those parcels were also deferred, but that didn't stop those residents from speaking out louder. At the February BLM meeting, many North Fork Valley residents still showed up to publicly testify against the drilling and fracking in the valley. One of the big concerns of Valley residents is that the BLM proposed to "lease first, plan later" by relying on out of date plans, sometimes with little information on oil and gas drilling or impacts on which to base their leasing decisions.
Finally, Hankins also deferred the leasing of the parcels next to Colorado's national parks and monuments. This deferral also came after considerable public outcry, including former Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Denny Huffman who said:
"I can't think of a better way to ruin a national park experience than by putting a drill rig next to the visitor center. Director Hankins should be applauded for taking a step back. Now we need to pursue a smart from the start comprehensive strategy for energy development on public lands."
As a response to the deferrals in the national parks, a new paid ad campaign calling on Hankins and the Colorado BLM to protect our national parks from drilling was launched last week by statewide environmental group, Environment Colorado. The billboard is visible on I-70 in Golden, just west of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Colorado office.
Denver metro residents don't want cancer-causing fracking chemicals in their water or in their watershed. Nor do Coloradans want drill rigs next to their national parks or in the midst of booming agricultural valleys.
As she moves forward, Helen Hankins needs to not just defer these parcels, but permanently protect them—if she doesn't do that she will likely join the ranks of frack-happy government officials like Hickenlooper and face increasing public scrutiny and wrath.
For a complete accounting of fracking in Colorado, click here.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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