The Good, Bad and Ugly in Colorado’s New Fracking Air Emissions Rules
The state of Colorado made national headlines a few weeks ago because it adopted new air emissions rules around drilling and fracking. There’s good, bad and ugly in these new rules, and there’s some new hope for the future.
The Good News
Colorado’s new drilling and fracking air quality regulations will cut Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions as well as methane emissions from oil and gas wells and facilities. VOCs lead to ozone and other air quality problems which cause asthma attacks and other health problems. And methane is a serious greenhouse gas that must be better addressed if our planet has any hope of controlling climate change.
The degree of the cut in both of these pollutants is debatable—somewhere between 20 - 40 percent—because the new regulations don’t require that all drilling companies comply, or that all facilities comply, and allow any company to ask for a waiver if the cost is deemed too onerous. But on the whole, any cut is better than no cut. Coloradans can breathe a little easier, for a little while.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, Colorado’s drilling and fracking landscape is not a zero-sum game because about 2,000 new wells are being drilled every year. These new regulations won’t slow down fracking one single bit and may actually help increase air pollution and climate change emissions. If you cut emissions by ~30 percent and drill more and more wells, pretty soon the total amount of emissions and pollution will come out even with where it is now and will get worse as more wells are drilled.
Colorado currently has 53,000 active wells and the industry predicts 50,000 more will be drilled in the next 30 years in addition to the redrilling and refracking of current active wells. With these new regulations in place, at about 70,000 total wells our air pollution will be the same as it is now; at 100,000 wells, our air pollution will be ~35 percent worse. By cutting emissions, but by not stopping drilling and fracking altogether, these new rules will lead to worse air pollution, increased climate change emissions, as well as our suburban landscapes being swarmed with well pads spewing cancer-causing chemicals in the air and on the ground.
The Ugly News
These new regulations may actually undermine local democracy and the necessary change in policy that needs to happen in Colorado. Over the past 18 months, local democracy has flourished in Colorado as voters supported fracking bans in Longmont, Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield and Fort Collins. In fact, it is these election outcomes that forced industry to the negotiating table to support the new rules.
As one participant from the Environmental Defense Fund stated publicly: “The industry’s social license to do business is under attack in Colorado and the political dynamics made a strong negotiated settlement attractive.” In other words, even though the industry had spent over a million dollars fighting the local elections, they lost and so they cut a deal with the Governor and a few frack-happy environmental groups to try and save their asses.
By supporting this “attractive settlement,” these environmental groups’ efforts have now bolstered the social license of this polluting and climate-destroying industry. If your social license to do business is destroying the planet, shouldn’t that license be revoked? Instead, the deal could derail the ongoing forward movement of authentic, grassroots, political change supported by voters in Colorado cities with more than 400,000 citizens towards banning fracking and switching our economy away from fossil fuels.
In fact, in the past few weeks, a total of 12 statewide ballot initiatives have been proposed to further restrict drilling and fracking in Colorado. The backers of these initiatives run the gamut from local ad-hoc groups to large and influential organizations and individuals. And the war has begun as the oil and gas industry is already spending millions of dollars in Colorado on TV, radio and print advertising in an attempt to sway voters’ minds eight months before the election, and is poised to spend tens-of-millions more in what may become a vicious statewide battle over fracking.
This mad rush to drill and frack in Colorado was initially supported by two assumptions: 1) that natural gas has less greenhouse gas emissions than coal and thus is a “bridge fuel” to fight climate change, and 2) that American oil and gas makes us “energy independent.”
Both of these assumptions have been proven false.
First, Colorado and America is drilling, fracking, mining and producing more oil, gas and coal than ever before, and thus our overall production, burning, and exporting of climate change emitting fossil fuels is at its highest level in history. In fact, in 2013 Colorado produced more oil than at any time in history, and natural gas production is rising every year as fracking races across the landscape. Further, scientific studies about the use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” have now completely undermined that argument—gas appears to be as bad or worse for the climate, and those partially controlled methane leaks are only part of the problem. Let’s face it: even British Petroleum has stated that oil and gas fracking will increase climate change emissions
Second, there’s no such thing as “American” fossil fuel energy and we’re not “energy independent” at all. Oil and gas that is produced in Colorado and the U.S. is wholly owned by international fossil fuel corporations that are borderless, soulless, and driven by one simple thing—short-term profits garnered at any social and environmental cost. When we develop fossil fuels in the U.S., we are simply increasing our dependence on this international predatory industry. Further, the mad rush to drill and frack in Colorado and across the U.S. is accompanied by an equally mad rush to build pipelines to get that oil and gas to the coast so it can be shipped overseas where the international oil and gas corporations can sell it for a higher price. Those corporations don’t fight with missiles and ground troops here in America; they fight with hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying, influencing elections, and polluting our democracy to make sure our 100 percent dependency on their product continues.
A couple environmental groups, the industry, and the Governor referred to Colorado’s new fracking air quality regulations as “ground breaking.” I disagreed because it appeared to me that the only thing breaking the ground will be the sound of 50,000 new drill rigs across our suburban landscapes as our air gets dirtier, our climate changes even more, and our democracy is further polluted.
I do see a path forward here that forges a new alliance so that these new fracking regulations are not bad or ugly, but are an important “first step.” The public and the environmental community in Colorado need to be working toward local and statewide bans and restrictions on the production and burning of fossil fuels as well as supporting a rapid switch toward renewable energy. That can only happen at the ballot box because our legislative and administrative process are completely polluted by oil and gas money.
Whether you’re in Colorado or elsewhere, and whether you’re with a small group or large, start local, get engaged and fight the fossil fuel industry at the ballot box. Win, lose or draw, it’s the right fight at the right moment in history.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental advocate based in Fort Collins. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
- Essential Oils: 7 Common Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- 9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System - EcoWatch ›
- 15 Impressive Herbs with Antiviral Activity - EcoWatch ›
- Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the ... ›
- In 'Totalitarian' Move, Brazil's Bolsonaro Removes Death and Case ... ›
- Brazil Passes 50,000 Coronavirus Deaths as Global Cases Top 9 ... ›
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>
- Solar Employs More Workers Than Coal, Oil and Natural Gas ... ›
- The Truth About Natural Gas: A 'Green' Bridge to Hell - EcoWatch ›
- Why Natural Gas Is a Bridge Fuel to Nowhere - EcoWatch ›
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- EPA Warns Against Fake Coronavirus Cleaners - EcoWatch ›
- What to Do if There's a Disinfectant Shortage in Your Area - EcoWatch ›
For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›
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>
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- In 'Conservation Disaster,' Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are ... ›
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›