Another voice: ‘The greenest corner in the richest nation on earth’
By Robin Cody, August 19, 2016
The fiery wreck of an oil train at Mosier is what galvanized many of us to sit on the Burlington Northern railroad tracks in downtown Vancouver on June 18. Twenty-one protesters, ranging in age from 20 to 84, were repeatedly warned of 90 days’ jail time and $1,000 fines for criminal trespassing. And still, we sat.
Protesters got arrested and briefly jailed. Our legal status remained in limbo until recently, when criminal charges were dismissed.
Now we can talk.
The whole idea — of fracking North Dakota and shipping flammable crude oil by rail through the Columbia River Gorge — is not just a threat to people who live near the tracks. It’s also a violation of nature. It’s a big wrong turn in America’s supposed transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
It’s 2016. About climate change and its causes, the evidence is in. Time is running out. Yet many more tanker loads of climate change could come barreling through the Gorge. The proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Northwest. It would more than double the daily frequency of mile-long oil trains to the Port of Vancouver.
If civil disobedience does any good, it’s in the context of many other groups and individuals speaking out. There were rallies in Hood River and Astoria, tribal action in Mosier, and the alarm expressed by city councils of Vancouver and Portland and Spokane. Columbia Riverkeepers, 350pdx, and many other organizations put the spotlight on industries that contribute to, and profit from, America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
This is about where we live. It would be fundamentally unlike us Cascadians, of all people, to cooperate with big oil’s distant profit.
The world expects the United States to take the lead with climate action. The U.S. looks to California and the Northwest. So here we are, in the greenest corner of the richest nation on Earth. If we don’t step up for the planet, where in the world will momentum take hold? And when we do take a stand, it might really make a difference.
Robin Cody of Portland is the author of “Ricochet River” and “Voyage of a Summer Sun.”
Significant funding gap in Colorado fracking fight
By Jacy Marmaduke, August 18, 2016 11:17 a.m. MDT
Committees fighting proposed Colorado ballot measures that would limit fracking have raked in about $15 million in donations this year, more than 35 times the contributions of groups backing the measures.
About 90 percent of the anti-ballot measure donations have come from energy companies, including $10.5 million from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Noble Energy alone.
“We’ve never seen a number like this from the opposition,” said Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, the state government watchdog group that released the numbers confirmed by the Coloradoan. “It shows that (businesses) are ready to spend a lot of money in the best interest of the company’s bottom line.”
In contrast, individual donations of less than $1,000 have been the primary fuel for the pro-ballot measure efforts, bolstered by support from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, his father and the executive director of the fundraising committees. The pro-ballot measure committees have received about $424,000 in donations this year.
Petitioners submitted signatures for proposed ballot measures 75 and 78 on Aug. 8, the day they were due. The Secretary of State will declare the signatures sufficient or insufficient by Sept. 8. If the office confirms petitioners collected about 98,500 valid signatures for each measure, they’ll appear in the November election.
Measure 75 would amend the state constitution to allow local control of oil and gas development, effectively overturning the Colorado Supreme Court’s denial of Fort Collins’ fracking moratorium and Longmont’s fracking ban.
Measure 78 would amend the state constitution to increase setbacks for oil and gas development from 500 feet to 2,500 feet from occupied structures. The measure would also require a 2,500-foot setback from “areas of special concern,” a category that includes most water sources and riparian areas, parks, sports fields, playgrounds and public open spaces.
The current setback of 500 feet is about the length of 1 1/2 football fields. The proposed setback of 2,500 feet is about a half-mile. It would apply only to new development — but the ballot measure includes reentry of existing wells in its definition of “new development.”
Two committees are working on each side of the proposed ballot measures: Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking and Yes for Local Control Over Oil and Gas are on the pro-ballot measure side. Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence and Vote No on 75/78 are on the anti-ballot measure side.
About 30 percent pro-ballot donations were in the form of services from organizations like Food and Water Watch and Greenpeace. Those services are assigned cash values for record-keeping purposes.
“A successful ballot initiative usually costs at least a million dollars,” Toro said. “That might be an indication of where they’re headed.”
The committees could see a cash infusion if they’re approved for the ballot, Toro added. Committee representatives weren’t available for comment.
The anti-ballot measure committees have received about $15 million in donations this year, not including about $746,000 Protect Colorado had on-hand on Jan. 1. About 10 percent of those donations were in the form of services.
“These measures are so extreme and such a threat to Colorado’s economy that we’ve got the commitments to spend $24 million to fight them,” Protect Colorado spokeswoman Karen Crummy said. “We’ve been very upfront about that from the beginning.”
The anti-ballot measure committees have spent 20 times more than the pro-ballot measure groups as of Aug. 1 — $5 million versus about $250,000, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. Also as of Aug. 1, the anti-ballot measure side had roughly $9.1 million to the opposition’s $43,000.
Lists of top monetary donors for each side of the issue give you a good idea of how their fundraising has taken shape.
Top monetary donors for pro-ballot measure committees:
Patricia Olson (founder of both committees): $60,300
J. Christopher Hormel (Boulder philanthropist): $60,000
(tie) Lush Cosmetics: $25,000
(tie) Jared Polis: $25,000
(tie) Fracking Fund of the New World Foundation: $25,000
(tie) Stephen Schutz (physicist, greeting card designer, Jared Polis’ father): $25,000
Top donors make up 52 percent of 2016 contributions.
Top monetary donors for anti-ballot measure committees
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation: $5.5 million
Noble Energy: $5 million
PDC Energy: $750,000
Synergy Resources Corporation: $650,000
Bayswater Exploration and Production: $500,000
Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation: $300,000
Top donors make up 85 percent of 2016 contributions.
The American Petroleum Institute, the national trade group representing the oil and gas industry, funded about $1.1 million worth of consulting and other services for Vote No on 75/78 but isn’t on this list because the donations were considered non-monetary.
Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire
By Lorraine Chow, Jul 13, 2016
This week—as thousands of Americans urge awareness to the destruction caused by oil bomb trains—an oil field in San Juan County, New Mexico erupted in flames Monday night, highlighting the continued and increasing dangers of the fossil fuel industry.
The fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Monday at a fracking site owned and operated by WPX Energy, setting off several explosions and temporarily closing the nearby Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes.
A photo of the fire before emergency response arrived on site.Kendra Pinto
The site—located in the Mancos shale deposit area and known as the 550 Corridor and a part of Greater Chaco Canyon—contains six new oil wells and 30 temporary oil storage tanks holding either oil or produced water. All 36 storage tanks caught fire and burned, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company said.
The site was still smoldering last night and, now, “only 7 of 36 tanks at production site on fire this morning,” the company tweeted.
“The fire is being allowed to burn itself out due to the intensity of the heat, the number of oil tanks involved and to contain petroleum fluids on WPX’s five-acre site, predominantly in the storage tankage,” WPX said.
According to Albuquerque news station KOAT, WPX stopped drilling for natural gas and oil in the area last May. The company had been producing for about a week before the fire broke out.
The cause of the fire is currently unclear. “We think that in the next couple of weeks to months, we will have that information and will be able to share that with the public,” WPX San Juan Asset Team manager, Heather Riley, told the news station.
There were no reported injuries or damage to nearby property. Most of the evacuees have returned home but 10 families are still lodged in a hotel, The Farmington Daily Times reported.
Environmental advocates are speaking out about the explosion.
“The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns.” Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.
WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.
“In a leap before looking scenario, the federal Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed WPX to proceed with these shale facilities discounting the inherent danger that has now become clear with the explosion,” Eisenfeld said.
“This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion. Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary. There should be a moratorium on these new wells until BLM completes a legally proficient Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos Shale/Gallup formations.”
The New Mexico environmental non-profit WildEarth Guardians noted in a statement to EcoWatch that the BLM Farmington Field Office has leased more than 90 percent of the lands it oversees to oil and gas companies and plans to auction off additional acres for fracking during the January 2017 lease sale. The office manages a total of 1.8 million acres of public land.
“Enough is enough,” Kendra Pinto, counselor chapter outreach intern, said. “It seems like every month we see more wells here, and things are going to get worse if the drilling doesn’t stop. At this rate, what will be left here for our children? The land has changed.”
WPX Energy has invested millions to drill into the tight shale formations in the San Juan Basin. The company has put in at least $160 million in developing oil plays in 2014 on its 60,000 leased acres, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The rise of hydraulic fracturing has aided a U.S. energy boom but the environmental impact of the technology is under intense dispute, from polluting drinking water to earthquakes. Last year, WPX Energy itself came under scrutiny for failing to disclose how it is managing its impacts on communities and the local environment with its fracking operations.
“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts, and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania,” the advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote.
WPX Energy has defended its operations and even helped produce a glossy 26-minute documentary, Down Deep, as a way of “spreading the message that fracking is safe and necessary for the U.S. energy future,” Tulsa World wrote of the film.
Still, as WildEarth Guardians pointed out, the recent oil field explosion in San Juan serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.
“I know people want jobs,” Samuel Sage, Wildlife Guardians counselor chapter community services coordinator, said. “But why must they come at the expense of our air, water, and climate? Many other places are building clean energy generation and creating well-paying jobs in the process. That is our future, not this dirty industry.”
“Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg,” Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, said. “The Obama Administration has already leased more than 10 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, and BLM continues to lease more land in New Mexico to fracking interests without studying these impacts. How many more explosions and evacuations will it take before we seriously consider the cost of these dirty fossil fuel industries and simply end this leasing program?”