Preserve the Beartooth Front honored by The Montana Post

Don Pogreba

Preserve the Beartooth Front was recognized by Don Pogreba of The Montana Post in his article on Best of the Montana Blogs 2018. The article he cites is our August post on How the Trump Administration is quietly stripping away environmental protections.

Make no mistake about it — Trump and company have done everything they can to roll back environmental protections that have been established over many decades. This has been done primarily through rulemaking and other administrative procedures, which are generally ignored by cable news but can have a huge impact.

Thanks Don!

Posted in Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Largest oil and gas reserve in US discovered. It’s not the Christmas gift Ryan Zinke thinks it is.

On December 6 the US Department of the Interior announced the the discovery of the largest deposit of undiscovered, recoverable oil and gas resources in US history. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the reserve contains 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

Map of Wolfkamp Basin (USGS). Click to enlarge.

The reserve is called the Wolfcamp Shale and overlying Bone Spring Formation , and it is located in west Texas and southeast New Mexico.

By contrast, the Bakken formation in the Williston Basin of North Dakota will ultimately produce an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil according to a 2013 USGS estimate. Note the difference in estimates between what is “technically recoverable” in the Wolfcamp Shale and what will ultimately be produced in the Bakken. The Wolfcamp Shale may not actually produce 46 billion barrels of oil, but it is huge.

“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy. Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.”

Zinke by the Christmas tree

Zinke’s reaction cuts to the heart of the critical challenge we face today. The announcement of this new reserve comes just two weeks after the release of the National Climate Assessment by the Trump Administration. This scientific assessment says we must act now to fight climate change or we face hundreds of billions of dollars in public health costs and a huge decline in our economy.

So we have one branch of the government telling us that it is a scientific fact that human-based climate change will cause huge damage if we don’t do something about it, and another branch jumping up and down by the Christmas tree like a kid who just got 46 billion barrels of candy and intends to eat it all before sundown.

Here’s the truth: we can’t take all that oil and gas out of the ground or we’re going to pay a far higher long-term price than the short-term financial benefit.

Ryan Zinke needs to be dragged away from his Christmas presents and replaced by a responsible adult who can balance the critical choices we have to face right now.


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Stillwater County landowner lawsuit update: County runs out the clock on Judge Jones; hearing set for January 16

In the three months since my last update on the Beartooth Front landowners’ lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners, the Commissioners have carefully followed a familiar path — delay, delay, delay. The result is that a new judge will have to hear the case, likely resulting in more delays down the road.

Judge Blair Jones

The landowners filed the suit last February after the Commissioners denied a petition to set up a citizen-initated zone to regulate oil and gas drilling in southern Stillwater County. The Commissioners ruled that the petition did not qualify, even though it met the legal requirement of the signatures of 60% of the landowners in the proposed zone. According to the Commissioners, the petitioners needed the signatures of 60% of the minerals owners in the proposed zone in addition to the landowners.

Montana counties, including Stillwater, have set up 111 citizen-initiated zones in the state in the last 65 years, and this is the first time a county has ever required the signatures of minerals owners to set up such a zone.

On August 28, the landowners filed their brief in the suit, which demands the Commissioners certify their petition and hold a hearing on the zone. According to Montana law, the County had 21 days to respond, and the landowners would then have 10 additional days to file their own response. If these timelines were met, all briefs would have been filed in September, and a hearing could have been scheduled.

The timing was critical, as both parties understood, because Judge Blair Jones, who was assigned to the case, is retiring at the end of 2018. Judge Jones has already ruled on the first motion in the case, and was familiar with the issues.

Local landowners showed up in force at a hearing in Columbus last July.

But on September 13 the County filed a motion asking for an extension until November 1 to file their response, citing a need for additional time to review the landowners’ brief, prepare their arguments, and have them reviewed by the County. Judge Jones granted an extension until October 22.

After granting the extension, Judge Jones notified the parties that it would not be possible for him to hold a hearing and render a decision before his retirement. He set a hearing date for January 16, 2019.

Matthew Wald. Photo: Stillwater County News

The new judge will be Matthew J. Wald of Hardin, who was elected on November 6 to fill Judge Jones’ seat as 22nd District Judge. Wald defeated Raymond Kuntz of Red Lodge to win the seat.

In other developments in the case, Stillwater County has filed a cross motion for summary judgment, a standard procedure in cases of this type. Three of the four required briefs have now been filed, with the landowners filing their final brief last week. The County’s final brief is due in 10 days.

Also, Budd-Falen, the Cheyenne law firm representing Stillwater County, has asked that a second attorney be admitted to the Montana Bar in order to try the case. He is Brendan L. Jensen, who has been practicing environmental law at the firm for the last 18 years.

Delays are nothing new in this case. The landowners originally submitted their petition in November, 2015, and the County has taken every opportunity to avoid complying with the law and granting the petition, which would put reasonable regulations on drilling, not ban it.

Beartooth Front landowners present hundreds of signatures to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district
Do mineral rights have anything to do with citizen initiated zoning in Montana?
Beartooth Front zone update: Stillwater Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file suit against Stillwater County Commissioners
Stillwater residents give Commissioners an earful on proposed policy (with video)
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit
Beartooth Front landowners win first round of lawsuit

Lawsuit documents
Beartooth Front Coalition brief requesting summary judgment – filed August 28, 2018
Stillwater County’s request for extension – filed September 13, 2018
Judge Jones’ order granting extension – filed September 20, 2018
County’s brief in support of cross-motion for Summary Judgment – filed October 30, 2018
Landowners’ response to cross-motion for Summary Judgment – filed November 30, 2018

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The National Climate Report: Don’t be duped. Understand it yourself, and take action.

The Trump Administration released its National Climate Assessment (NCA) last Friday. This is the work product of the science agencies of our country, and reflects the best scientific thinking we have to offer on the impacts of climate change over the next several decades. Here are the findings in a nutshell:

  • Climate change is real.
  • Science has determined the cause of climate change. It is almost 100% due to human activity.
  • We can see the impacts today. They are here, and they are accelerating.
  • Over the next several decades climate change will cause substantial damage to the US economy, human health and the environment
  • The situation is not hopeless. By acting now, and acting forcefully, we can still avoid the most serious and dangerous impacts.
  • It’s up to us. We hold our fate in our hands.

The findings are completely consistent with the Montana Climate Assessment, the work of 32 Montana scientists from the public and private sector, published last year.

The Administration tried to bury the report by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, and has since jumped on the climate denial bandwagon to minimize and discredit the outcome.

Donald Trump
It starts with the President saying he just doesn’t believe what the report has to say.

The report is science. It is not a matter of belief. No credible climate scientists dispute the findings of the report. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says, “You can say, ‘I don’t believe in gravity,’ but if you step off a cliff you’re going down.” By using his bully pulpit to discredit the report without reason, the President is the main impediment to solving the problem.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders
The Administration sent out Sarah Huckabee Sanders to discredit their own report. She claimed the report is not based data driven, and is based on “the most extreme scenario.”

This is simply not true. The report considered multiple scenarios, from one in which emissions are reduced to one where emissions continue to increase. And the notion that the modeling in the report is not data driven is ridiculous. From the report:

Administration spokespeople
Administration spokespeople like Rick Santorum and Tom Delay littered the cable TV news channels, claiming that climate scientists are only coming up with these conclusions to line their own pockets with grant money. This is nonsense. According to the New York Times,

At Pennsylvania State University, professors in the earth and mineral sciences department made an average salary of $157,773, which was below the university-wide average of $166,731. Professors in earth and environmental sciences earned $98,567 on average at Iowa State University, compared with the average salary of $134,039.

This argument makes no sense. The Climate Assessment agrees with research being done by the oil companies themselves.  And can you imagine how many millions lobbying groups would pay a top climate scientist to deny the findings of this report? Climate scientists were paid nothing to contribute to this report.

You need to inform yourself
What is glaringly obvious is that nobody representing the Administration disputed factually any of the scientific findings in the report. You can allow yourself to be duped by the Administration, or you can find out for yourself. Failure to act is exactly what will lead us to the most disastrous scenario.

The NCA is a congressionally-mandated report released at least every four years on what the past, present, and future of climate change means for the United States. The report is produced by 13 federal agencies comprising the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a presidential initiative started by President Ronald Reagan and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990. It is the best work we have to offer.

Here’s where to download the report. Downloads are available in manageable pieces.

And here, courtesy of Climate Nexus, are the key findings of the report:

  • Human activity is the primary cause for the warming temperatures we are undoubtedly experiencing.
  • If we act now to fight climate change, by the end of this century we will save hundreds of billions of dollars just in public health costs, and save thousands of lives a year.
  • The cost of climate change right now is substantial. We are paying billions of dollars for the damage caused by worsening storms, more deadly heat waves, more frequent wildfires, and the worsening spread of allergies and disease.
  • Americans are already planning and adapting. The US military, farmers, businesses, and local communities are all in action.
  • The bottom line is that climate change is a clear and present danger to the health and wealth of the American people.

Topline findings of the report:

  1. Human activity, primarily burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change. There is no credible alternative to global warming emissions to explain the warming.
  • Global average temperatures have risen 1.8°F (1.0°C) since 1901, predominantly because of human activity, especially the emission of heat-trapping gases.
  • Globally, 16 of the last 17 years are the warmest years on record.
  • Depending on the region, Americans could experience an additional month to two month’s worth of days with maximum temperatures above 100°F by 2050, with that severe heat becoming commonplace in the southeast by 2100.

2. Economic losses from climate change are significant for some sectors of the U.S. economy.

  • In some sectors, losses driven by the impacts of climate change could exceed $100 billion annually by the end of the century.
  • If we don’t reduce carbon emissions, extreme temperatures could end up costing billions upon billions in lost wages annually by the end of the century, and negatively impact the health of construction, agricultural and other outdoor workers.
  • Many aspects of climate change – including extreme heat, droughts, and floods – will pose risks to the U.S. agricultural sector. In many places, including Montana, crop yields, as well as crop and grazing land quality, are expected to decline as a result.
  • We may be underestimating our level of risk by failing to account for multiple impacts occurring at once, or not planning for impacts that will span across government borders and sector boundaries.
  • Our aging infrastructure, especially our electric grid, will continue to be stressed by extreme weather events, which is why helping communities on the frontlines of climate impacts to adapt is so crucial.

nca4b3. Americans are already responding to the climate change impacts of burning fossil fuels.

  • Increased global warming emissions have contributed to the observed increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970.
  • Climate change doubled the area burned by wildfires across the West between 1984 and 2015, relative to what would have burned without warming. Climate change was a greater factor in area burned between 1916 and 2003 than was fire suppression, fire management or non-climate factors.
  • By 2100, annual acreage burned by wildfires could increase by as much as 6 times in some places. The U.S. spends an average of about $1 billion annually to fight wildfires, but spent over $2 billion in 2015 due to extreme drought. Costs exceeded $2 billion in the first 8 months of 2017.
  • The U.S. military is already working to understand the increased risks of security issues resulting from climate change-induced resource shocks (droughts causing crop failure, for example, which can contribute to civil unrest) as well as extreme weather events and direct impacts on military infrastructure, like sea level rise or extreme heat at military bases.

nca4a4. Storm surge and tidal flooding frequency, depth and extent are worsened by sea level rise, presenting a significant risk to America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market.

  • Global sea level has risen about 8-9 inches since 1880, 3 inches of which have come since just 1993. We can expect at least several inches more in the next 15 years, with 1-4 feet very likely by 2100, and as much as 8 feet physically possible by 2100.
  • Sea level rise has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 since the 1960s for some US coastal communities.
  • Climate change is already hurting coastal ecosystems, posing a threat to the fisheries and tourism industries as well as public safety and human health. Continuing coastal impacts will worsen pre-existing social inequities as vulnerable communities reckon with how to adapt.

5. Every American’s health is at risk from climate change, with the elderly, young, working class and communities of color being particularly vulnerable.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will, by the end of the century, potentially save thousands of lives annually, and generate hundreds of billions of dollars of health-related economic benefits compared to a high emissions scenario.
  • Allergies like hay fever and asthma are likely already becoming more frequent and severe.
  • Warmer temperatures are expected to alter the range of mosquitoes and ticks that carry vector-borne diseases like Zika, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
  • Drier conditions in Arizona and California have led to greater growth of the fungus that leads to Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) while Cryptococcal infections were strictly tropical before 1999, but have moved northward, with Oregon experiencing 76 cases in 2015.
  • West Nile is projected to double by 2050, with a $1 billion annual price tag.

6. We can do something about this. Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will reduce the risks of climate impacts.

  • A certain amount of warming is likely “locked in” so adaptation is still required.
  • The faster we reduce global warming emissions, the less risk we face and the cheaper it will be to adapt.
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Action Alert: Please write the Stillwater County Commissioners by Thursday, November 22

This is a request for action from those of you in Stillwater County. The County is in the process of updating its growth plan, last updated in 2007. They have done a poor job of soliciting input from the public, and the current draft of the plan is inadequate in many respects. I write about oil and gas issues, an area that has received little attention in the draft, so I am asking you to comment on that.

COMMENTS ARE DUE NO LATER THAN THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22, so please submit yours by then. Send by email to

The Beartooth Front is a unique area that is vulnerable to oil and gas drilling. A failure to plan jeopardizes its long-term health.

Growth planning in Montana
 planning is an essential element of county government in Montana. The comprehensive county growth plan was enshrined into law by the Legislature in 1999. While a growth plan does not have the force of law, it is an important document for shaping future policy. According to this law, the development of a growth plan is required to enact zoning.

Unlike in 2007, the County Commissioners have not been proactive in soliciting public comment. As a result they have received very little feedback, and so we have a chance to influence the plan by having an outsied voice about issues that are important to us.

You can view the 2018 draft growth plan by clicking here. The discussion regarding oil and gas development is mainly in Sections 4 and 5.

Here are the comments it would be helpful for you to make:

  1. Express concern about the impact of future oil and gas drilling and how it might impact areas in Stillwater County along the Beartooth Front in any or all of the following ways: incompatibility with agriculture, ranching, recreation, health, environment, or community. Speak about your personal concerns, and the need to develop regulations to ensure that drilling is done in a way that protects us.
  2. Please make this specific point: In section 5.1 of the document, there is the following statement:

“Stillwater County currently has one citizen initiated zoning district on the West Fork of the Stillwater River (see map on page 5-2) and has received petitions and inquiries about creating other planning and zoning districts. This trend may continue in the absence of land use controls, so it may be beneficial for the County to begin evaluating regulatory options now to avoid addressing issues on a case-by-cases basis.”

Please ask the commissioners to delete this paragraph. In the entire history of Stillwater County, there have been three citizen initiated zoning petitions — one in 1979, one in 1998, and one in 2015 (the Beartooth Front petition). This is not a trend, and it is appropriate for individual areas of the county to develop their own zones when they have unique needs.

You may wish to comment on other areas of the plan. For your interest, here is a letter from local resident Burt Williams, who made wide ranging comments.

Inadequate community outreach
Here’s some background on how the Stillwater County Commissioners have not taken public feedback seriously. In 2007 they did. They sent direct mail surveys to over 3000 county residents, and they held 12 public meetings all over the county. County employees attended public events and handed out surveys, and there were notices published in local papers.

Their efforts yielded broad public input. The meetings were well attended, and they received 400 surveys back, getting valuable input on the issues that were important to residents. That return represented about 5% of county residents, which, as any marketer will tell you, is a strong response.

In 2018, there was no such earnest effort to solicit public input. Surveys were not mailed to residents, but were only placed online on the County’s web page. Notices were placed on organizational Facebook pages, but the social media outreach did not extend beyond organizational pages to social pages such as the Come Together Absarokee site, which has over 1700 members. There were only four community meetings — in Park City, Columbus, Reed Point, and Absarokee.

This lackluster effort could not be classified as outreach at all. A web-only strategy with no direct personal notifications only reaches a small number of people. How many of you went to the Growth Plan page on the Stillwater County web site during the summer? I didn’t think so.

The results were predictable. The County received only about 65 surveys from residents, a paltry return of less than 1% of residents. As an example, there were 22 survey responses from Nye in 2007; there were none in 2018.

Why this batch of commissioners is uninterested in engaging with the public is beyond my speculation at this point, but planning in Stillwater County is going to suffer unless you take this opportunity to raise your voice.

Growth plan, public_private

Click to read Carbon County’s 2015 Growth Plan update

How it works in Carbon County
Neighboring Carbon County updated their growth plan in 2015, and their public outreach was a model for how residents can be engaged to develop a growth plan that serves the public rather than the county commissioners.

The County began by soliciting public input through an extensive road show, holding half-day meetings all over the county. They made a video of public input and made it available. There were ongoing discussions at well-attended planning board meetings.

The result was a comprehensive document, which you can view by clicking on the graphic above. Input on oil and gas development received during this process led to the establishment in 2016 of a zone that provided reasonable regulation on drilling, including a 750-foot minimum county-wide setback of wellheads from occupied dwellings (see p. 22). (Montana does not require setbacks from occupied dwellings.)

Please write the Stillwater commissioners by November 22 to make sure they hear what we have to say about planning.


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Lessons from other states: Nevada and Arizona

We are currently looking at energy initiatives in other states that are on the ballot in November, 2018. Previous posts:

Lessons from other states: Colorado
Lessons from other states: Washington carbon fee initiative
November ballot initiatives in other states

Renewable portfolio standards: Nevada and Arizona
There are two nearly identical November 6 ballot measures in Arizona and Nevada, where voters will separately decide whether to require utilities to acquire at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Both measures would raise the “Renewable Portfolio Standard” (RPS) to 50% by 2030. An RPS requires electric utilities to ensure that a specified percentage of electricity they sell comes from renewable energy, which is usually tracked through a credit system. That allows for certain types of energy, such as electricity produced through rooftop solar systems, to have a “credit multiplier” effect and count more towards meeting the required minimum production standard.

Nevada Amendment 6, if approved, would change the state constitution to raise Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard] to 50 percent by 2030. The state’s current RPS is set at 20 percent and will increase to 25 percent by 2025. The PAC supporting the ballot measure was able to turn in more than 230,000 signatures to state election officials in June, far above the required 112,544 signatures needed to make it onto the ballot.

NV Energy, the state’s primary electric utility, said in April that it had a 24 percent clean energy portfolio for 2017, ahead of the required 20 percent RPS minimum. The utility has not taken a position on Amendment 6, which means it has a good chance of passing.

The Crescent Dunes Solar Project, 190 miles NW of Las Vegas, began operation in 2015. Photo by Amble.

If approved, the RPS would not immediately increase to 50 percent overnight — instead rising to 26 percent through 2022 and 2023 and rising by 8 percent every subsequent two-year period until 2030.

NextGen Climate Action is the primary PAC supporting Amendment 6, and has raised $6.4 million. There is no active fundraising campaign opposed.

Arizona Proposition 127  would increase the state’s RPS each year until reaching 50% by 2030. As of 2018, the state’s RPS is 15% by 2025. Proposition 127 would increase the RPS each year until reaching 50 percent in 2030. The initiative would define renewable energy to include sources such as solar, wind, biomass, certain hydropower, geothermal, and landfill gas energies.

As in Nevada, Next Gen Climate Action is leading the charge in favor of the initiative. Proponents have raised $23.6 million in support of the initiative. Unlike Nevada, Arizona’s largest electric retail provider, Arizona Public Service (APS), opposes the initiative. Pinnacle West, the parent of APS, has spearheaded fundraising of $31.2 million in opposition.

Opposition of the public utilities has made a significant difference. A late-September poll shows 33.6% of voters in favor of the Prop 127, and 46.6% opposed.

What is happening in other states?
At least 29 states have an RPS in place, and eight additional states have set nonbinding renewable energy “goals,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The most progressive RPS levels in the country:

Hawaii: 100% by 2045
California: 100% by 2045
Vermont: 75% by 2032
New Jersey, New York, Oregon: 50% by 2030

If the Arizona and Nevada initiatives pass, it will bring them up to the top tier of states.

Besides being a small step toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, the pair of ballot measures will test the extent to which states are willing to buck the Trump administration to prop up cleaner energy. If either or both passes, it is more likely we will see similar measures in 202o.

What is Montana doing?
In 2005, Montana passed a law that requires public utilities and competitive electricity suppliers with more than 50 customers to obtain 5% of their retail sales from renewables by 2015 and maintain the percentage each year thereafter. Montana has an RPS requirement of 15% by 2015, which must be maintained each year after that.

In 2005 this was a progressive standard, but there is little likelihood that the Legislature will update it in 2019. It will be up to voters to push a more progressive standard in 2020.

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Lessons from other states: Washington carbon fee initiative

Washington has been trying to pass a carbon tax for the last decade without success. But this year, as unhappiness with Trump’s anti-environment agenda grows, it looks like the state may succeed.

Initiative 1631 is on the November ballot. It would impose a starting fee of $15 per ton on carbon emissions, beginning in 2020, with 70 percent of the money raised invested in clean energy. If it passes, Washington will make history, becoming not only the first state in the union to adopt a carbon tax, but also the first government anywhere to do so by ballot referendum.

But passage is far from certain. Washington voters rejected a carbon tax the last time one appeared on the ballot, in November 2016, largely because the environmental community did not unanimously support it. This time around environmentalists are unified, but oil and gas companies—including Phillips 66, Chevron, BP, and Shell—have collectively donated $25 million to defeat the initiative.

clean-power-planWhy a carbon tax?
A carbon tax is a critical first step in dealing with the societal costs of climate change. It recognizes that climate change impacts — extreme weather events, sea level rise, droughts, and so on — must be considered as a cost of fossil fuel extraction, and should be factored into the price.

Today the price of energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) is determined by market forces.  Oil prices, for example, are set by commodities traders, who bid on oil futures contracts in the commodities market. These contracts are agreements to buy or sell oil at a specific date in the future for an agreed-upon price.

Very simplistically, the primary factors that commodities traders use to develop their bids are:

  • The current supply of oil, based on OPEC quotes, and, increasingly, US shale oil production.
  • The amount of oil reserves held in refineries, in the US strategic oil reserve, or in Saudi Arabia.
  • Oil demand from markets around the world.

However, there is an additional cost of fossil fuels that is not factored into the price. It is the societal cost of releasing carbon into the atmosphere as a byproduct of fossil fuel production. This contributes to global warming, which has significant societal cost (extreme weather, drought, agricultural disruption, sea level rise, and so on).

In economic terms, this cost is called a “negative externality,” a cost that is suffered by a third party as a result of an economic transaction. Society suffers because of the purchase of fossil fuels.

A carbon tax is one mechanism that would price the externality of carbon emissions to make the price of fossil fuels an accurate reflection of all costs. If set correctly, a carbon tax will decrease fossil fuel usage and cause consumers to seek other sources of energy.

Initiative 1631 specifics
Initiative 1631 requires major polluters like fossil-fuel companies to pay $15 for every ton of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. The state estimates that this levy would generate roughly $2.2 billion in its first five years.

Initiative 1631 has attracted a broad coalition of support. Photo courtesy Yes on 1631.

These revenues would then be invested into a new fund to support projects that would accelerate the state’s transition away from fossil fuels, like public-transit development, energy-efficiency upgrades, and new wind- and solar-power plants.The fund would support other kinds of projects, as well. One-quarter of its revenue must be spent to protect forests and streams in the state. One-twentieth must directly flow to communities that stand to be hurt by either climate change or the transition away from fossil fuels, such a Centralia, which has the state’s only coal-fired power plant.

Initiative 1631 would take effect in 2020. For the next decade and a half, its starting fee of $15 would increase by $2 every year, plus inflation. In 2035, when the fee is projected to hit $55 a ton, state lawmakers could either freeze it in perpetuity or vote to continue its steady increase.

Why it matters
Although carbon taxes are not unique — about 20% of fossil fuel production in the world is taxed, a carbon fee enacted by voter initiative is unique. California has a cap and trade system passed by the state legislature, and Canada will implement a national tax of $38/ton in 2022.

If this initiative passes, expect many other states to follow this path in subsequent elections. Montana will not be one of them, until voters throw out legislators who are trying to prop up dying fossil fuel industries instead of looking to the future.

In a poll conducted October 5-9, 50% favored Initiative 1631, 36% opposed, and 14% were undecided.

We’ll report back after the election.

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November ballot measures in other states

Yesterday we looked at battle between the oil and gas industry and communities in Colorado. Today we’ll look at fracking-related ballot measures in other states.

Amendment 9 places two constitutional amendments on the ballot. It would prohibit “drilling, either for exploration or extraction, of oil or gas on all lands beneath state waters,” which would encompass offshore fracking. State-owned waters extend from the mean high water line to the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. For some reason, this is bundled with a second amendment that would ban vaping indoors.

Trump’s EO opens 120 million acres on the Continental Shelf to drilling. Amendment 9 would prohibit drilling in waters off the Florida coast.

Background. In December 2016 President Obama issued a moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling in 120 million acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Then, in April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to revise the Obama administration’s 2017-2022 leasing plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans, which lifted the moratorium. “Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent,” Trump said at the signing ceremony.

In January of this year, Interior Secretary Zinke announced a draft program to make over 90 percent of the total U.S. Outer Continental Shelf acreage available to oil and gas exploration and development. The proposal included 47 potential lease sales, with 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Zinke, the plan included the “largest number of lease sales ever proposed.”

Zinke exempted Florida from the draft program to open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration based on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s request, but said that a final decision had not been made and a final proposal would be released this fall.

Amendment 9 would close off the opportunity for future offshore drilling.

Measure G in San Luis Obispo County, just north of Santa Barbara, would prohibit “new petroleum extraction, and all well stimulation treatments, including fracking and acid well stimulation, on all lands within the unincorporated area of the county.” This would include not only new extraction, but expansion of current sites.

The activist group Protect San Luis Obispo County collected over 20,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

Not on the ballot
Measures in Michigan and Ohio did not make the ballot.

The Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative would have banned the use of horizontal fracking and prohibited the production, storage, disposal, and processing of fracking waste in the state. Proponents did not reach the required 315,000 signatures to be on the ballot.

In Ohio, the state Supreme Court ruled that a measure meant to ban fracking in Columbus, Ohio was illegal and could not appear on the November ballot. The court reasoned that state law specifically reserves the right to regulate oil and gas activity. The measure would have prohibited drilling within the city.

Update 11/2/2018: A reader in Youngstown, Ohio points out that there is a municipal charter amendment on the ballot in that city. The amendment would recognize community rights to safe drinking water and a healthy environment, and establish a community “bill of rights.” The ordinance would effectively block new drilling for oil and gas.

We’ll report back on what happened after the election.

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Lessons from other states: Colorado

Sometimes it’s worth checking in on other oil and gas producing states to see what trends may eventually bring political change to Montana. Today we’ll look at Colorado, where conflict over oil and gas development is front and center on the November ballot.

Colorado background
Colorado is a huge oil and gas producing state. It ranks fourth in the US in natural gas production behind Texas, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, and  seventh in crude oil production behind Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. It dwarfs Montana in production. Gas production is 40 times larger than Montana’s, and oil production is five times larger.

Over time, Colorado production has migrated from the sparsely populated Western Slope of Colorado to the rich Wattenberg Gas Field on Colorado’s Front Range, a much more heavily populated area near Denver. As production has moved to densely populated areas, there has been a predictable clash between the oil and gas industry and those concerned about the quality of water, air, and public health.

As this has occurred, Colorado has tried to adopt more balance in regulation than we see in Montana, where regulation heavily favors the oil and gas industry. A couple of examples:

  • Colorado requires a minimum 500 foot setback from occupied buildings, which extends to 1000 feet from high density buildings like schools and hospitals. Montana has no minimum setback rules.
  • Colorado has relatively strict rules requiring oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemical composition of fluids used in fracking. Disclosure includes the volume of water used, the chemicals used and their concentrations. Within 60 days of drilling, all chemicals must be posted on the web site. Montana’s Board of Oil and Gas is currently revising the state’s chemical disclosure rules, but the final rules will be a far cry from Colorado’s in terms of transparency.

Colorado’s more stringent rules have not satisfied the public however. Voters in Wattenberg Field cities Longmont and Fort Collins passed fracking bans several years ago, but the state supreme court ruled these bans unconstitutional.

A large new drilling operation sits near the Denver and Front Range Landfills close to housing subdivisions on June 7, 2017 in Erie. Some neighbors don t
A gas well looms over homes in Erie, Colorado, along the Front Range. A titanic clash between oil and gas interests and local communities is on the November ballot in Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Two competing ballot initiatives
On November 6, this conflict will reach a head as voters will decide on two opposing oil and gas measures, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74. Both could have major conflicting implications on future oil and gas development in the state.

Proposition 112 would establish a minimum setback of 2,500 feet between wellheads and homes, schools, hospitals, and “vulnerable areas,” such as school playgrounds.

The oil and gas industry has attacked Proposition 112 with the full fury of an industry that claims the measure will cut 80% of the state’s future energy development on nonfederal lands, causing 150,000 job losses statewide, and decreasing tax revenues by $1 billion. These figures need to be taken with a huge grain of salt, because they fail to take into account advanced horizontal drilling technology, which enables drilling from as far away as a mile from a target, and they include workers who would allegedly lose their jobs because of a shortfall in state revenue. Proponents of Proposition 112 believe the measure is necessary to protect the health and safety of residents in the Front Range Area where the population is booming and the industry continues to grow.

To date the industry is outspending advocates of Proposition 112 by 20-1. The industry has contributed $19.4 million; proponents have raised $945,985. This is typical of this kind of ballot initiative, and in many places they have prevailed even when the industry has far outspent advocates. In 2014 in San Benito, California, a fracking ban passed 57%-43% even though the industry outspent local advocates 15-1.

The competing initiative is Amendment 74, which would amend the Colorado Constitution’s to read: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged, or reduced in fair market value by government law or regulation for public or private use, without just compensation.”

The oil and gas industry is attempting to use this language all over the country to thwart  voter-imposed oil and gas regulation. The industry doesn’t try to hide it. Chad Vorthmann, Amendment 74’s sponsor and Vice President of Colorado Farm Bureau, says the measure is about “protecting Colorado’s farmers and ranchers from extremist attempts to enforce random setback requirements for oil and natural gas development . . . and strip away Colorado landowners’ right to use their land the way they wish.”

In practice, what these “takings” initiatives do is invite a flood of lawsuits and bankrupt small municipalities. Because oil and gas rights are private property, local governments will be paralyzed if it passes. If they reject oil and gas developments they could face takings claims from mineral owners. But if the government approves the development, it could be faced with a takings claim from property owners. It would be a full employment act for attorneys.

The worst case scenario for Colorado would be if both initiatives pass. Proposition 112 would invite legal challenges under Amendment 74. Eric Sondermann, and independent political analyst, calls Amendment 74 an “insurance policy” against Proposition 112.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know what happens.

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Last chance for your voice to be heard on chemical disclosure; email comments due to Board of Oil and Gas today by 5pm

This is not a time to sit back and let others take action. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) is about to pass a rule on the advance disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. This rule trades the rights of landowners for the rights of oil and gas companies. It’s a bad trade, and only your voice can make a difference at this point.

To make a comment, send an email to Reference Hydraulic Fracturing Rulemaking in the subject line. The deadline is 5pm today.

Your comment does not have to be long or elegant. Emphasize that the proposed rule is inadequate because it does not require operators to give landowners 45 days notice, which is required to do baseline testing. You might also say that the cost of baseline testing should be paid by oil and gas operators.

Only a deluge of support for this position will move the board. Please take five minutes to do this today.

Here is background information that will help you.

My original post on this topic
My follow up post
Comments from coalition that sued the BOGC
Billings Gazette: Montana Fracking Fluid Disclosure Rule Draws Critics

Report from last Monday’s hearing
The Board Chair was not present but the rest of the Board was there.  Board member Rob Stutz moderated. In total, fifteen people testified and about thirty people were in the audience.  Most of the commenters supported the position that more notice should be given. Alan Olson, head of the Montana Petroleum Association, predictably said he liked the Board’s current revisions and didn’t think anything else needed to be in the rules. He added that landowners could take operators to Court if they wanted additional information.

This Montana Petroleum’s Association tells you all you need to know.

Please comment today.

Cleaning up an oil spill on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Without adequate advance notification it is impossible to protect our water. Photo: Associated Press



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