More Federal Officials Don't Like Natural Gas— This Time in Gas Rich Zone

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Dan Arvizu

As Americans grow increasingly skeptical about global warming, and the availability of shale oil and natural gas is greater than ever in the U.S., a federal official based in Colorado says the climate threat is so dire that electric utilities should not plan long-term for the development of natural gas power plants.

Meanwhile another official in the Centennial State – a regional regulator for the Environmental Protection Agency that oversees areas with vast fossil fuel reserves – is on the record saying the number of scientists skeptical about the dangers of global warming is nearly non-existent.

The first official, Daniel Arvizu (pictured), director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, made his remarks Monday at the World Renewable Energy Forum in Denver.

“If we don’t start phasing out even a scale-up of natural gas by 2040, 2050, we will not achieve any of the carbon-loading goals we have set for ourselves,” he said. “Natural gas, while it might be a nice bridge technology, is not the answer to what we are actually looking for in terms of a transition and transformation.”

As for the EPA official, Region 8 Administrator James Martin, he believes “You could have a convention of all the scientists who dispute climate change in a relatively small phone booth.” That comment was captured by the Denver Post in 2008 when he was executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Martin helped write former Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter’s Climate Action Plan, dubbed “a living document,” which means its liberal authors can change it to mean anything they want it to – much like the Constitution. Martin’s territory with EPA covers the Dakotas, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Colorado.

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says trillions of barrels of potentially recoverable oil – possibly as much or more than the entire world’s current proven oil reserves – lies underneath Colorado and Utah, The Colorado Observer reported Monday.

Arvizu and Martin wield influence over a region with some of the richest oil and natural gas reserves in the country, which the Climate Action Plan acknowledged. “Colorado contains eight percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves, with proven reserves of 16 trillion cubic feet,” the authors wrote. But the plan also considered natural gas part of “our bridge strategies to a cleaner energy future for Colorado.”

While climate catastrophists Arvizu and Martin see the nation’s fossil fuel resources as a “bridge” to the future, realists see the massive deposits of oil and natural gas – with as much as 200 years’ worth of capacity accessible – as the energy future with no need for a bridge. Technologies such as hydraulic fracturing have expanded the ability to extract those resources, and states like Pennsylvania and North Dakota are seeing economic booms as a result.

For the comparably few renewable energy advocates, however, the proliferation and associated low prices for natural gas (when it comes to electricity generation) is bad news. Without huge tax credits, grants and incentives, wind and solar cannot compete with cheaper coal and natural gas. Hence, the climate panic must be perpetuated and the outlook for natural gas must be degraded – otherwise what is the need for a NREL?

“The rapid growth of energy demand, the uncertainty of future supplies, the increasing reliance on oil from unstable regions, and the resulting dramatic rise in fossil fuel prices—all these are creating formidable challenges to our economy and our energy security,” Arvizu wrote on the NREL Web site. “At the same time, the growing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is a looming threat to our environment.”

Arvizu was paid $691,570 for the fiscal year ending in September 2010 (the most recent year tax records are available) by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, which runs NREL. At least a dozen other staffers earn well into six-figures. ASE took in nearly $444 million through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy. According to his NREL biography, Arvizu has “overseen an increase of more than 50 percent in the lab’s operating budget, overseen a doubling of lab technical staff, and has helped attract over $400 million for new infrastructure.”

Martin, the EPA regulator, was appointed by President Obama in April 2010 and reports to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Prior to his work for Gov. Ritter, he was a senior attorney for 10 years for Environmental Defense, and earlier he headed the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law. 

Martin fits well into the Obama/EPA/Jackson/environmental extremism approach to delay and obfuscate the access of fossil fuel resources on federal lands. For example, plans by Denver-based Gasco to drill for natural gas in Utah’s Uintah Basin – with a compliance process that began in 2006 – have been held up by Martin and EPA over concerns about climate change and air pollutants. Regulators have been especially concerned about high ozone levels in the basin, where significant drilling already exists, but scientists are unsure whether the heightened levels are attributable to the activity, a nearby coal-fired power plant, or something else. Drilling companies have reduced their emissions and still the ozone problems – which also require sunlight to form – persist.

“They studied the problem for five years here and still don’t have answers,” said Elaine Crumpley, a spokeswoman for Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development, to the Denver Post.

And in a highly controversial case in Pavillion, Wyoming, EPA and Martin insinuated that groundwater contamination was attributable to hydraulic fracturing in the area, although testing did not prove conclusive. In hearings about the case, House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., accused EPA of “substituting outcome-driven science for rigorous objective science” and engaging in “another example of politics trumping policy and advocacy trumping science” in the December release of a draft report. Also Thomas E. Doll, supervisor of Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, accused EPA’s regional office of rushing out the draft report with incomplete data and technically inadequate conclusions, the Oil & Gas Journal reported.

According to the publication, “Doll said Wyoming agencies are concerned that EPA likely introduced synthetic and organic chemicals as it drilled, completed, tested, and sample its two monitoring wells.” Also, Doll challenged Martin’s claim that EPA consulted frequently with the state about the situation, an assertion that Martin did not back away from.

“EPA notified Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality that it was drilling the monitoring wells literally as the rigs were moving in,” Doll said.

This week another study, released by an independent environmental and water resource consulting firm, determined that EPA did not "adequately distinguish between potential natural impacts and those from gas drilling activities." The report, according to the International Business Times, faulted "poor study design" and that EPA's conclusions were based on just four samples.

Comments like Martin’s “phone booth” remark about scientific "consensus" over global warming show he can be out of touch with reality. More than 31,000 American scientists have signed a petition (which existed when Martin made his statement) that says, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” 

Also, in 2008 Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma issued a report (an update of an earlier report) that showed more than 650 international scientists dispute the alarmist position on global warming. And new studies and reports come out almost daily that show climate change is at least equally affected by natural factors or is not a significant concern that justifies trillions of dollars of costs to attempt to avert it.

Fit all that in a phone booth.

That matters little to President Obama and his environmental advocate minions like Jackson, Martin and Arvizu (and another EPA regulator who recently lost his job, Al Armendariz). They are part of the plan to appease his eco-extreme voting base, who live in a world where electricity rates must “necessarily skyrocket” as cheap energy is made expensive so expensive energy seems cheap.

It’s a world where made-up problems like global warming, despite having been discredited, still drive politicos in key positions to make stupid statements in order to preserve their statuses and six-figure salaries.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.