Warming Stripes for Colorado shows annual average temperatures for Colorado from 1895-2018 using data from NOAA, this and more great graphs can be found at www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/visualisation-resources/
But none of that carpet-bombing ad dominance spilling across our screens matters, or it shouldn’t, when news, the reality in the oil and gas fields, is more like this (from industry-oriented blog OilPrice.com):
Emissions Soar As Permian Flaring Frenzy Breaks New Records
The flaring and venting of natural gas in the U.S. continue to soar, reaching new record highs in recent months.
The volume of gas that was burned or simply released into the atmosphere by oil and gas drillers reached 1.28 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2018, according to the EIA, up from 0.772 Bcf/d in 2017.
The practice is a disaster on many levels. It is wasteful, it worsens air quality and it exacerbates climate change. Venting gas is much worse than burning it since it releases methane into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas.
The New York Times documented several “super emitters” in the Permian, using infrared cameras to visually capture the epidemic. The NYT even recorded an oil worker walking into an invisible plume of leaking methane.
But shale drillers continue the practice and regulators have shown little interest in regulating them.
OK Boomer, and Gen X listen up too: Young people aren’t having any of the “it’s too hard!” whining. In this “season of gratitude” perhaps we should also consider a “day of mourning,” and not only for the theft and transgression, the original sins, at the root of our nation, but for the future we are driving it toward as well.
Adults are cooking up the planet. And what we are serving our kids, is something they’re not thankful for.
Consider the climate news of the last week or so. This week NOAA ranked 2019 as “increasingly likely” to be the second- or third-hottest year on record.
A couple of weeks ago a study came out showing that the reporting on climate science has actually been a bit pollyannish, and that the worse-case scenarios once considered likely outliers are lining up as our new reality.
Meanwhile, facing weakening from market competition, as renewables become cheaper and storage improves–not to even mention the climate crisis–fracked gas corporations understand their product’s viability as a power source is also in decline. And so, to recall a classic scene every Boomer knows well, “Plastics.” Yes, the solution to pollution apparently is more pollution.
Adults are not only robbing kids in their future, but are impacting their childhood today as well. Extreme weather, heat waves, drought, and fear for the future are all detrimental to our children. But are “grown-ups” paying attention?
But there is a check on this abuse of power, of course, and in Colorado its face is Cory Gardner.
Or it would be: if Sen. Gardner was listening to the moral imperatives of the moment and the growing anger from the near-future.
Instead, Sen. Gardner has voted in lock-step with corrupt and career politicians like Mitch McConnell, and per the orders of Donald Trump. Not for Colorado, not for the climate, and not for our future.
Global climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has an unique ability to trigger Boomer men. It’s difficult when someone with such moral clarity sums you up so harshly.
We can run, but we can’t hide. And that includes from our kids, and what they are telling us. That we should not dismiss them as naive or manipulated. And that they are not backing down. The failure of older generations does not impress them, and they are not about to let our impotence stop their moment.
The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are not pleased. Young people are not just demanding action. They are taking it.
All they are asking older generations: The past or the future – Which side are we on?
Boomer Bonus: If you won’t listen to the kids, maybe Jer can help.
Disclaimer: Pete Kolbenschlag considers himself a confused Gen Xer born in the last moments of the Baby Boom. He admits to a fondness for Dustin Hoffman movies, The Grateful Dead, 8 Tracks, and accountable government.
For anyone paying attention to the Swamp Administration now ensconced in the U.S. Department of Interior, that the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association–the industry trade group in western Colorado–would be shacking up with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, one of its primary regulators, is probably not too surprising.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management administers over 8 million acres of cherished public lands in Colorado.
But this is just the latest smudge on what looks overall to be a dirty deal – the evisceration of a major public lands agency to facilitate more fracking, mining, and special interest access on our shared estate and America’s Commons.
The first bad mark on the “relocation” of BLM HQ to Grand Junction (aka “the bait”) was that it wasn’t that. Rather it was to be the relocation not of hundreds of employees like our junior senator hinted at—and that other eager pols nodded along to in agreement—but of barely more than two dozen employees “Editorial: BLM announced move to Grand Junction feels like a letdown” (aka “the switch”).
And then the reporting let on that, despite the rhetoric, it was not really about moving the decisions “closer to the land” either. Over 95% of BLM employees are already “in the field,” in the states with pubic lands, and in the field offices scattered across rural counties all around the western states. Consider this article by Bloomberg Environment: “Land Bureau Power Stays in Washington as Headquarters Moves West” that reports:
A review team is consolidating major Bureau of Land Management decision-making at Interior headquarters in Washington at a time when department officials are saying public lands decisions should be made in the West, according to former BLM officials.
Interior says it is moving BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., beginning in mid-September so that officials making decisions about federal lands, oil, gas, and coal can be close to the people and places those decisions affect.
But the opposite is happening, said a former high-level BLM official who left the agency during the Trump administration and spoke on condition of anonymity.
All indications suggest that the decision to scatter BLM across the west and locate its nominal HQ in Grand Junction is all about consolidating power in the bowels of backrooms, and in corporate boardrooms, and moving it far away from public oversight.
Instead, with top-down decisions being made in DC, the relocated BLM is likely more akin to a Roman governor in some occupied land – There to bring the Emperor’s decree to the locals.
In Colorado the examples also abound. In western Colorado, after a decade of working closely with local communities and a variety of stakeholders, the Trump BLM invented an entirely new proposal for public lands, throwing open Colorado’s North Fork Valley and nearly a million more acres besides, to expanded fracking, mining, and other harmful management. And in eastern Colorado, the draft land use plan there is likewise a far cry from what the agency had been working with local communities toward for years.
Despite the lure of an economic boost from the BLM’s partial-relocation, however diminished from the promises, and contrary to the pledges of a “government closer to the people,” what is and should have always been obvious is that one cannot separate the policy being implemented from the inimical intent behind it. And that is very true with the BLM’s fractional dislocation to the west and Grand Junction.
High in the San Juan Mountains and rising from the porous geology of the Grand Mesa, the headwaters to the Gunnison River – the second largest tributary in the Colorado River system – are among the areas in our nation most threatened from climate change.
The Gunnison River Basin is among the most threatened in the nation from climate change, with major portions of its watershed among the nation’s most-impacted from warming.
The Gunnison Basin, the land drained by the river and its tributaries, stretches from the northern slopes of the San Juan Mountains, from the Sawatch and Elk mountains just west of the Continental Divide, from the West Elks and Grand Mesa, to the eastern flanks of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
The Gunnison and its tributaries start at some of the highest elevations in the U.S. and it joins the muddy Colorado River in the desert at the edge of canyon country in Grand Junction – the confluence being that city’s namesake.
It’s a storied river, full of promise and misery, luck and misfortune, chance connections and betrayals. It’s history, and prehistory, is rich, including the Ute Tribes that lived and farmed there for centuries, with Spanish priests and explorers searching for wealth and a route to connect New Spain with missions on the coast. The region is full of stories, French-Canadian fur trappers, mountain men, guides, and miners. Finally, it is the story of the settlers who turned the valley lands to agriculture. Some of Colorado’s most productive farm and ranches are watered by the Gunnison, square in climate change’s cross-hairs.
Crawford, Colo sits in Delta County on the Montrose County line, and near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Delta and Montrose counties are both among seventy-one U.S. counties being most impacted by warming.
Now a new county-by-county look from the Washington Post shows just how threatened the Gunnison Basin is from the climate crisis.
The August 13 report, “2°C: Beyond the Limit: Extreme climate change has arrived in America,” identifies seventy-one U.S. counties that have already hit the “two degree” threshold of warming.
But global warming does not heat the world evenly.
A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.
…Seventy-one [U.S.] counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.
This 2°C threshold is broadly identified as the too-far-gone global benchmark to avoid even more catastrophic climate disruption. Eight of the seventy-one counties on the Washington Post list are in Colorado.
And seven of those eight are on the Western Slope—which is to say that 10% of U.S. counties that have already crossed the threshold—are in the headwaters to much of the United States. And five counties on that list comprise major portions of the Gunnison River Basin, together representing seven percent of all the nation’s seventy-one identified climate critical counties. The climate crisis is real – and it is already here in Colorado.
No one can say that Senator Cory Gardner isn’t showing up in western Colorado. In fact, reporting is that he’ll be there today, standing side-by-side with the Trump administration’s #2 (excluding princelings, nepotistic anointments, and miscellaneous favorites and family, of course).
And all a curious Coloradan need to do to see our senator up close and in-person, apparently, is jet off to Aspen and throw down $35,000.
Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner is a reliable vote for the Trump administration’ anti-environment, anti-climate agenda. Now VP Pence is jetting out to Aspen for a $35,000 per couple fundraiser to boost the junior senator’s flagging campaign.
Sen. Gardner is happy to arrive with his top pick to lead our nation in this critical time, Donald J. Trump. Today our senator, who has not held a legitimate in-person town hall in over a year, will be entertaining the jet-setting and billionaire class in a $35,000/couple event high in the entitled enclaves of Aspen, Colorado.
So, its understandable that Coloradans–who overwhelming support climate action–are underwhelmed by our junior senator’s leadership on this issue.
Rather than celebrating with the uber-wealthy on behalf of the Trump administration’s pro-pollution agenda, Sen. Gardner should use his trip to the West Slope to educate himself about the climate crisis and what local communities are doing to address it.
Instead Sen. Gardner is standing lockstep with an administration to attack science, slash pollution controls, prop up fossil-fuels, and abandon climate leadership. And while that might go over big with the jet-setting billionaire class that Gardner is appealing to with his Trump-assisted Aspen fundraiser, it doesn’t fit with the communities of the Roaring Fork Valley and is increasingly out-of-step with much of western Colorado.
Consider the Roaring Fork’s power provider, Holy Cross Energy, which is “leading the responsible transition to a clean energy future.” Or the Climate Action Plan prepared by Pitkin County, which makes real commitments – unlike anything put forward by the majority party in the United States Senate – and does more than hold hearings to admit science is real, or make vague milquetoast statements that maybe doing something some time might perhaps makes some sense, as long as it doesn’t upset the donors’ business models.
Although President Trump has never been popular in Colorado, and has only become less so during the course of his administration, Sen. Gardner was an early endorser of his re-election. This seems likely to remain the case, even facing a presidential campaign likely waged with the most base and under-handed tactics, and even as Trump’s disastrous foreign policy and environment destruction continues unchecked by a Vichy GOP in the U.S. Senate.
So while you’re watching your ice cream melt, and reading about eggs cooking on side-walks, give a thought to Sen. Gardner with Team Trump, pretending to keep their cool, though they know the heat is on.
Colorado’ junior senator has a problem in his run for re-election: Donald J Trump. And on every issue which Trump is wrong, Sen. Gardner’s fingerprints can be found on the mess left in the stable genius’ wake.
“I believe in climate change. I believe in the consensus within the scientific community. I believe humans are contributing to climate change, and I believe we have work to do together to solve it.” -Senator Cory Gardner, May 2019
The Advice and Consent function is one of the U.S. Senate’s primary oversight tools, an authority granted under Article II in the U.S. Constitution denoting it specifically as a check on the President’s appointment powers.
Yet every swamp creature put forth by the White House has been rubber-stamped by Cory Gardner — from scandal-ridden run-out-of-town hits-of-yore, like Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke; to the new or still-standing — like the fossil fuel lawyers-lobbyists duo David Bernhardt and Andrew Wheeler, taking care of the nation’s lands, water, and air.
And by ‘taking care of’ I mean that in the Henry II sense, as in removing an impediment. Let’s consider Sonny Purdue, one of the remaining originals not yet been rode out on a rail, who is Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture. Sonny doesn’t believe in science, and it turns out he isn’t ashamed of saying so.
Climate change poses an extreme risk to agriculture. That risk is particularly acute in the American Southwest – and across the Plains.
In other words, climate chaos is likely to impact Colorado farmers and ranchers hard. If Secretary Purdue and his supporters, like Senator Gardner, don’t believe that statement, consider what our own federal scientists are saying. Including those at the USDA.
But rather than listening to its own scientist, under Gardner’s pick Purdue’s “leadership” his department has sought to squelch that science instead, as the Observerreports:
According to POLITICO, the Trump administration has refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies on climate change, which were conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This slight-of-hand denial trick sidesteps a long-standing White House practice of announcing the findings of the department’s respected in-house scientists.
Warmer winters lead to early blooms which lead to frozen blossoms and loss of fruit – a growing risk for Colorado’s orchardists in a world of climate change. The USDA–with Cory Gardner’s apparent approval–is ignoring the science that could help Colorado farmers and ranchers.
Secretary Sonny, as his Twitter handle calls him, has chosen to disregard his department’s own experts and thereby ignore a huge threat to American agriculture and rural communities.
Such abandonment of public mission has become sadly typical for the Trump administration. Some USDA staff were so upset that their work was being intentionally subverted, that they turned their back on Secretary Purdue when he spoke at a recent “all hands” employee meeting. But the blame lies squarely at the feet of Senators like Cory Gardner who have approved these men for such critical roles.
So while our junior senator did recently chair a subcommittee meeting on “climate science research” let us not be too quick to applaud. With politicians it is always wise to watch what they do, and less what they say. After five years, the relentless questions may have finally prompted Sen. Gardner to acknowledge that climate change is real. But that’s not leadership. Few of his actions, where it counts, demonstrates any real commitment.
Meanwhile the very Americans that Republicans claim to care for the most — rural communities out here in ‘fly over country’ — are among those most at risk from the climate crisis. But our junior senator has surrendered to Trump and the pressures of Beltway funding and Republican politics. That’s not going to work back here in Colorado.
(Molecules of freedom! – Promoted by Colorado Pols)
In a bizarre literary crime, an official Department of Energy news release is touting exports of liquefied fracked gas (LNG) as “molecules of freedom.”
The U.S. Ministry of Truth is peddling long-term fossil fuel contracts as “freedom.”
This super-cooled fossil fuel is one of several last ditch hopes for an over-leveraged fracked gas industry deep in over-supply, debt, and declining prices.
Of course, pushing our petroleum products to oversea users, shipping “Freedom Gas” to Asia and Europe, would not happen apart from the rest of the energy market, or be exempt from climate reality. Which is to say, Freedom Gas isn’t free.
Shipping fracked LNG to foreign markets will likely raise the cost for U.S. consumers. Back when markets mattered to conservatives, this is when they might remind us that such is just “Economics 101.”
OK, it sort of is, but its not yet too late. Maybe.
The Earth’s atmosphere is a thin blue line.
Yes, it’s been almost 50 years since the “first Earth Day.” Back then fossil fuel companies were just beginning to uncover troubling data on what their products were doing to the planet, and likely to do over the coming century.
These companies put their heads together and decided to do what they could… So now, fifty years later, some may even be sponsoring an Earth Day event near you!
In any case, cliche or not. Now is the time to Act on Climate. If 2018 was the Year of Get-It-Togetherwarnings, 2019 is becoming the Year-of-(Tepid)-Action.
Action, of course, is good — So we should applaud efforts in the state house and in Congress to take steps toward addressing our carbon pollution and acting to limit and reduce it. Some argue that it is not enough, that it is too little. Window dressing. Rearranging deck chairs.
Much of the Colorado media that cover oil and gas issues are busy following the state legislature, providing details of the drama and blow-by-blow of the SB 181 debate, and dutifully reporting out the industry hyperbole in between the paid industry ads.
And public attention is due, SB181: the Public Health and Safety oil and gas reform bill, passed out of the House last night, and now is headed back to the Senate. A little reinforcement/pressure on legislators might help as industry spills a slick of lobbyists into the state capitol to thwart any efforts to strengthen local oversight of their profit-making.
Make sure your representative and senator know you support SB181. Call them now, then come back.
David Bernhardt was among those that made an appearance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
OK, now let’s move from state matters to talk about our federal ‘public estate’—and what Trump’s vision for “energy dominance” is doing to our lands, wildlife, and climate there.
Most of Americans’ publicly-owned minerals are administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, under the direction of acting Secretary David Bernhardt. Readers no doubt recall Trump’s first Interior Secretary, the show-horse Ryan Zinke, who was quickly ridden out of town in a stink of scandal on the horse he rode in on, so to speak. By all indications Bernhardt is the work-horse of the duo: less flash, more bang.
Bernhardt is currently undergoing a confirmation hearing to be Zinke’s replacement, appearing yesterday before U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-K St.) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) committee. Many observers think Bernhardt, as Deputy under Zinke and an experienced lawyer-lobbyist, was already running the operation. The Washington Postreports:
Bernhardt has wielded influence over the department’s most important agencies. Within months of becoming Zinke’s deputy, Bernhardt played a role in decisions to increase national park fees, roll back endangered species protections enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service, open massive amounts of public lands to more drilling, and weaken safety rules for ocean oil production platforms.
While the federal government was recently shut down over one of Donald J. Trump’s tantrums, it was Bernhardt who made sure that servicing the oil and gas industry continued apace, and at an even faster rate than previously reported.
Washington (CNN)The recent government shutdown cost the US economy billions of dollars, but one industry largely dodged its worst effects — the industry previously represented by the Interior Department’s acting secretary David Bernhardt.
In contrast to other shutdowns in recent decades, the department’s Bureau of Land Management continued to process applications from oil and gas companies to drill on public land as other offices remained closed, which environmentalists and some former BLM employees argue reveals a bias that favors the energy industry.
During the 35-day government shutdown, the BLM approved 267 onshore drilling permits and 16 leases applied for by oil and gas companies, the agency said, a number far greater than previously known. Two of Bernhardt’s former clients were among the range of companies that submitted the approved applications.
Oil and gas leasing of important wildlife lands, public water supplies, favorite hunting grounds, family camping spots, popular hiking trails, and so forth, for drilling and fracking raises concerns. It turns out the “public” makes public lands management complicated. Under the Trump-Bernhardt regime the ‘solution’ to that problem looks to be less public.
The Greeley Tribune runs a regular column entitled the Weld County Oil and Gas Spill Report that provides a handy break-down of the spills and other “releases” reported in Colorado’s most drilled, most fracked county. A pretty typical spill summary might read:
KERR MCGEE OIL & GAS ONSHORE LP, reported March 6 a tank battery spill west of Platteville, about 1,250 feet west of Buck Rake Boulevard and Rodgers Circuit. Less than five barrels of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Waters of the state were impacted. The separator cabinet at the production facility developed a leak. A groundwater sample from 8 feet below ground surface indicated benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene concentrations above COGCC standards. -Greely Tribune: Weld County oil and gas spill report for March 17
It is a useful feature, and worth checking regularly. But it didn’t capture what’s going on a few counties west, up in Jackson County. Apparently for that its up to individuals to check the state’s databases, since most counties and communities–even those being actively drilled–are not served by such diligent reporting.
Of course media following the oil and gas beat in Colorado have been busy covering SB 181–the pubic health and safety/oil and gas reform bill. Which means covering the Capitol circus–Democratic leader using machines to a read bill, a Republican senator talk of secession. But meanwhile the wildcatters and frackers, the big boys and the ‘moms and pops’ are still busy.
Even if drilling is down a bit, along with the price of fracked gas glutted at the hub. Leasing and permitting still continues apace–locking up the public’s lands in speculative chains, raising uncertainty in neighborhoods and for nearby towns and ranchers–all without much say by local jurisdictions about when, how, and where such activity should occur.
Which is to say that business still gets done–even if some workers get a paid day off to spill into the capitol instead. Consider North Park, for instance. There an Oklahoma company is getting called out by the state oil and gas commission, the “COGCC,” for the number of “reportable” incidents–also called “spills and releases”–in its operations there.
When 2018 started, few expected great things – although it is doubtful anyone saw how far things would go, ending in complete political break-down – an infantile President being met with an infantile House unable to even perform the most basic duties of governance. Good riddance. Let’s finish the clean up in 2019 – 2020.
As the old year gets tired and we bid it goodbye, few will rank the rank political dysfunction that has gripped our nation a highlight of the year now past. As cities combust and flood and farms go fallow, there was a time–if we are to believe the history–when this nation could come together to solve problems.
So with new leadership coming in, and the pitch of urgency rising, perhaps this year will be a year we move forward on addressing climate change. With the Colorado State Legislature in Democratic control, perhaps we can take some real and bold steps toward meeting soon-to-be-Governor Polis’ clean energy ambitions. Now we can finally make clear, perhaps, to the oil and gas companies spilling their oily cash all over our body politic that of course public health and safety and a sustainable future are the priority, and they always will be from here on out.
Maybe with some leadership we can turn to building for our future, not wasting energy fighting ill-conceived fossil fuel projects, but creating a more resilient economy. Maybe we can find the maturity to face the reality that an increasing demand on the dwindling resource that makes all this possible: water – means we need to get our act together.
At the federal level, despite a GOP regime that has lost all mooring to fact or reality, Colorado’s House Delegation has also shifted toward climate action, with the election of Jason Crow and Joe Neguse. Rep.-Elect Neguse has made climate action central to his agenda in the 116th Congress.
So, while 2018 may be notable for its stark climate warnings coming right as the wheels of government seem to be coming off – the election outcome, and with new state leadership, and new Members in Congress being seated, our work here will be crucial in 2019.
2018 – The Year Climate Change Would Not Be Ignored
2018 was a notable year in regards to climate change. For one, a reporter at Colorado’s new news venture The Sun (also 2018) got our junior senator to comment on the record. Coming across a bit annoyed–perhaps–by the fact that no one seems to remember he already commented on climate change, as recently as 2014.
“I’ve said it before — I said it in 2014 — there’s no doubt pollution contributes to climate change,” the Colorado Republican told The Colorado Sun last week. “Climate change is real. I’ve been on the record saying that.”
That was in response to a question about Sen. Gardner receiving an award from the American Geophysical Union and blow-back he was getting for his votes on several environmental and climate-related matters, in regard to it.
It’s still a relevant question for 2018, of course, because it is still an issue, and notable now due in part to several high-profile reports in the news and released this year. These include an international report, and one issued through thirteen federal agencies–over which Sen. Gardner has oversight. At least on paper (to whit: the U.S. Constitution, Article I).
The annual United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference COP 24 wrapped up earlier this month with the United States once again isolated among a small handful of rogue nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, resisting climate action.
That body, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released its Special Report on climate change in October 2018. This report was notable for the urgency it communicated. The short of it was that the world’s preeminent climate scientists give us just over a decade to transform our energy and power systems, and to take all other possible action to limit and reduce carbon pollution.
More recently, the 4th Annual National Climate Assessment, published by 13 federal agencies looked specifically at the United States. Like the international Special Report, the National Climate Assessment found need for urgent action, and forecasts dire impacts to the U.S. made worse by lack of it.
And worse than inaction, is undoing the small steps that have been taken. In 2017 Sen. Gardner voted against both his constituents and a majority of the U.S. Senate to support polluters on public lands – when Congress tried (and failed) to gut methane waste rules for oil and gas development on public lands. Then Sen. Gardner remained silent this year, when Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved himself to roll back the pollution rules that Sen. Gardner and Congress were unable to undo.
That may not be a surprise as Sen. Gardner not only voted against the waste prevention rule but to confirm Sec. Zinke, along with a skulk of foxes to guard the public’s chickens, from Zinke and David Bernhardt at Interior to Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler at EPA.
No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up. -Lily Tomlin
So far the U.S. administration and Congress have done very little to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of American resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
True that. And in the vein of “gallows humor,” I suppose it’s also hard to keep up with the horror show that our federal administration has become.
Overlooking the dismemberment of its residents by wealthy customers, caging children, fanning flames of hate that are literally murdering Americans, scapegoating, and weaponizing the U.S military as a political tool to rile up some midterm votes. No dime-store scare-novel could depict a more frightening nightmare than that which has befallen our nation.
So, Happy Halloween! Welcome to the Climate Dystopia
Its hard to keep up, and the horrors of the last week cannot be diminished. Still, this week we can all anticipate—Who knows what?—Almost certainly, some new gross display or executive malfunction.
The IPCC report concludes that a world with 2°C of global warming will lead to more heat-related deaths, smaller crop yields, worse extreme weather events, slower economic growth, more people in poverty, and increase the population facing water stress by up to 50% compared to a 1.5°C world.
Like most of the scifi you may have read in the genre, this looming dystopia is of our making. And its consequences are likely severe.
“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.
But unlike most of the novels you might have seen, however, this horror-show future is where we are heading toward right now. If we stay the course this is where we arrive. Or so the best minds studying this sort of thing say. Oh, and it’s a short ride until we get there.
We’re already seeing the changes. Consider weird and disruptive weather patterns being fueled by human-driven climate change. While the details of the contribution to extreme events that climate change has is still a matter of much study and debate, that some effects can be attributed is widely accepted by climate scientists.
Fanciful Dreams to sell Piceance fracked gas to Asian market is not a Western Slope economic development strategy
Jared Polis and Walker Stapelton debate in the “Rural Issues Debate” at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Colorado’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton was in Grand Junction last night debating Democrat Jared Polis.
Stapleton was eager to share his idea for economic development across Colorado’s broad Western Slope: Let a Canadian company build a pipeline in Oregon to ship mostly Canadian fracked gas to Asian markets, that may (or may not) exist someday. Really, Walker believes this so much he repeated it “several times” according to theGrand Junction Daily Sentinel.
The project of Walker’s dreams is the Jordan Cove Energy Project, an LNG export scheme and new pipeline in Oregon that is being pushed by Canadian fracked gas giant and pipeline company Pembina. By the latest account it might include the opportunity to ship a small fraction of fracked gas from the Rocky Mountains and western Colorado.
These prospects have the drillers and their stable of faithful politicians giddy with sugar-plums of extracted-wealth dancing in their heads. A “Boom” as it were, already hatched and tallied into promises of bounty.
Efforts to divide up the waters of the Colorado River between states began in the early 20th century.
Talk was heard this summer in water circles, of a scary scenario coming to pass should the rivers keep shrinking: A call under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which parcels up the Colorado River (and its tributaries) among seven thirsty states, and divides its flows between “upper” and “lower” basins. A Compact Call would require the delivery, by any means necessary, of 7.5 million acre-feet from the Upper Basin to Lower Basin States. As Luke Runyon reports:
The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado River is enough to make some water managers in the West break into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening — its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest battling over scarce water supplies.
Bureau of Reclamation chief Floyd Dominy at Hoover Dam in 1963.
It was a frenzy of dam-building under BuRec’s glory days, chronicled by Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, that put much of the infrastructure in place to regulate the flows of the Colorado and its tributaries across the region in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s — and to be able to mange to meet the Compact.
Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir
Part of the upper Colorado River Basin Storage Project, the Aspinall Unit is a series of high reservoirs in western Colorado. The uppermost is the most familiar, and Colorado’s largest water body Blue Mesa Reservoir. This set of dams and reservoirs serves the purpose to be able to guarantee the Upper Basin can provide the necessary flow to meet the Compact agreement to the Lower Basin.
Together, Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam, and Crystal Dam developed the water storage and hydroelectric power generating potential along a 40-mile section of the Gunnison River while also regulating the flow of the river and in turn, assisting in the regulation the Colorado River.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, in a happier time.
And despite the excitement that high elevation storage still elicits in some water buffaloes, as well as with politicians who want to propose things that sound like solutions, more dams and bigger pools won’t necessarily do it.
In a future marked by climate change, more storage won’t help that much. Currently Blue Mesa Reservoir levels are at about 39% capacity, and local lore says this part of the state has not seen a drought this deep in over eighty-five years.
The bottom-line is we need to prepare for a future with less water, and warmer temperatures. The low levels and high temperatures in our state’s largest water body is not only frightening for what it portends of these changes we have wrought already in our climate, now coming due. The warming is also leading to another, direct and immediate hazard: Blooms of toxic algae, as reported by the Denver Post.
The National Park Service has found toxic algae in a section of Blue Mesa Reservoir, near Gunnison, and is asking people to exercise caution when using the reservoir.
The park service said it has sampled, analyzed and determined the presence of cyanotoxins in the Iola Basin section of the Blue Mesa. Other areas of the reservoir may contain toxins as well, according to a news release.
…People or animals exposed to the Blue Mesa water and exhibit nausea, vomiting, digestive distress, breathing problems, seizure or unexplained illness should contact a medical professional, the park service said. Testing is ongoing at the reservoir.
In fact, algal blooms are yet another indicator of climate change, and the excessively hot days of 2018 has led to the Summer of Algal Bloom – all across the country – and which are worsening, right on cue, as the globe warms.
Hurricane Florence gathering in the Atlantic, several days before landfall near Wilmington, NC.
Its still too early to tell how damaging Hurricane Florence is going to be, and those aiding in the rescue under way and the recovery to come deserve our, and the government’s, full support.
But there is one thing we can almost certainly be sure of. Whether the storm lives up to its worst fears, or not, science-deniers will point to it to make fun of climate change.
“Oh,” they will say in the first case, “if it’s dry—blame climate change, if it rains—blame climate change. Well, the climate changes all the time!” Or they will say, in the second case, “Oh, see! No ‘super-storm’ ergo no climate change! Just more eco-hysteria!”
The usual brigade of followers and amplifiers will tweet and blog and push out whichever false narrative fits the ideology, and then we’ll get back to business as usual: Gutting the Clean Power Plan, slashing methane pollution regulations that protect taxpayers and the environment, walking away from the world, rolling back the clean car rules. The list of bad things done, and climate wrongs committed by this administration is noteworthy.
However you graph it, the trends are clear. Climate change is real.
For no string of extreme weather events, no list of new records replacing the last new records that replaced the ones before, no data of climbing temperatures and escalating droughts, can penetrate the bubble insulated by the love of cold hard cash. Their gain is your loss, of course. Remember, you can’t spell “trickle down” without “trick.”
By ending the methane rule Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department admits taxpayers stand to lose more than $1 billion in wasted resources. Replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Dirty Power Scam could cost 1,400 American lives every year. And no matter that the methane waste rule has support from across the nation, and in Colorado. Earlier this year, a Colorado College poll found that 7-in-10 western voters support methane waste requirements for federal public lands, including most Republicans in all states surveyed.
In May 2017, a bipartisan group of Senators rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal the BLM methane rule. For this we can thank the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contacted Congress, and who resisted efforts to sell America out to oil and gas lobbyists. But we can’t thank Cory Gardner, Colorado’s junior senator, who voted against taxpayers and our climate, and voted to repeal the methane waste rule.
The horrific and deadly wildfires that have swept through Greece are just one set of data points causing scientists around the world to sound the alarm, that human-driven climate change is “supercharging a hot and dangerous summer,” as the Washington Post reports:
In the town of Sodankyla, Finland, the thermometer on July 17 registered a record-breaking 90 degrees, a remarkable figure given that Sodankyla is 59 miles north of the Arctic Circle…
…Japan recorded its highest temperature in history, 106 degrees, in a heat wave that killed 65 people in a week and hospitalized 22,000, shortly after catastrophic flooding killed 200. …Ouargla, Algeria, hit 124 degrees on July 5, a likely record for the continent of Africa. And the 109-degree reading in Quriyat, Oman, on June 28 amazed meteorologists because that wasn’t the day’s high temperature. That was the low . It was the hottest low temperature ever recorded on Earth.
Summer 2018: Drought has gripped much of the United States all year.
It has been an especially hot summer across the United States. Much of the nation remains in the grip of an epic heatwave.
Closer to home. Southwestern and Southeastern Colorado remain in an exceptional drought, as fires that raged for over a month continue to burn. Colorado’s farmers–from Yuma to Cortez–are in a world of hurt, as crop failures loom.
Of course it’s not just Colorado farmers. Economic calamity from climate change, and the failure of leaders to address it, is likely to be significant by all accounts, as the Insurance Journal summarizes:
Grand Junction, CO. – Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by virulent anti-public lands crusader Rob Bishop of Utah, will be in town on June 1 to hold a “field hearing” on oil shale and LNG export. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is reporting:
The congressional district encompasses the nation’s second-largest known natural gas reserve in the Piceance Basin, as well as the world’s richest deposits of oil shale.
Interest in oil shale has picked up and “we need to look at what role, if necessary, the federal government should play in it,” Tipton said.
The hearing also is to take up the Jordan Cove project, which would include construction of pipelines that would carry natural gas from the Piceance Basin to export terminals at Jordan Cove on Coos Bay, Oregon.
For well over a hundred years the foolish have been separated from their money chasing dreams of oil shale.
The dream to economically mine the sedimentary rock known as “oil shale” (which is neither) to manufacture dirty fuel, is one that regularly proves the old saw, that oil shale is the “fuel of the future…and always will be.”
But dreams die hard, at least for those willing to do the bidding of powerful interests hoping to make a buck.
The Western Slope will “Lubricate the World.”
When he came it was known only as “the Junction”, because a railroad just nosing its way though the wilderness had selected it for a minor division point. Great mountains of shale extended in all directions from it: one could throw a slab of shale on a camp-fire and watch the oil ooze from it, and see the slow flame which consumed the oil.
“Some day the oil wells are going to run dry,” John Abbot declared. “There will be no other source but this shale. We have whole mountains of it. One day Western Colorado will lubricate the world… We will name this place Shale City.” So it was done. – from Eclipse, by Dalton Trumbo
That old saw about oil shale always being the “fuel of the future,” could have already been familiar in the time Trumbo described in his thinly fictionalized novel about the early history of Grand Junction. Abbot, the novel’s protagonist loses everything in the end which has been the way oil shale has gone, over, and over, and over again.
Privatizing land that should not be under government control would both ease the financial burden that inappropriate federal holdings inflict on taxpayers and the U.S. Treasury and encourage local interest and investment in conserving America’s land resources.
Looking down the East Fork of Parachute Creek on the public lands of Colorado’s Roan Plateau.
And one of the counters to this dubious claim are the many examples where this has not been the case – where loss of public lands has meant loss of public access, public use, public oversight, and ultimately a harm to the public good.
And in most cases, perhaps to the surprise of few, where privatization of public assets, sale of leases, specific “transfers” and other such wishes come up, a particular, and powerful private interest often stands to directly benefit.
The main fork of Parachute Creek carves a dramatic canyon through the marlstone cliffs of Roan Plateau.
Take as an example Colorado’s Roan Plateau. These highlands start just west of the Grand Hogback and continue for a hundred miles, merging with the Tavaputs Plateau and into Utah.
They include some of the best wildlife habitat, and remarkably still-wild land, in the Lower 48. Where the public lands end atop the Roan Plateau–over which the land-use battles were waged for most of the first decade of this century–the private lands begin.
The road up Parachute Creek, as it heads out of Silt, quickly becomes private, and heads onto what until recently was Encana land. Rising to the east the Roan Plateau’s private lands soon end, and public lands begin. But west for miles and miles, the lands have been taken from the public and handed over to profiteers at a unfathomable loss to the American taxpayer. And herein lies a cautionary tale.
History ought to provide enough of a lesson for Americans about what’s at stake. Take the Roan’s now “patented” private lands, that stretch for many miles across some of America’s best hunting grounds and habitat. Many of these (now) private lands have been traditionally open to hunters, but now are at risk of being closed to this economically vital public access. The Glenwood Springs Post-Independentreports:
On Thursday, Winn hosted an informational meeting to discuss how the new owners may affect public hunting access to units 22 and 32 in southern Rio Blanco County. His goal was to show that this is an issue that more than a few hunters care about.
“When I heard there was still a chance I decided I had to do something to show it is not just a few hunters,” he told the crowd of dozens of hunters. “My initial goal was to get awareness to the issue and show that there is interest from the community.”
For years, previous owner Encana had allowed hunting to take place on its private property on the Roan Plateau, several thousands of acres known as the “Girls Claims.” But when Caerus Oil and Gas acquired the property, that agreement could no longer be expected to continue.
The Viceroy deplanes. No word on his awaiting steed.
The companies benefiting from Interior’s newly permissive attitude toward leasing, mining, and fracking the public’s lands, may choose to involve communities in their plans, or not. Secretary Zinke is carving out the public from that role as well. And while these moves may please some of his party’s, and perhaps his own future, big-dollar donors, invariably the American taxpayers have the most to lose.
If this past weekend’s #PinkWave wasn’t enough to get the attention of Colorado’s elected leaders about what may be coming their way in November, let the Outdoor Retailer Show’s massive presence in Denver this week be their next reminder.
Climate change and stopping the Trump environmental roll-backs were among key issues that brought out hundreds of thousands of women, and men who support them, across America last weekend.
The outdoor industry’s primary convention—expected to draw 28,000 attendees and bring in over $50 million dollars (that’s for each of the twice-annual event)—should be a wake-up call to our state’s elected officials: Colorado cares about the environment—and we will support leaders that act to protect our public lands, rivers, clean air and water, and who act to address climate change. Others, not so much.
And this reminder is not only for our federal representatives, not only in response to the Zinke and Pruitt roll-backs as poorly as they may serve the public, and much as those may drive the national narrative. This time we are coming for every level of government–from county commissioners and state legislators, to gubernatorial candidates, and, yes, to U.S. Representatives and Senators.
That the Outdoor Retailer Show is in Denver and not in Salt Lake City is itself a shot across the bow of anti-environmental politicians. As the Outdoor Industry Association, the entity that puts on the twice-yearly show, was considering its move from Utah, it made it clear that it was driven by the hostile policies of its host state’s elected leaders.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reported about a meeting that the OIA had with Utah Governor Gary Herbert:
Colorado has been a top destination spot for outdoor adventures for over a century. The appeal of its great outdoors remains a key feature for residents too, both life-long and newly arrived.
“It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats — that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.”
The show’s owner, Emerald Expositions, said in a news release that it would not include Utah in its request for proposals from cities hoping to host the trade shows, which bring about 40,000 visitors and $45 million to Salt Lake City each year.
“Salt Lake City has been hospitable to Outdoor Retailer and our industry for the past 20 years, but we are in lockstep with the outdoor community and are working on finding our new home,” said Marisa Nicholson, show director for Outdoor Retailer.
Personal Attacks and Attempts to Discredit Critics Likely to Backfire on Industry
Anyone that follows my work, here at ColoradoPols or IRL, is likely to know I am an environmentalist, activist, and outspoken about my opinions. I’m even being harassed with a SLAPP action by a Texas-based oil and gas company, that wants to drill in the North Fork Valley where I live, and that didn’t like me posting in a Facebook comment what was being widely reported elsewhere. But I’m not one to be backed-down by bullies. So I’ve kept at it.
Fall comes to the North Fork. Photo by EcoFlight.
Two months ago, I wrote a blog here, on The Wilderness Society including the North Fork Valley as among 15 places on America’s public lands that are“Too Wild To Drill” in its report with that name.
The North Fork of the Gunnison River makes its way out of Colorado’s wild forests in the Thompson Divide area, through the fertile North Fork Valley, finally joining the mighty Gunnison River just after it roars out of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Locally referred to as the North Fork, this river emerges from some of Colorado’s most spectacular high-country wildlands and sustains a thriving farming and ranching community and Colorado’s highest concentration of organic farms.
Administration Guts National Monuments, Moves to Reverse Clean Air Rule
Teddy Roosevelt on the Western Slope. Colorado’s National Forests and public lands have been at the forefront of federal land and environmental policy for over 120 years.
Present needs and present gains was the rule of action — which seems to be a sort of transmitted quality which we in our now enlightened time have not wholly outgrown, for even now a few men can be found who seem willing to destroy the last tree, the last fish and the last game bird and animal, and leave nothing for posterity, if thereby some money can be made.
From the Biennial Report of the State Fish and Game Commissioner to the Governor of North Dakota, December 1894
Spooky Gulch, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, 2010.
It was an even sleepier bend in the road in 1989, although the state park was already there, where the Burr Trail joins Utah 12. In the shadow of Boulder Top—that I would learn a few years later in a geology class at “the U” is a sort of kin to Grand Mesa, a basalt-capped plateau more resistant to the erosion of eons than the landscape all around.
My love of the rock, of the desert and canyons, sprang from time spent near Boulder Town. All through the early 90s, I began to wander deeper and further into that fantastical land: Calf and Deer Creeks, the Gulch, Hole-in-the-Rock road, and Fiftymile Mountain.
In 1996, when President Clinton designated the area as part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, I was already familiar with many of its wonders, and aware that I knew so very little still. So I have returned time and again.
Rifle native, top-shelf attorney, and Deputy Interior Secretary Bernhardt doesn’t think he’d have any trouble affording a $70 Park fee, according to media reports.
Although no health, safety, or environmental regulation appears safe from the armies of corporate lobbyists and lobbyists-cum-administrators, a particularly fierce animus has been directed to anything with Obama’s name on it. The Clean Power Plan, National Monuments like Bears Ears, and other Obama-era rules aimed at recouping costs for American taxpayers, clamping down on harmful pollution, expanding public involvement, and preventing waste of resources have all been in Trump’s cross-hairs.
Obama Derangement symptoms may be further sign of the psychological rot at the heart of this administration, may reveal the profound, perhaps existential, threat to our Republic the Trump regime poses.
The need to undo a predecessor’s accomplishments does fit in with the behavior of an insecure autocrat. And either by design, or in the vacuum of leadership a naked emperor brings, the administration’s ministries are following suit, ruling by decree.
Consider how the environmental and land agencies are behaving under Trump. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior, for instance, seem to prefer executive fiat to public process, silence over science, and conflicted interests over competence. Under the Trump regime the media is the enemy and the public interest is elitist.
Trump Secretaries Zinke and Perry looking clean and morally straight in the swamps of DC. Zinke believes questions about government contracts are elitist, and Perry thinks fossil fuels decrease sexual assault, per recent agency communications and reporting.
And this royal demeanor extends, many observe, to the actual management of the public’s lands and treasures—the former seems for plunder and the latter for friends.
Take the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule, put in place by Obama to prevent the waste of a public resource, widely popular, practical, and effective. Thousands of stakeholders across America, including oil and gas companies and some industry groups, agree that this rule is an effective way to reduce methane waste.
The recent decision to proceed with large-scale oil and gas development in the upper headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison river, at Bull Mountain, is gaining national attention, with coverage by AP and an article in the Denver Post.
BLM Approves Master Plan for Drilling in North Fork Valley
The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan for oil and gas development in the works for nearly a decade in Colorado’s North Fork Valley.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan for oil and gas development in the works for nearly a decade in Colorado‘s North Fork Valley.
The Daily Sentinel reported Thursday that the master plan calls for eventually building 146 wells about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Paonia (pay-OWN’-yuh) to the south of McClure Pass…
Paonia is home to many organic farms and wineries. Opponents have said the BLM has failed to take into account the cumulative impact of several existing and other proposed drilling development on water consumption and the valley’s agriculture and recreation industries, among other things.
Citizens for a Healthy Community, a Delta County conservation group, has called the decision “unacceptable” although not unexpected. Opposition to the project, and the industrialization of these important public lands and community watersheds, is wide-spread in the valley. A Facebook group is keeping the community updated at Facebook.com/ProtectNorthFork.
Too Wild To Drill
Colorado’s North Fork Valley has been included in The Wilderness Society’s Too Wild To Drillreport for 2017. The Wilderness Society issues a new version of the report every few years to call attention to vulnerable places on public lands.
In the 2017 edition, places highlighted include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–one of the most remote and wild places left in the world, and Colorado’s North Fork Valley. Many locals are concerned that oil and gas development and the impacts it brings are not compatible with the emerging economy of the valley.
The North Fork is the home of Big B’s Delicious Juices and Hard Ciders.
The North Fork Valley, named for the North Fork of the Gunnison River that drains it, is renown for its bucolic and natural beauty, the state’s highest concentration of organic farms, family ranches, a vibrant creative community, and a thriving local food, winery, festival, and agritourism scene.
“This report is a wake-up call to people who love the wild backcountry and national forests around McClure Pass. And to those of us who rely on the clean water that flows from these mountain watersheds. Oil and gas development will enrich private interests but take too much away from the North Fork Valley and its ecology, economy, health, and recreation. These public lands and our water sources must be protected.”
Jeff Schwartz, owner of Delicious Orchards Farm Market and Big B’s Juices & Hard Ciders.
As if on cue, this week the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued its long-expected Bull Mountain Master Development Plan decision, approving almost 150 new oil and gas wells on either side of the West Elk Scenic Loop, near Paonia Reservoir State Park. The October 4 notice in the Federal Register says, in part:
“The Selected Alternative approves a plan for the exploration and development of up to 146 natural gas wells, four water disposal wells, and associated infrastructure on Federal and private mineral leases within a Federally-unitized area known as the Bull Mountain Unit.”
Azura Cellars & Galley is an example of the massive investments that hundreds of valley businesses and residents have made over the years, and helps fuel a thriving agritourism industry.
The prospects of bringing new industrial, highly impactful uses to the North Fork’s public lands concerns many in the valley and beyond.
The Texas-based privately held company that wants to drill and frack in the North Fork, however, is pleased. Dennis Webb reports in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
The Bureau of Land Management has approved a 146-well North Fork Valley oil and gas development plan that has been about a decade in the works and has been one of the flashpoints in the controversy over drilling there.
The agency approved what’s called the Bull Mountain master development plan for leases operated by SG Interests. The action included approval of a permit to drill just one of the wells, but the plan provides a framework for developing the nearly 20,000-acre area, with future drilling applications subject to site-specific review, the BLM said.
Robbie Guinn, an SG Interests vice president, said he’s pleased that the Trump administration got the environmental impact statement process for the project finished.
…He believes the project review had dragged out for too long.
Although the industrialization of this rural, agricultural valley could spell disaster for organic and specialty farming, and the burgeoning outdoor, agritourism and other amenity-based businesses in the valley, it is not just the visual scarring, in this highly scenic, highly prized landscape. Or the heavy and inevitable truck traffic, on an already busy and dangerous road. Or the loss of dark skies, clean air, and wild space–although all these impacts are grievous.
As early as the 19th Century, fruit from the North Fork was already winning national fame.
For over one hundred years the North Fork has been an orchard and argicultural community. It has also been home to coal mines for much of that period. One mine is still operating, due in part to favorable policy from the federal government.
Despite community pride in its history, most residents understand the coal industry is in long-term decline. And, as the economy changes, residents want to shape what comes next. Many see a future that relies more on protecting public lands and natural resources rather than in exploiting and developing them.
Economic development experts agree. The area’s clean environment, air, and water, and its rural pace and character with the superlative public lands, top quality farms, wineries, and organic agriculture, create quality products and the quality-of-life that attracts entrepreneurs, investors, and foot-loose economic activity.
“Based on its rich agriculture base, Delta County is well positioned to leverage the existing boom in organic food markets. …According to Better City’s research, Delta County is the hub of organic agriculture in Colorado, and ranks 44th nationwide. The proposed project would seek to create a strategic effort that combines marketing, infrastructure, and distribution. In addition, downtown revitalization – which will support new agritourist activity – was also identified as a complementary piece to this equation.”
Region 10: Better City presents economic development visions for Delta, Gunnison Counties
According to the Too Wild To Drill report, although many residents are building for this new future, the North Fork is facing a range of threats that could jeopardize that positive trajectory. This includes active fracking and drilling operations, and additional new oil and gas leasing and development, on key National Forest and public lands in the region. That sentiment is shared broadly by community members, businesses, and organizations.
“The closest you can come to a wilderness experience in a passenger car”
“Some places are simply too wild to drill. The federal government must resist pressure from energy companies and other special interests to open up our last remaining wild places for development. The Interior Department is required by Congress to manage, on behalf of the American people, almost 450 million acres of public lands for many different purposes, not just energy extraction. Yet oil, gas and coal have long had an outsized influence—and footprint—on public lands. It is long past time that we take some of these lands off the table.”
The drive: This byway circles the West Elk Mountains on a journey through Paonia, Gunnison, Crested Butte and Carbondale. Touching three national forests, the drive crosses diverse landscapes of meadows, rivers, canyons and enormous aspen stands lit up in gold and orange.
Mileage: 205 miles
Pull over for: McClure Pass photos. Views to either side of the high mountain corridor spill out into a green, yellow and auburn canvas sprinkled with striking red scrub oaks.
Stretch your legs in: Curecanti National Recreation Area. The intersection of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with Morrow Point, Blue Mesa and Crystal lakes is an unbeatable spot for picnicking and sightseeing.
The eastern end of Grand Mesa is draped in colorful aspen and oak, on a recent flight over the upper North Fork. Photo by EcoFlight.
Just over the pass the Grand Mesa starts in an expanse of high-country, then stretches forty miles west flanked in a riot of gold and red.
The Ragged Wilderness to the south, looming ridge atop bright slopes, the lightest dusting of high and early snow. Beyond, mesas and mountains fade into a western sky.
Southwest of the pass, the West Elk Loop splits. One arm heads over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte, and the other winds down into the valley, through Hotchkiss and Crawford, then over Black Mesa, past Blue Mesa, to join U.S. 50 by Cimarron.
The landscape along the route, the public lands that connect the Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys, hold some of Colorado’s best backcountry. This area is home to a complex of roadless National Forest, protected Wilderness, and other public lands running from Battlement Mesa along I-70 in the north, south into the Gunnison Basin, and then to the San Juans and Cochetopa Hills beyond. At the heart of this geography and habitat lies the upper North Fork Valley.
The National Forests and public lands that straddle McClure Pass include headwaters that feed three rivers–the North Fork of the Gunnison, the Crystal River and Roaring Fork, and the Colorado. These public lands provide key wildlife migration routes and important habitat. The hunting opportunitiesprovided are among the best in Colorado.
From Grand Mesa to the West Elk Mountains and beyond. Photo by EcoFlight.
But despite their superior qualities as a public resource, the National Forests and public lands of the North Fork Valley remain at risk.
Looming threats include the Bull Mountain development schemes, but many fear that is just the tip of the spear.
A patchwork of plans, directives, and designations–some written long ago with little relevance to today’s needs–have fueled decades-long battles over the area’s future and continue to present management challenges for these important public lands.
Despite its natural solicitude and quiet, where the loudest sounds are likely to be a bugling elk or a peel of thunder, battles have raged here in the past, over the Clinton Roadless Rule fifteen years ago, the Colorado Roadless rule a decade ago, in a string of land use planning processes, and over oil and gas proposals. These conflicts continue today, with many of these public lands also coveted by oil and gas companies that are used to getting their way.
Taking a Stand at the Summit
In early September, residents and leaders from the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys joined their neighbors and counterparts from the the North Fork at the top of McClure Pass, in a show of solidarity and in recognition of the single, wild expanse of public lands that lies between and cradles their communities.
In mid-September, The Wilderness Society followed this gathering with its Too Wild To Drill report highlighting the threat the North Fork Valley’s and other public lands face from oil and gas development.
“We must protect our wildest places for future generations, and the upper North Fork is one of those places. Just up the hill we have world-class elk and mule deer populations, moose, bear, and even mountain goats, all thanks to the unspoiled streams, parks, and forests of the region. We can’t sell out this place for short-term oil and gas company profits.”
Alex Johnson, Western Slope Conservation Center
These public lands belong to the American people and are critically important for the watersheds they replenish, the wildlife habitat and migration routes they provide, and for the outstanding recreation–from hunting and fishing to epic mountain-biking, backcountry skiing, world-class photography, bird-watching, picnics, scenic drives, and family hikes–they offer. These lands are a rare and precious resource and all indications are they will be even more, not less, prized in the future.
People come from across the nation in hopes to get their Colorado elk from the North Fork.
Meanwhile more natural gas, as a commodity, is currently not needed in America. It is, in fact, glutted on the market. So much so that sugar-plum dreams of massive wealth continue to dance in industry association heads, over the prospect of being able to ship it off to our competitors in Asia–and drive the price back up for everyone.
The value of the North Fork’s public lands are not in their ability to make already wealthy oilmen wealthier. It is not in the short-term boost it might provide in a handful of jobs–most not from the valley in any case, or in the revenue that might end up in Gunnison or Delta County coffers. It is certainly not for the energy resources, which are not needed in the current market. Rather the value of these lands lies in their sustainable use and their ecosystem values.
This place is too wild to drill. The Bull Mountain project is not a wise decision, and the battle for the public lands here continue. For those of us that live, work, and love the North Fork, the stakes are too high not to fight to protect it. You can learn more and help at www.NorthForkValley.org.
Pete Kolbenschlag works as a consultant on energy, public lands, and climate issues from Paonia, Colorado. Photo by EcoFlight.