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.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or sometimes U.S. EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.
While in Oklahoma City that day, Pruitt was interviewed by The Oklahoman on several topics, including his travel. The interview came soon after a report claimed Pruitt spent 43 out of 92 days from March to May in Oklahoma or traveling between Washington and Oklahoma. Pruitt dismissed the allegations as overblown claims by activists aligned with former President Barack Obama.
The opening stanza of Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front” is a good place to start this blog:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
Reading Greg Walcher’s column is part of my weekly ritual.
Greg Walcher, who many are familiar with as former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (under Governor Owens), a one-time Congressional candidate, and long-time leader of the extractive-industry and Western Slope lobby group: Club 20, writes a weekly column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Reading it is part of my Friday ritual.
Walcher’s column is widely panned as light on facts, heavy on conjecture, and harsh on any who think public health, other life on the planet, and environmental sustainability are more critical than padding private portfolios.
This week he writes about the heavy thumb of Washington holding back rural Coloradans who only want to cut things down, dig things up, and frack their way to freedom. To make his point, he quotes author, poet, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry, who–of course–never really meant what Mr. Walcher seems to want him to. Perhaps it seemed like a handy quote as his deadline loomed–would anyone even know better?
A good deal has already been written here at ColoradoPols.com about America’s largest cloud of methane pollution that hovers over the Four Corners region, including southwestern Colorado. It has been noted in blogs and op-eds and articles and exposés that this region lies within Colorado’s Third Congressional District, currently represented by Scott Tipton who himself hails from the region—and who behaves as if he’s not at all concerned about methane pollution clouding up his constituents’ lives.
Colorado’s junior U.S. Senator Cory Gardner will face his first re-election campaign in 2020. He will be a Republican facing what is certain to be a high-stakes race running in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton once and Barack Obama twice.
And soon the U.S. Senate will vote to follow this brash and ill-advised move, or to support the BLM methane venting rule, America’s clean air, and climate action.
All eyes are on Sen. Cory Gardner as a purple state senator to see if he will follow Tipton’s sooty suit, or if he will prove his purple state bona fides and vote to protect Colorado’s air quality. Sen. Gardner should stand up for clean air and climate action rejecting Tipton’s and the House Republicans’ radical attempt to gut the BLM’s methane venting rule.
First it should be noted that air pollution from oil and gas operations is a public health risk. Ensuring that oil and gas operators are required to do all they can to prevent methane leaks and to capture any methane that is leaking will reduce related pollution, including other harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
FRIDAY UPDATE (PK): The House GOP’s efforts to tear down the national BLM methane venting rules is up today. The Durango Herald has joined with the Sentinel and the Denver Post in urging that Congress leaves this rule in place.
Republicans in Congress are invoking their authority under the Congressional Review Act to repeal rules finalized during President Obama’s last months in office, including several regulations opposed by the energy industry. The Senate yesterday voted to kill an Interior Department rule designed to protect waterways from coal mining pollution…
The House today considers a resolution that would wipe from the books the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which aims to prevent methane venting, flaring and leakage during oil and gas production.
New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber said he is incensed by the possibility.
“The thought of people without a vulnerable exposure, without exposing their own lives, the lives of their families, their wives, daughters, children, to this threat is infuriating to me and so outside anything that’s reasonable or just,” he said.
…”Those insults to our health, air quality, wildlife and climate go on around the clock, and we’re on the sharp end of the stick,” Schreiber said. “We ride our horses right into those BTEX discharges.”
THURSDAY POLS UPDATE: Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah is reportedly killing this bill after intense backlash:
Over “fear it sends the wrong message,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz will abandon his bill that called on the Interior Department to dispose of or sell 3.3 million acres of “excess” public lands.
Chaffetz, R-Utah, had reintroduced the legislation in January, saying the disposal was “long overdue.” He’s backed off the plan since then, seemingly in response to the many conservationist groups that protested the plan on social media…
Chaffetz has introduced the bill every year since 2010, but it has never passed or gone forward to a committee hearing. The legislation accords with other Republican efforts in Utah to take control public lands, which account for about two-thirds of the state’s area.
“While there are national treasures worthy of federal protection, there are lands that should be returned to private ownership,” Chaffetz said in 2011.
Rep. Tipton’s district includes some of America’s most prized, visited and awe-inspiring public lands, as well as North America’s largest cloud of methane pollution. House Republicans are preparing to sell some of Colorado’s public lands, and to gut protections for air and water.
As noted in a previous diary I wrote here, the Republican assault on the lands, water and air did not take long. First up under a “rule change” devaluing the public lands held in trust for all Americans. That was immediately followed by efforts to roll back whatever environmental protections are most vulnerable.
Among the rush to gut environmental rules and protections, we learn that Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz has proposed legislation to begin the public lands sell off. Public lands that Chaffetz wants to put up for sale are in ten states, according to an article in The Guardian.
The 10 states affected are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Residents can see how much acreage is earmarked for “disposal” in their counties by checking a PDF on Chaffetz’s website.
January 2017: Public lands already going up for sale. And some of the most vulnerable environmental rules, not to mention bedrock environmental laws, are about to be gutted.
In addition to selling off and opening up more public lands for development, House Republicans are eager to gut protections for clean air and water as well. Through the Congressional Review Act certain of President Obama’s more recent regulations are open to attack by a simple Congressional majority.
Two that are among those most vulnerable to roll back are the Stream Protection Rule–which expands protections for streams and waterways from coal mining; and the BLM’s Methane Waste Rule–which tightens regulations around wasting (which usually means leaking or venting) methane from oil and gas operations, a leading contributor to methane pollution.
Delta County showcases some of its public lands – who knows which ones the House Republicans are about to sell off?
Although Colorado already has methane rules in place, through action at the state level that also applies to most federal lands, our air isn’t protected from activity in adjacent states–like Colorado’s Uinta and San Juan Basins, oil and gas fields which are both in Rep. Tipton’s Third Congressional District and also both in neighboring states where Colorado’s methane rules don’t apply.