Scrooge Learned His Lesson – Will Colorado Oil and Gas Industry?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Mural depicts oil and gas workers putting the finishing touches on a “Christmas Tree.”

The response by the bevy of Colorado oil and gas astroturf groups to a recent spate of ballot measures filed with the Colorado Secretary of State to restrict how development occurs in certain jurisdictions has been the predictable Chicken Little hyperbole spiced with a little bit of Christmas.

According to former Denver Post editor cum oil and gas spox Dan Haley the measures are “the ghosts of Christmas Past” that would “…take the state backward.”

Peter Moore, former Denver Post columnist cum oil and gas spox, said:

“All of these extreme proposals fall into the naughty category, which will prevent access to our own energy that will cripple family budgets and jeopardize our economy,”

Meanwhile one-time Denver Post journalist cum oil and gas spox Karen Crummy said:

“These measures are so radical they would kill jobs, ignore established laws, devastate Colorado’s economy…”

But it is the reportage by veteran Denver Business Journal reporter Cathy Proctor (and carried by 9News) that should cause Coloradans pause. At least for those who are paying attention.

If approved by voters, the proposed measures would make it extremely difficult for energy companies to find locations to drill new oil and gas wells in Colorado.

This declarative statement, not a quote from an oil and gas lobby communication director or fracking flunkey, is notable for several reasons. First it is simply incorrect. Second it is a revealing tell.

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Oil & Gas Lease Hoarding Threatens Iconic Colorado Public Lands

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Over three million acres of America’s Public Lands are being held hostage by the oil and gas industry, padding private portfolios and spurring speculation at the public’s expense.

This is according to a recent report by The Wilderness Society, “Land Hoarders: How Stockpiling Oil and Gas Leases is Costing Taxpayers.”

The Wilderness Society’s recent report shows that taxpayers are losing millions in revenue due to “lease hoarding” by the oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas companies are supposed to develop the public land leases they are privileged to hold in a timely manner, or give them up. These lands have been set aside under energy leases for the benefit of the American taxpayer. However, oil and gas operators have made a habit of exploiting loopholes known as “suspensions.” These companies effectively take the control of the lease out of the hands of public officials, and off the books—by stockpiling leases.

The public lands being manipulated this way are not far off or forgotten. Nor are they just reserves on company books, nor map layers on an agency scoping document.

The lands locked up in these suspended leases include some of Colorado’s most prized places. Iconic landscapes. Critical habitat. Names that matter to people and communities, public lands like the Thompson Divide.

Millions of acres of public lands sit in limbo under suspended leases, and can remain that way for decades. The BLM routinely grants suspensions, in many cases for questionable reasons.

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EPA’s Board of Scientists Questions EPA Fracking Study

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released findings that the agency found no examples of “widespread and systemic” contamination of groundwater from fracking the news was widely reported.

It was actually often misreported, including by several former professional journalists cum industry spokespeople, as “fracking shown to be safe” and “does not contaminate water.”

It should be noted that the EPA study did not itself make such sweeping claims. Nonetheless these apparently purposeful overstatements were repeated by oil and gas lobby groups like the Colorado Oil and Gas Assoc., Western Energy Alliance, Vital for Colorado, Protect Colorado, CRED.org etc. across the twitterverse, blogosphere, and in media circulars.

Less covered, one might even say nearly missing, from the reportage at least so far is the follow up.

The EPA’s own science advisory board is questioning that study. Here is one article from Power Source (“Energy News In Context” an industry-oriented website sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from the land of the Marcelleus shale play):

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Climate Change: Its What’s for Dinner

Norman Rockwell painted a scene of a fictionalized Thanksgiving that still haunts hostesses and hosts to this day.

By now most people are aware that the history that brings us Thanksgiving is not all as sanguine as we may have been led to believe. The subtext of conquest is bitter to swallow for many.

And abundance itself can devolve to gluttony and greed – stampeding consumerism no longer contained to the immediate Black Friday aftermath even, but invading the holiday itself.

So don’t blame me for ruining the day to raise another issue we can fret over even as we count our blessings otherwise – and that is climate change. Specifically what that clear and present climate crisis means for the food system and food security.

As you slather butter on squash and pile high your pie, you might consider that food systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change.  At risk from drought and wildlife, floods and landslides, threatened by declining pollinators and expanding pests, burdened by crashing fisheries. Of the systems that sustain humanity, how we produce and find the food we eat may be the most in jeopardy.

The point with all this isn’t to ruin the feast but to provide a morsel to chew on as the tryptophan kicks in. And may there be many more days of too much deliciousness in your life. But if we care about feeding ourselves and each other we ought to care about climate change and what we can do about it.

Recently I helped convene a group of growers, food advocates, climate crusaders, and local heroes in a series of gatherings and events around local food security and climate change, as reported in High Country News and KVNF community radio.

Pete Kolbenschlag, the organizer of the Paonia panel discussion, knows that food security affects everyone. “If you care about what’s on your plate, and you care about feeding other people and the planet, then we need to care about climate change, because climate change is going to affect our food supply,” he says.

The purpose was to consider what climate change means for agriculture and rural communities on the Western Slope and how we could begin to work collaboratively to address it.

Generally western Colorado is vulnerable to increased periods of drought and extreme precipitation, a snowpack that melts earlier and warmer winters, with freezes into May likely to remain a fact on the elevated slopes on the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains.

Warm winters result in early blooms on fruit trees that are then at risk to late snow and spring frosts.

Accepting some problems such as increased incidences of early bloom coupled with late April freeze, which is a real problem for the fruit producers where I live for instance, will be part of living with a changing climate.

And climate change means several things more broadly for farming and food security in Colorado as well, including:

*Adapting our farming and food systems to a changing climate will be necessary: to create more climate resilience into the design, crop selection, and techniques; and to make wise water use and management, a top priority in all aspects of growing and producing food.

*Adopting better practices in agriculture and in food system, to reduce greenhouse gas contributions – from eating less meat to utilizing techniques that enhances local carbon capture.

*Accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources and more local power production in agricultural and food production.

Food security and the threats looming to it from climate change is an issue of global significance.  It also matters for us here at home.  And meeting the challenges that climate change poses for Colorado’s food system will take national and state commitment, as well as local action.

Homegrown approaches for rural communities and others that can help us adapt our food system to address climate change,  from sharing local clean energy capacity and installations (‘solar barn-raisings’) to expanding local food networks.

There is tangible value in gratitude. And for most of us there are things for which we are rightfully thankful. Considering these things helps cultivate a positive attitude.

We can be thankful we are removed from troubling global events we see, perhaps. We may be thankful we are not fleeing a war torn cluster of other powers’ making.

But even these situations have roots not only in political upheaval, like in Syria and Iraq, but also in basic needs that are going unmet. The fact is we are all connected. Global security is connected to food supply. And that supply is being directly impacted from climate change.

A stock Thanksgiving meal set unlike any that I have personally experienced, yet with several classic elements.

So if you are fortunate enough to be able to look with thanks upon your table this season, do take time to think about the world beyond your circle. Remember your family and friends that aren’t there. Include the farmers and winemakers, the workers and craft that brings bounty to you.

But also thank Governor Hickenlooper for defending the Clean Power Plan and Senator Bennet for supporting it against Republican rollbacks in the Senate. One little bite at a time, and some perseverance, and we can make a real difference.

Maybe say a little prayer for peace. But also send it to the world’s leaders heading to Paris this week. Ask that they keep the wisdom that reminds: the smart ruler fills bellies while the harvest of an army is a waste of thorns.

If we want peace, we need security. And if we want security then people need to be secure in their food supplies. And to ensure people have full bellies, and secure food supplies, political leaders need to Act on Climate. It really is as simple as the food on our plate.

Seize this Opportunity to Reform 1872 Public Lands Mining Law

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado Senator Micheal Bennet joined with several of his counterparts to introduce mining reform legislation that could help avert future events like the Gold King spill.

Lost in election news, perhaps, and over-coverage of the 2016 horse race, there was not enough attention paid to a significant development in the decades-long effort to reform the antiquated law still governing hardrock mining on America’s public lands.

Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) joined his New Mexican counterpart Senator Tom Udall, and others, to introduce legislation that would begin to reform the General Mining Law of 1872 that still governs this activity on public lands. The release from Sen. Bennet’s website states:

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill to reform the nation’s antiquated hardrock mining laws. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 will ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands.

The recent tragic mishap that led to the spill of acidic mine water into the Animas River has drawn new attention to the legacy left behind from tens of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines around the West.

Gold King mine above Silverton dumped a load of acidic mine waste into Cement Creek and the Animas River, when a colossal error by the U.S. EPA breached the dike holding back the toxic water.

Unlike oil and gas or coal gotten off the public lands, which are subject to royalty fees that go to the U.S. treasury, hardrock mining–which includes uranium, gold, silver, copper, molybdenum, etc.–is not subject to such a payment back to the American people that own the public lands.

And since hardrock mining pays no royalty there are no funds specifically earmarked to address the mess historic mining left behind. The reform legislation will help make sure that taxpayers are not left to pay for cleaning up these abandoned mining sites, as the Senator’s release notes:

The bill helps ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, many of which are continuously leaking toxic chemicals into rivers and streams and have the potential for catastrophic disasters like the recent Gold King Mine blowout. The Gold King Mine accident spilled 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers, and communities in New Mexico and Colorado are still struggling to recover from the impact to businesses, farms, and local governments.

In 1872 there was bipartisan support to fulfill the “manifest destiny” to complete the settlement and development of the West. In the wake of this mania, tens of thousands of mines now lie abandoned across the American West. And now there are towns and populations settled across the region.

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Has National Media Misread the 2015 Election?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado Results Counter Claims of Republican “Coast to Coast” Victories as 2016 Omen of Success

Colorado is a purple, and divided, state. Yet 2015 could show a shift.

This blog will be a bit of a contrarian view regarding the 2015 elections. Much of the media is reporting the national results as a rebuke to Democrats and President Obama.

Of course, there are no national results but many local and state ones. And looking more closely at those might tell a different tale.

Certainly a deeper dive reveals a more muddled story than simply declaring a “Coast to Coast” conservative sweep, as this over-eager headline writer at the Washington Post did.

The Daily 202: From coast to coast, conservatives score huge victories in off-year elections

THE BIG IDEA: Just like the midterms one year ago, it was another awful night for Democrats.

Hyperbolic headlines aside, or articles that inflate not altogether surprising results in conservative states and misread results such as the defeat in Ohio of the Constitutionally mandated marijuana monopoly, by looking more closely at the details, results may not be the favorable Republican omen some hope it is for 2016.

Take my state, for instance, purple Colorado. Generally considered a political bellwether and always a swing state, 2016 will see another sure-to-be hotly contested U.S. Senate race, as well as a certain fight for the Electoral College votes that are up for grabs.

This year usually by strong margins (albeit a low turn out) Colorado voters across the state,  from both red and blue counties, overturned TABOR (Taxpayer “Bill of Rights”) limits and voted for new taxes to fund  transit, schools and infrastructure; defeated or recalled ultra-conservative school-board candidates; and exempted local jurisdiction from the state law prohibiting local broadband development without relying on the telecom companies.

The 2005 law that jurisdictions have exempted themselves from received strong Republican and enough Democratic support to pass in narrowly divided and split chambers.

That telecom friendly law (SB-152) was passed against strong opposition from local governments and most other stakeholders. After this year’s results, that portion of the law –  for all intents and purposes –  is on life-support if not yet completely dead.

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Public Lands Land Grab Group in Hot Water

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Montrose County is not a rich county. Mesa County is currently concerned that the latest bust in the chain of boom-and-bust that is its self-fulfilling economic legacy will leave it unable to fund all its commitments.

But that did not stop both from spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on a hair-brained scheme from Utah that most legal scholars note is based on fiction and wishful thinking. Such as this analysis by the American Constitutional Society.

The Supreme Court has regularly upheld this plain text understanding of authority over American public lands.  In its 1840 case, United States v. Gratiot, the Supreme Court held that “[t]he power over the public lands is vested in Congress by the Constitution, without limitation.”

A hundred years later, the Court held the same in United States v. City & County of San Francisco: “Congress may constitutionally limit the disposition of the public domain to a manner consistent with its views of public policy.”

The Constitution grants the United States exclusive legal control over American public lands.  Congress may initiate a transfer or sale, but demands by state or local governments have no constitutional foundation.

In addition to putting Colorado cash-strapped counties on the hook for its Constitutionally dubious and Quixotic quest, the American Lands Council apparently has also steered foul of good government laws. Its efforts to grease the skids in at least one state legislature were contrary to lobbying and disclosure laws, Colorado Ethics Watch is claiming.

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No Breitbart.com, the Globe isn’t Cooling

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The headline on Breitbart.com pretty much sums it up: Stupid follows.

GLOBAL COOLING DISCOVERY MAY SCUPPER PARIS CLIMATE TALKS

The article is by James Delingpole, who we can only hope for their sake is posting under a pseudonym.

The lead graph continues with this EARTH SHATTERING “scientific” news, in large type.

Scientists have discovered a hitherto unknown cooling process which may pose a serious threat to man-made global warming theory.

It then cites and completely misappropriates a real study, recently published by the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research.

According to a study by the Institute of Catalysis and Environment in Lyon (IRCELYON, CNRS / University Lyon 1) and the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS), the oceans are producing unexpectedly large quantities of isoprene – a volatile organic compound (VOC) – which is known to have a cooling effect on climate.

That part is the only bit worth reading, at least its as far as I got before I just went to the link.

I read the release that accompanied the study’s publication (the actual paper is in a journal, requiring a subscription), and I noted that it did not mention any global cooling trends, or even climate change over all.

It was specific to its actual research and did not mention, as it turns out, that it had suddenly upturned decades and decades of settled science and tens of thousands of peer-reviewed studies. So I sent an email to the scientists who did the study, to let them know the rightwing blogosphere had seized their science. 

The next morning, I had a reply. Of course their research had said nothing of the sort, and Breitbart’s misrepresentation of it was “alarming,” the respondent wrote.

I sent my appreciation for the scientist’s time and prompt reply. I was also struck by the fact that Mr. Delingpole either didn’t bother to take that simple step, or he didn’t give a damn what he had learned if he had.

The scientist’s reply is clearly not written in someone’s native language, but I think is worth including, verbatim and in full:

“Dear Pete,

thank you for the Information.

Our Studie, our paper and also our press release does not support the stated conclusions.

Therefore we completely disagree with http://www.breitbart.com/…/global-cooling-discovery-may-sc…/ who misinterpret https://www.tropos.de/en/current-issues/press-releases/details/surface-of-the-oceans-affects-climate-more-than-thought/ to an alarming extent.

We didn´t made any statement to the “man-made global warming theory” because there is enough scientific evidence since many years that the global warming of the past decades is man-made. So there was and there is even after our new findings no doubt about this.

Our new findings can help to make climate models a little bit more precise. But these small details doesn´t put the models at all into question. Every scientist know that a model has to focus on parts of a complex reality. And climate is very complex system. From our point of view it´s quite unscientific to say: “The model doesn´t include this detail, thus the model has failed at all” as it was done by breitbart.com.

We can´t support this kind of unreliable conclusions and would like to say very clear: Our findings are no argument “that skeptics are right” with “the models used by alarmists to predict future climate change are fatally flawed”. Such interpretation would be a misuse of our research.

We didn´t made any statement about cooling effects. We showed just a new small detail that might have impact on the forming processes of clouds. But clouds can warm or cool. Cloud forming is a very complex system with still some open questions. “Clouds and aerosols continue to contribute the largest uncertainty to estimates and interpretations of the Earth’s changing energy budget.” (IPCC 2013, https://www.ipcc.ch/…/as…/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter07_FINAL.pdf )

This is the reason why we and other research institutes do cloud research since many years.

To put it in a nutshell: There is no question that the global climate becomes warmer. The question is just how much, how fast and how large the effects will change our live.

I hope my answer shows you clear that we completely disagree with the conclusions made by breitbart.com and there are good reason why these strange assumptions can´t be true.”

Best regards

Tilo

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The Carbon Bubble is Here. Will We Just Let It POP! ?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The news from the North Fork Valley in western Colorado hit hard.  Again.  Another 80 hard-working men and women at the Bowie Resources coal mine will be laid off.  And although coal company executives, industry PR types, and their compensated politicians might like to point fingers at Obama, environmentalists and a ‘war on coal,’ the writing is on the wall.

Coal is in decline, and not just in the United States. And its not only coal. The big news on the drilling front last week was Shell pulling out of the Arctic.  Which is, again, not the only news troubling oil and gas investors.

What were recently ‘boom towns’ are now becoming ghost towns – in the Bakken and elsewhere as the fracking, unconventional energy, and shale industries rapidly contract.  More Halliburton layoffs in Grand Junction, Chesapeake laying off workers nationwide, jobs rapidly disappearing in Weld County, at the edge of the eastern Colorado plains and just recently ground zero for the Niobrara’s brief boom.

Here is the reality, looming large across all fossil fuel markets and regions: There is a “Carbon Bubble” that more and more economists, market analysts, and investors are warning about.

Among the latest sounding the alarm bells is the UK’s central banker, addressing the global insurance company Lloyd’s of London, as reported in the International Business Times:

The head of the Bank of England took a step few other central bankers have yet taken. He acknowledged climate change.

In a speech this week, Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, said fossil fuel investments could impose “potentially huge” losses to investors as carbon assets become increasingly off-limits in a world attempting to stem catastrophic climate change.

Carney’s comments came on the occasion of the Bank of England’s first report examining the financial implications of climate change, which described how a heating world with rising oceans could wreak havoc on British insurers.

“Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late,” Carney was quoted saying in the Financial Times.

The issue is hardly relegated to the U.K. According to the British environmental group Carbon Tracker, which has pushed central banks to grapple with the issue, nearly 10 percent of the New York Stock Exchange’s $18 trillion market capitalization is tied up in fossil fuel companies, which would almost certainly take a hit in a stranded-asset scenario.

The issue worrying investors is that given the reality of climate change and the increasing costs borne broadly across all sectors of the economy from its impacts, already felt and only predicted to rapidly escalate, is the high likelihood of  ‘stranded investments’ in the already heavily leveraged fossil fuel economy, as Bloomberg reports:

In a stunning analysis this week, Goldman Sachs found almost $1 trillion in investments in future oil projects at risk. They looked at 400 of the world’s largest new oil and gas fields — excluding U.S. shale — and found projects representing $930 billion of future investment that are no longer profitable with Brent crude at $70. In the U.S., the shale-oil party isn’t over yet, but zombies are beginning to crash it.

To put it in the terms of an older wisdom: Eventually we will have to pay the piper.

Climate change is real and it is impacting us now.

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Rural VFD Scrambles as Billionaire Driller Flares Wells & Funds Politicians

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Methane is a greenhouse gas some 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is a pollutant when released into the atmosphere, often a precursor to ozone, and is itself a volatile compound that may signal a threat of area toxicity depending what other compounds are present in the gas.

It is also, we are regularly reminded, a valuable commodity, harbinger of American ‘energy independence’ and of a manufacturing revolution, when piped and sold as natural gas.

Yet despite all this—the bad, the good, the ugly—methane, the primary component of natural gas, is regularly vented and flared in America’s oil and gas fields.

Even in the dark of night on remote Colorado mountain passes when maybe no one will notice.

But it was noticed, not once but twice, recently on McClure Pass, provoking a flurry of concerned and sometimes overblown comments on the local Facebook message board as motorists reported the incidents. In the most recent episode local fire fighters scrambled to the report of flames in the forest at a rig on a dark night.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is reporting:

SG Interests flared a natural gas well in the upper North Fork Valley recently without notifying local authorities, reportedly requiring an unnecessary visit to the somewhat remote location by local firefighters.

Companies are required to notify authorities of flaring under state rules, and SG says it is taking steps to prevent a repeat violation.

Paonia resident Pete Kolbenschlag, who works as a consultant on environmental issues, says he hopes so. He fears a succession of false alarms could lead to emergency agencies with limited resources being less apt to quickly respond to an incident like a true well fire or a spill of pollutants into waterways.

“There’s a reason why there’s a notification requirement,” he said.

The flaring occurred earlier this month near Colorado Highway 133 southwest of McClure Pass in Gunnison County.

Venting and flaring releases volatile and harmful compounds, and can include flames several stories tall, both bothersome things to come across driving over a mountain pass in the National Forest.  

SG Interests—operator of the gassy, flaring well—is one of two oil and gas companies that are most active in the upper North Fork Valley. The other is Bill Koch’s Gunnison Energy Company. In the earlier July incident the motorist reported strong smells.

I was driving on Route 133, towards Paonia, on July 3, 2015. It was 11:15 AM, on that Friday, as I was driving down McClure’s Pass, after mile Marker 40, that I was assaulted by the most extreme and dense vapors/gas from a chemical source.

It was so extreme, that I thought I might pass out. It lasted for several minutes at the very extreme level and then as I drove further away, the fumes left my truck’s cab. On the right of my truck, at the moment I first smelled the heavy chemical fumes, I saw liquid rushing down the mountainside. This liquid ran down the mountainside and down a ditch along the side of the highway. This liquid may or may not have been the source of the chemical fumes.

There are 2 active gas well sites and companies operating in the vicinity of my exposure to the chemical vapors. The first company is SG Interests and the second company is Gunnison Energy. Route 133, mile marker 39-40, west of McClure’s Pass, outside of Marble, Colorado and before Paonia, Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission complaint on file for that incident notes that inspectors did not find anything amiss when they got around to inspecting the well a few days later.

I Spoke with Thane Stranathan with BLM (Montrose) on phone today. He met with complainant on location and said he could find no fault with SG and the water flow was above location and caused by mudslide under CDOT control and they were aware of it. We plan to meet next week and visit site.

Both GEC and SGI are privately held billionaire-owned companies. Texan Russ Gordy being the primary name behind SGI. Just last week the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management gave these two companies the go ahead to develop 16 new wells north of Paonia Reservoir State Park. Colorado Park and Wildlife concerns regarding their location within elk winter concentration areas were mostly dismissed.

It was these two companies that together built the Bull Mountain pipeline, which was itself the cause of a losing (for the roadless forests and impacted wildlife) environmental battle about eight years ago. GEC and SGI have an uneasy relationship, sometimes in conflict other times in collusion according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Another Gunnison Energy Company project for up to 150 wells is currently under agency review (Bull Mountain Master Development Plan). And SG Interests is currently trying to acquire additional lands in the North Fork via legislation while attempting to drill on the other side of the pass, within the Thompson Divide area, threatening to take its heavy industrial traffic right through Glenwood Springs and up Four Mile Road against everyone’s objections.

Perhaps due to its often blunt tactics SGI has been investing heavily in the politics of the geography it hopes to drill. It is rumored to give hefty 4 figure contributions to small town Chambers of Commerce. SGI is the local congressman’s number one donor and he SGI’s number one recipient. Senator Cory Gardner also being among its top recipients of campaign cash. So far in just 2015 SGI has spent over $220,000 on high-priced DC lobbyists.

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Mosquitoes, Beetles & Global Warming – Climate Change and Colorado’s Great Outdoors

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado, summertime. The living is easy…  

Sure we have some of the best winter recreation in the world, and Color Sunday drives and hunting season make fall the busiest part of the season for many Colorado communities. But there is something about a Rocky Mountain summer that is hard to beat. 

The wet May and early, heavy monsoons much of the state has been getting since, have brought forth wildflowers that many say are the most outrageous, rainbow array seen in years.  Truly a display of Colorado pride. 

All the moisture, and warm weather between, has also led to another fact in this year’s backcountry – there are lots of mosquitoes out there.  And mosquitoes are not just an annoyance, but bring public health warnings.  In Colorado, for the West Nile Virus, which is likely to become an even larger problem under climate change.

Invasive species aren’t just species — they can also be pathogens. Such is the case with the West Nile virus. 

As Science Magazine (Online) reports:

The higher temperatures, humidity and rainfall associated with climate change have intensified outbreaks of West Nile virus infections across the United States in recent years, according to a study published this week.

…Warmer weather helps spread West Nile virus because it extends the length of the mosquito season, said Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease section at the California Department of Public Health.

Higher temperatures also let mosquitoes reach biting age sooner and speed multiplication of the virus within insects, said Kramer.  Thus in a warmer climate not only are there more biting mosquitoes, but those mosquitoes carry more copies of the West Nile virus, making them more likely to infect their human targets.

“It takes a while for the disease to build up,” says Kramer.  “That’s why we see more cases in August than in June.”

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Proposed BLM Rule Could Recoup Billions for U.S. Taxpayers, Help Avert Climate Catastrophe

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Like a number of communities in Colorado, the valley where I live has been engaged in an effort to constrain oil and gas development to keep it out of our water supplies, our favorite recreational areas, our towns, farms and communities. 

This effort has been met with mixed success.  We banded together to stop an ill-advised Bureau of Land Management lease sale, deferring it twice.  We compelled the BLM to consider a community-based alternative as it revises its very stale 1980s era land use plan, and local conservation groups have successfully challenged some other projects—sending them back for a time to the drawing board. 

But more than 80,000 acres of public lands are leased in the upper reaches of the North Fork, many private lands are already under industry control, and Texas billionaires with privately held gas companies have their sights on acquiring more.

When Halliburton rolled a fracking convoy up the valley last week, to do the completion work on some wells on private lands and blocking traffic for a mile on our narrow two-lane road, the Paonia Message Board on Facebook erupted. 

Meanwhile, as small communities like my own face off against the world’s richest industry, each year in Colorado approximately 8.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas is wasted from oil and gas development on public lands, often vented raw or flared at the source.

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The “Church,” Climate Change, and the Decline of the Bees

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Pope is getting all the news today on Climate, having clarified – the faithful are told to believe—that God is not OK with trashing the earth, and that we need to do something about that.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”

But as Francis has his eyes on all Creation – the World writ large – the sometimes mysterious working of the world in detail are where most of the stuff gets done.  Like pollination.  This week is, after all, also National Pollinators Week

Birds, and bees and others among the panoply of species populating our planet are not just buzzing around your sugary drink, or swooping hotdogs off your picnic table.  They too are doing the Lord’s bidding, in small but crucial ways.  Like keeping three-quarters of the world’s plants alive. 

Most people know by now that bees are in decline and that this is a major problem – for the obvious reasons, because we also like food.  Some important food crops, like corn, are wind pollinated.  But most rely on pollinators

And it is not just the bees that in in trouble. Bees and other pollinators are on decline for a number of reasons.  And across the spectrum, pollinators are suffering: bees, bats, birds and butterflies– all face numerous threats that put survival of many individual species in jeopardy. The National Wildlife Federation notes in an online article:

In addition to butterflies, the NAS report provides evidence of decline in three other pollinator groups: hummingbirds, bats and—especially—bumblebees. A 2008 report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, paints an even bleaker picture of the familiar, fuzzy insects’ fate. Compiling data from more than three dozen scientists and “citizen monitors” across the country, the report concludes that populations of three formerly common species—the rusty-patched, yellowbanded and western bumblebee—have dropped drastically over the past decade. A fourth species, Franklin’s bumblebee (restricted to coastal Oregon and Northern California), has only been seen once in the past several years.

Exacerbating many of these threats is a single issue: Climate Change.  And climate disruption is having other impacts on pollinators that in turn in time are likely to change overall ecology

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By Hook or by Crook: Colorado GOP’s Attempt to “Seize” U.S. Public Lands

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Old Fuss and Feathers defeated the Mexican general Santa Anna leading to the acquisition by the United States of lands in Western Colorado.

The story in my family is that General Winfield Scott is a grandfather.  My own connection, I suppose, and not yet seven generations removed, to the tragedy of ‘Manifest Destiny.’

Scott was a colonel when he marched the Cherokee to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  And he was a general when he took Mexico City, and the United States took half of Mexico in what has long been considered an unprovoked and unjust war.

Where I sit today, along the arroyos that sweep down from the flanks of the Grand Mesa, maybe right atop where Friar Dominguez stood to look at the plain of the North Fork of the Gunnison 80 years before my forebear marched against Santa Anna, and when the valley was still claimed by Spain; this was all part of  Mexico, and ceded at the point of a bayonet in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Of course the land only ‘belonged’ to Spain and then Mexico in the sense that they claimed it, their explorers and traders and trappers passed through most certainly on occasion, as had the Spanish friars in 1776, not too far from what became one leg of the Old Spanish Trail

And other people already lived here too.  The Spaniards did not discover it. Indeed in western Colorado, and right here in the North Fork, people have made their home for 12,000 years or more.  

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Acting Together to Solve Colorado’s Climate Crisis – Western Slope Challenge & Solar Fair

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Western Colorado Climate Challenge & Solar Fair May 1-3 Paonia, CO

The Western Slope is rolling up its sleeves and making a difference for Colorado’s climate.  In terms of tangible progress across the region developing alternative and innovative energy solutions.  And the first weekend of May in Paonia.

That Western Colorado is stepping up makes good sense, and not only because we want to help lead in doing our part to solve the Colorado climate crisis. 

Demand for renewable energy, and the jobs that brings, is up across the globe, in the U.S. and right here in Colorado.   And that means renewable energy makes good economic sense too.  

Installing solar panels on home rooftops and in giant multi-megawatt utility-scale solar farms is one of the United States’ fastest-growing ways for both residents and power companies to reduce their climate impact in a warming world.

For the solar industry, helping to reduce America’s carbon footprint means inviting those with skilled hands to apply for a job.

The solar sector is growing so quickly as solar panel costs drop that employment in the industry jumped 21.8 percent in 2014, adding 31,000 new jobs in that time for a total of 174,000 solar workers nationwide, Luecke said. Solar employment is expected to jump by another 36,000 workers this year.

Articles like this point to a real future in the pursuit of new energy and power technologies.  Innovative projects are changing not only how Americans generate their own power, but how we generate and share power on the ‘grid.’ 

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Step Right Up and WIN! This Boom will never Bust, Baby!

 (Promoted by Colorado Pols)

This Time Is Going to Be Different, Really…

 

“All that I am asking for is $10 gold dollars, and I can win it back with one good hand.  …I got no chance of losing, this time….”      The Loser, R. Hunter/J. Garcia

Colorado is about to lose thousands of jobs, again, as the latest boom and its promise of vast riches crashes into the reality of a volatile commodity market.  Again.

Like in the last bust in 2008 that hit the western Colorado gas fields, it was just months prior that the boosters, peddlers, hucksters and snakes, oil-salespeople were all saying this time would be different, this time we would ride the mineral riches to everlasting everything. 

Until we’re not.  Until the prices, in the most volatile of animal spirited commodities—fossil fuels, drop. Again.  And then Colorado is left holding the bag.  Again.

Last month there was an article about how poorly reclamation is happening, if at all, in Colorado’s oil and gas patch, a dry time in a dry land.

Sure the PR teams at shops popping up like mushrooms in the mountains after a monsoon, weave webs of spin to convince you, Colorado, otherwise. 

This time will be different.  Just like the last time would be different.  And the time before that. 

I love you, Colorado, I would never hurt you.

Again.

Of course Colorado is no stranger to the vagaries of volatility, in the boom and bust that is—in fact—the historical mark of the Mountain West.  

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Will Fracking cause the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

Probably not, but few any longer dispute that some activity related to fracking can induce earthquakes, despite years of industry pressure to deny the link.  But this is not about Frackquakes either. 

Not really. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did try to lease the dam at the Paonia Reservoir once, and that gets closer to today’s update.  

For many it includes this perplexing fact: that oil and gas leasing on public lands starts with a whomever whim, nominated by no one really knows who, how, or why–and sometimes, maybe on a Friday afternoon when someone is not paying enough attention, something kind of crazy might slip through at the agency.  

The BLM did lease a cemetery for oil and gas drilling and fracking, according to a National Geographic article (sponsored—without intended irony, I presume—by Shell), published on its website today:  Fracking Next to a Cemetery? 10 Unlikely Sites Targeted for Drilling”:

Kanza Cemetery sits on a 320-acre expanse east of Colorado Springs offered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rural graveyard, where more than a hundred people are buried, has been there for at least a century. Its land was leased for $26 an acre. 

The day started out like most others had before it, with Pa looking through the morning news and Ma off to collecting from the hens, when there was a knock on the weathered old farmhouse door…

Over cookies and lemonade at the Paynes’ home, a BLM representative informed them about the auction and its implications. She says they were assured that the graves would not be disturbed.

Drilling the Dead…

The leased cemetery and surrounding lands are among a number of places highlighted by the group Western Values Project in a new report “ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE: The Top Ten Most Shocking Places the Oil and Gas Industry is Trying to Lease and Drill.” 

It does seem that no where is off limits in the minds of some folks seeking their fracking fortune off the public’s domain.

The National Geographic article also notes, from the report, private ‘split estate’ lands in Wyoming where the landowners obtained a conservation easement to protect sage grouse among other species and resources, that the BLM has put on the auction block for oil and gas drilling at industry’s request.  

Indeed, oil and gas companies have been invited by the federal government to nominate public minerals under other people’s private lands, even those with conservation easements, and among the ranches and farmlands of the West for years.  

The local community had to fight back to stop the leasing of the orchards and irrigation works of Colorado’s North Fork Valley.  The agricultural lands there are the result of a century of back-breaking hard labor, first by Homesteaders then by generations, and decades of federal projects and millions in expenditures along the way.  (Thanks Wayne Aspinall!). 

Then there are the historical sites, and not insignificant ones: even the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site was nominated for oil and gas drilling.  BLM, thankfully, did catch that one before it went to sale.   

And industry has repeatedly nominated lands in the South Park area, including a large amount of Denver’s water supply.

There Interior Department reforms, that the BLM has begun to implement, have led to the agency agreeing to complete a Master Leasing Plan that hopefully will provide stronger guidance on which areas should be off limits to oil and gas development.  And in the North Fork Valley the BLM has agreed to consider a community-based set of management recommendations for the valley as it updates its resource management plan for the area. 

But industry remains, it appears, feeling entitled.  In Utah it has set off to achieve a new type of visual impact by taking on the art community, which is noted in the Western Values Project report.

This, in particular, seems to have attracted the ire of the grumpy-sounding Big Oil lobby spokesperson in the National Geographic article:

“A single artist determining that her work requires ‘an unimpeded view to the horizon’ does not automatically trump the public’s right to the energy it owns beneath the land,” [Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance] says.

An interesting comment from a single industry that often behaves as if its interests trump the public’s in deciding where oil and gas development is appropriate. 

To that question it usually appears it has one answer: any where and everywhere. 

The oil and gas industry, it seems, does not see problems with leasing around organic orchards; in towns or city water supplies; atop sacred historical sites and on consecrated ground; the minerals from beneath another’s own private lands, even those under a conservation easement; in sage grouse or other sensitive habitat, or even amidst art installations.

No, fracking probably won’t cause the Zombie Apocalypse.  But there seems something unholy about letting the oil and gas industry be the one to call the shots about the public’s resources and lands.

Decisions about which of America’s shared places and publicly-owned resources should be subject to leasing for drilling, fracking and industrial development, and which ought not to be, should be shared decisions and not simply left up to industry to propose, decided behind a cloak of secrecy away from public oversight.

The BLM has taken important steps to making improvements in this process.  But it still has a ways to go.  Shining more sunlight into BLM oil and gas nominations (which the agency has now specifically re-designed its process to avoid) and strengthening the public’s ability to have truly meaningful input into where, when, and how this activity occurs, remain largely in the realm of aspiration. 

This is reform that the agency needs to stick with and complete. Because an informed and engaged public remains the best defense against bad policy. And Zombies.

State-funded Science Institutions Host Keynote by Fringe Anti-Science Guy

(Seriously? – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The wires are abuzz about the latest example of fossil fuel influence attempting to bend science, another Climate Change Denialist hero has been shown as seriously besotted by sooty cash, but failed to note the connection.  His ‘science’ was—in fact—“deliverables” to dirty energy powerhouses, from utilities, coal, oil and gas, the Kochs.

Meanwhile in western Colorado, the Energy Forum & Expo is also creating a stir. 

This annual event hosted by Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College, and the John McConnell Math & Science Center (along with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Club 20, and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado) is known to include a lot of industry cheerleading.  

The purpose of the Energy Forum & Expo CO's is to educate Colorado citizens on the role we can play in meeting our energy needs today and into the future. 

That the ‘Energy Forum & Expo’ of Grand Junction organized, hosted and sponsored as it is,revolves around Old Energy boosterism is not a new realization, but this year it is something else that is attracting criticism. 

This year the keynote is being given by a fringe climate change denier (and ‘earthquake predictor’), who is a favorite on the Tea Party circuit, wingnut radio, and whose ‘expert opinions’ populate articles, between ads for gold, testosterone boosters, and bunker supplies on sites like NewsMax.

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Sage Grouse Efforts Get Steamboat Boost

Steamboat Springs.  My first Colorado ski trip — loaded in a bus full of college kids from Kentucky — it was a sleepier town then.  

But it still is a place set apart — up there mostly on its own, home to 12,000 which makes it almost a small city by western Colorado standards — it's really not on the way to anywhere.  

Home to iconic ranges like the Flat Tops, Mount Zirkel, and the Rabbit Ears Range, Routt County of which Steamboat Springs is the County Seat, is also sagebrush country.  And it includes quite a bit of quality greater sage grouse habitat. This makes Routt, and Steamboat Springs, important players in Colorado's greater sage grouse efforts.

Colorado is currently needing to complete a strong conservation plan to show the federal government that it, along with the other ten states that have greater sage grouse habitat, is serious enough about protecting the grouse that it can avoid a listing under the Endangered Species Act.  That decision could come in September unless the states are successful in making their case. 

Routt County definitely has its own skin in the game–especially to the south, upstream on the Yampa (centered around the town with that namesake), and west, downstream, toward Hayden and Moffat County–there is both lots of potential habitat and a substantial amount of occupied habitat in the county.  

And as a 'city' in a sparsely populated part of the state, even by Western Slope standards, Steamboat's influence stretches beyond just Routt County. So it was quite a boost that came from this ranching town turned ski destination, turned Northwest Colorado economic hub, when over a dozen area businesses sent a  letter to be hand delivered to Governor Hickenlooper: 

“We want to make sure that Governor Hicklenlooper knows how important the iconic greater sage grouse is to our local business community in Routt County,” [Kent Vertrees, co-owner Steamboat Powdercats]  said in a news release. “It’s an important part of our Western heritage and our economy. We want to see the bird protected, but we don’t want to see it listed under the Endangered Species Act.” 

Protecting sage grouse habitat happens to protect habitat important to a number of species as well as the public lands that contain much of it, and that is good for the bottom line of many Colorado businesses.  But there is also cause to protect the sage grouse for its intrinsic worth and I count myself among those that want to see this bird protected for its own sake, tales of which are told of when they use to darken the sky with their flocks and put sustenance on pioneer tables.  

The particulars of how that happens are less important to me than that it does. But if avoiding a listing under the ESA makes it easier on area businesses and other stakeholders then that is good for them and can encourage the state and others to act cooperatively and promptly.    

Let's just get the job done.  We need to get meaningful and enduring protections for the greater sage grouse in place now.  

And that means Colorado, and Governor Hickenlooper, need to come up with a strong conservation plan soon.  That is the message that business from Routt County sent to Denver last week, and like them I hope the governor took it to heart.  

 

Sen. Scott’s “War on Rural Colorado”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Yesterday alleged "rural champions" Senators Scott and Sonnenberg conspired to kill a bill carefully tailored to benefit rural Colorado.  Charles Ashby is reporting in the Daily Sentinel:

DENVER — For all their recent protestations about Democrats allegedly waging a war on rural Colorado, Senate Republicans shot down a bill Tuesday aimed squarely at helping less populated regions of the state still trying to recover from bad economic times, a Western Slope senator said.

The Senate panel, chaired by proud fossil fuel aficionado Grand Junction Senator Ray Scott, offered no explanation for its decision to kill SB36 Rural Economic Emergency Assistance Grant Program which would have created a $2 million grant program for rural communities in the state facing large scale lay-offs.  Like in Delta County, where I live, SB36 would have brought help for the hundreds of coal miners let go over the past year from two of three mines in the North Fork (due to a canceled TVA contract and a coal mine fire).  

SB36 had the support of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado  (formerly led by now Mesa County commissioner Scott McInnis and currently run by Bonnie Peterson, formally head of Club 20), the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (run by another former Club 20 director, Reeves Brown), Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League.  

…representatives of which all testified before the committee saying virtually the same thing: This bill will help rural Colorado.

As Ashby notes in his thorough and lengthy article, also reporting that the legislation had explicit support from the Boards of County Commissioners in Delta, Gunnison, Lake and Pitkin counties and even support from Tri-State, which operates the coal-fired power plant and coal mine in Craig. 

The only explanation, such as there is any worth noting, is that the bill was sponsored by Kerry Donovan, the lone Senate Democrat from rural western Colorado, and victor in a bitter race that pitted fossil fuel interests against conservationists.  

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Fracked Statistics

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The statement is ubiquitous.  Every time an oil and gas public relations type tries to downplay concerns that neighbors might have about the noisy, smelly, lit-up-like-Christmas 24/7, industrial traffic, activity, machinery, infrastructure and chemicals right smack in their midst.

“99.5% of fracking fluid is just water and sand.” 

But is it?  Has anyone in the media actually fact-checked this number?  With thousands of wells being fracked every year in Colorado, multiple times per well with millions of gallons of fluid that is a pretty stark, precise, and definitive claim, when you get down to it: “99.5% of fracking fluid is…”

There it was again yesterday, in a letter printed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel from a former longtime Grand Junction TV news anchor (now representing yet another recently formed oil and gas PR creation, the Piceance Energy Action Council):

“Fracking fluid (consisting of 99.5 percent water and sand)…”

No nuance, no context just a statement that it is so, like "my door opens onto my porch…".  In print even.  From a ‘trusted’ and familiar voice.  Rinse, repeat, transcribe.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to poke holes in the “99.5%” claim, such is often the case with such certain and precise numbers. According to FracFocus.org (the site where disclosure is mandated by state law) many fracking fluid recipes do in fact reach, or get close to, that number.  But here's the thing, others do not.  And that’s all it takes to turn a statistic into a lie.  Furthermore, the precise number itself is less important than the willingness of industry to dismiss any concerns out of hand with rote talking points and empty 'factoids.' 

It should also be noted that there remain questions about how well the FracFocus site captures what is really happening in a useful timeframe to inform citizens about what type of potentially dangerous activity is occurring in their towns and communities.  But setting that aside and just considering the data that are available to the public–and in this case, I admit, I only did a cursory review–I ask: Is the reality that “most fracks are up to 99.5% water and sand” the same as the claim “fracking fluid [consists of] 99.5%” water and sand?  If not then industry’s own spokespeople are either misinformed or dissembling. 

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For 2015 Colorado Must Resolve to Protect the Sage Grouse

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The State Department of Natural Resources, people that care about the Greater sage grouse, and those that care about whether the bird is listed under the Endangered Species Act (including those that prefer it isn’t) need to all get together quickly.  Delay is not our friend.  Colorado needs to resolve to act now to protect the Greater sage grouse.

Some claim that a listing by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service would be heavy-handed yet cheer that Congress pulled a ham-handed move of its own, telling the US Fish and Wildlife Service scientists they cannot spend  money to consider the plight of this magnificent species.  Not only is the sage grouse caught between–but so are those that want to see meaningful action to protect the bird.  And action is what is needed.

Because the clock is ticking, not only quite literally for the sage grouse—which has seen its population plummet as its habitat has disappeared over the last few decades—but  also on the federal government’s decision to list the bird or not under the ESA. That’s because the agency that enforces that law is under a court order to make a decision by September 2015, which is just about the time the Continuing Resolution  and  spending bill (the so-called CRomnibus) expires and with it Congress’ defunding gimmick.  As Senator Bennet (D-CO) noted in a release:

“Colorado communities continue to make a strong, science-based case that local conservation efforts are working, can continue to get better and these birds don’t need protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, thanks to this rider, Colorado communities will now be plagued with uncertainty through at least next September. Despite this ill-advised Congressional involvement, Colorado communities and the agencies will continue to work on their collaborative and locally-based conservation approaches to protect the birds and avoid future listings. They should ignore the confusing signals being sent by politicians in Washington and continue to focus on their impressive work on the ground to come together to work for a long term solution,”

In fact the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service within that department both say a listing can still be avoided.  The catch is the eleven states where the Greater sage grouse occurs, including Colorado, have to get plans in place that provide real protection for this species.  But time is wasting. So rather than passing midnight partisan riders or filing a lawsuit after the fact, a better move might be to avoid the situation in the first place, in this case by putting a strong and protective habitat management plan in place for the Greater sage grouse.  As Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of Interior, put it (from PoliticoPro, a subscription service):

“It’s disappointing that some members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life,” Jewell added. “Rather than helping the communities they profess to benefit, these members will only create uncertainty, encourage conflict and undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening throughout the West.”

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