Energy policy — oil and gas: Interior Secretary Salazar changes rules to include a seat at the table for wildlife, watersheds, wilderness and communities

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From New West (David Frey):

Taking aim at the Bush administration’s approach to oil and gas leasing, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled a slate of reforms on Wednesday intended to better protect land, water and wildlife and reduce the number of protests filed by environmental groups and others at odds with leasing decisions.

“The previous administration’s ‘anywhere, anyhow’ policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry,” Salazar said on Wednesday.

More coverage from the Las Vegas Sun (Stephanie Tavares):

Under new federal guidelines, the Bureau of Land Management will establish an Energy Reform Team to create and implement several reforms meant to improve protection of land water and wildlife and reducing conflicts between energy developers and environmentalists…

Under the new guidelines:

* Individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased public participation, agency coordination, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance and site visits to parcels when necessary.

* Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated will have greater public involvement.

* The agency will emphasize leasing in already developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas. It will continue to accept industry recommendations regarding where to offer leases but will analyze impacts of leasing new areas in greater detail, including air quality, watersheds, wilderness, wildlife and nearby land use.

More coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Energy companies will benefit from better scrutiny of public lands and greater public involvement because they’ll have to deal with fewer protests, Salazar said Wednesday. Salazar blamed the Bush administration for allowing federal lands to be “the candy store of the oil and gas industry.”

Industry officials, however, said there is much to protest in the new approach. “While the policy shift is not really surprising, the tone of the announcement was certainly a surprise,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “Equating some of the nation’s best geologists and smartest engineers with kids in a candy store marginalizes their vital contribution to identifying new domestic supplies of energy.”

In 1998, only 1 percent of oil and gas leases were protested, but that number rose to 40 percent in 2008, Salazar said in a telephone press conference announcing that the way federal lands are leased will be revamped. In the future, companies and individuals still will nominate federal lands for leasing, but the Bureau of Land Management will decide whether to offer them for auction after a “detailed interdisciplinary review,” Salazar said. An “energy reform team” will identify and carry out additional revisions, Salazar said.

Salazar’s approach drew support from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and several environmental organizations. “We welcome the increased clarity and public engagement promised by the secretary in the federal minerals-leasing process,” said Steve Belinda, the partnership’s energy-policy manager…

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, dismissed the changes as similar to the much-criticized rules governing drilling in Colorado, blamed by Republicans for contributing to drilling slowdowns. “Why on earth would Secretary Salazar want to take Colorado’s job-killing energy rules national?” Penry said.

The drilling slowdown in Colorado is tied to the national economy and not new regulations, western Colorado land owner Peggy Utesch said. “The industry wants the public to believe that children will be standing out cold on street corners because of a restoration of balance to what has been an out-of-control leasing program,” Utesch said.

Here’s a release from the Bureau of Land Management:

Citing a need to improve certainty and order in oil and gas leasing on U.S. public lands, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced several reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake to improve protections for land, water, and wildlife and reduce potential conflicts that can lead to costly and time-consuming protests and litigation of leases. Interior will also establish a new Energy Reform Team to identify and implement important energy management reforms.

“The previous Administration’s ‘anywhere, anyhow’ policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry,” said Secretary Salazar. “We need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans’ energy resources. The new guidance BLM is issuing for field managers will help bring clarity, consistency, and public engagement to the onshore oil and gas leasing process while balancing the many resource values that the Bureau of Land Management is entrusted with protecting on behalf of the American people. In addition, with the help of our new Energy Reform Team, we will improve the Department’s internal operations to better manage publicly owned energy resources and the revenues they produce.”

Many of the reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake follow the recommendations of an interdisciplinary review team that studied a controversial 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah.

Under the reformed oil and gas leasing policy, BLM will provide:

— Comprehensive interdisciplinary reviews that take into account site-specific considerations for individual lease sales. Resource Management Plans will continue to provide programmatic-level guidance, but individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased internal and external coordination, public participation, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance as well as site visits to parcels when necessary;

— Greater public involvement in developing Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated so that other important natural resource values can be fully considered prior to making an irreversible commitment to develop an area;

— Leadership in identifying areas where new oil and gas leasing will occur. The BLM will continue to accept industry expressions of interest regarding where to offer leases, but will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the number of protests filed as well as enhance BLM’s ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales. A comparison of the new guidance with current policy can be found here.

“The new approach can help restore certainty and predictability to a system currently burdened by constant legal challenges and protests,” said Abbey. “It will also support the BLM’s multiple-use mission, which requires management of the public lands to provide opportunities for activities such as recreation, conservation, and energy development—both conventional and renewable.”

BLM will also issue guidance regarding the use of categorical exclusions, or CXs, established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that allow the bureau to approve some oil and gas development activities based on existing environmental or planning analysis. Under the new policy, in accordance with White House Council on Environmental Quality guidelines, BLM will not use these CX’s in cases involving “extraordinary circumstances” such as impacts to protected species, historic or cultural resources, or human health and safety.

Salazar also issued a Secretarial Order establishing an Energy Reform Team within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management that will identify and oversee implementation of energy reforms.

“The creation of the new Team focuses on our important stewardship responsibility in the management of the nation’s energy resources,” said Wilma Lewis, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “Through its work, the team will promote efficiency and effectiveness in the development of renewable and conventional energy resources, so that we can be properly accountable to the American public.”

Under the Assistant Secretary’s direction, the Energy Reform Team will provide greater coordination and improved accountability to ensure the orderly, efficient, responsible and timely development of public resources critical for our national energy security. Through its own efforts, as well as by considering good ideas from stakeholders, industry, and the public, the Team will help ensure that Interior is a responsible steward of the public resources it manages and obtains fair value for energy resources owned by the public.

The new oil and gas leasing guidance and CX guidance will be implemented once BLM has completed final internal reviews.

More coverage from the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Salazar outlined reforms on Wednesday that included:

• New guidance to BLM field staff to take a more active role in determining what areas are appropriate for oil and gas development. Staff will also conduct more analysis and on-the-ground reviews of nominated parcels with regard to environmental and cultural effects of oil and gas exploration and development. They will also involve the public more fully in the process.

• New guidance about categorical exclusions that more fully take into account potential impacts to protected spaces, human health and safety and natural resources.

• A secretarial order to create an energy reform team under Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Lands and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis to help identify and implement energy reform, with the assistance of “stakeholders.” The team will “continue to find better ways of managing taxpayer resources,” Salazar said.

Salazar said these reforms are “a big step in the right direction.” He said the reforms would result in better protection of America’s public lands, better decisions on behalf of American taxpayers and less litigation in the future. “Court battles over oil and gas leases are now costing millions of dollars through litigation and they are taking important resources,” Salazar said. “Almost nobody is happy with the status quo.”

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

“The difference is that in the prior administration the oil and gas industry essentially were the kings of the world,” Salazar told reporters. “Whatever they wanted to happen essentially happened. The department was essentially a handmaiden of the industry.” Salazar described new guidelines for U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices when it comes to identifying and leasing appropriate parcels; new environmental review policies that take a closer look at other natural attributes of a proposed lease parcel; and a Department of the Interior Energy Reform Team to oversee the changes.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

R.I.P. Charlie Meyers

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We’ll miss Mr. Meyers’ columns here at Coyote Gulch. He often wrote about successful recovery efforts in our Colorado streams. Of course successful was often defined as, “supports increased opportunities for fishing.” 🙂

Here’s the obituary from The Denver Post (Jason Blevins and John Meyer). From the article:

“He really was Huckleberry Finn,” said his son Kirk. “He was always that kid with a straw hat, cane pole and a worm exploring that next bend in a river. He always made me feel special because he’d rather see me catch the big fish or see the rest of us succeed. That’s who he was.”

Some Coyote Gulch posts that credit Mr. Meyers here and here.

Ouray Ice Festival starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday

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From the Montrose Daily Press:

Elite ice-climbing athletes will strut their stuff Thursday through Sunday on the sheer ice cliffs of Ouray. The 14th annual Ouray Ice Festival provides visitors a free opportunity to meet top ice-climbers and attend more than 80 climbing clinics for everyone from beginners to experts. Top manufacturers of climbing gear also will be on hand to show off their wares.

Young mountaineers can try the sport at the Ouray Ice Park Kids Area. Observers can cheer on mountaineer Will Gadd as he challenges himself to the “Endless Ascent” — a 24-hour climb up 30,000 vertical feet of ice — to raise money for the dZi Foundation. The Ridgway-based foundation helps people in the most remote Himalayan communities of India and Nepal — building schools, sanitary facilities and clean-water taps, among other things. The festival also will feature gear auctions, films and slide-show presentations.

Snowpack news

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From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

“We’re in the ballpark. Last year, we were really good early on and then it fell off, so we’ll see what happens,” John Fusaro said. On average, about 40 percent of the snowfall the state receives each season falls by Jan. 1.

Fusaro, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service in Fort Collins, said that office will begin conducting physical measurements of the snowpack in the Poudre and Big Thompson canyons of northern Colorado at the end of the month. Those measurements will be taken monthly through the end of April. Data from those monthly surveys allows hydrologists to predict the amount of runoff when the snow melt occurs in the spring. Water users, including those involved in agriculture, industry and municipalities, use that information for planning…

According to automated SNOTEL sites in the mountains, the snowpack ranges from a high of 91 percent of the long-term average in the southwestern part of the state to a low of 78 percent in northwest Colorado. The South Platte River basin was at 89 percent of average as of Tuesday, while the upper Colorado River basin was at 79 percent. Northern Colorado gets water from those river basins and their tributaries. “This year, most of our snow has come from upslope conditions, so the mountains haven’t been getting the snow we’ve seen down here,” Fusaro said. Through Tuesday, Greeley had recorded more than 39 inches of snow this season, which is about 2 inches more than Greeley averages during the winter season…

For the most part, state officials said, reservoir storage across Colorado is in good shape, with near average volumes in storage across most of the state. Only those basins in the southwest part of the state are reporting below normal volumes.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The year 2009 was the sixth snowiest and the seventh wettest calendar year in 121 years of recordkeeping in Fort Collins, according to Colorado Climate Center statistics. The city’s weather station on the main CSU campus received 79.5 inches of snow last year – 20.7 inches more than normal. Likewise, the weather station received 21.88 inches of rainfall last year, or 6.04 inches more than normal…

Last month also proved to be the city’s 12th wettest and fifth snowiest December on record. The city received 1.11 inches of wet precipitation and 20.3 inches of snow – 11.8 inches above average.

From The Denver Post (Michael Booth):

The accumulation is the lowest statewide since 2003, when the number hit 85 percent of average, according to Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey.
Readings are below average in the catchments for all the major rivers, with southwest Colorado enjoying the best totals. The San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins caught the greater part of Colorado’s December storms and are at 97 percent of normal…

“Given the cold conditions we’ve had down here in Denver, the perception might be the snowpack is doing pretty well in the high country,” Gillespie said. “The fact is, we’re down below the long-term average, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had such a dry start to the winter.” The few December snowfalls in the central mountains and Front Range didn’t pack the wallop of holiday snows in the past couple of years. Colorado will now need snowfalls of 110 percent of the average to get back to normal by the end of the snow season in the spring.

Reservoir water storage remains good after a few years of catch-up. The South Platte River basin, which supplies much of Denver’s water, is at 93 percent of its snowpack average but reports reservoir storage at 100 percent of the average.

Reclamation: Ruedi releases for Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program a top priority

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From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said they will weigh local concerns about fishing conditions when determining water releases from Ruedi Reservoir, but they made it clear an endangered fish recovery program is their priority. Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, said water releases from Ruedi Reservoir are critical to improving habitat for the fish in a stretch of the Colorado Riv er near Palisade. Right now, using a variety of water sources, targeted flows in that stretch are achieved only 30 percent of the time. Chart said he was reluctant to “throw any tool out of the toolbox.”

Chart and other federal officials visited Basalt after the town government, local guide shops and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority criticized their handling of water releases last summer. “They were unusual to say the least,” said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, a consortium of local governments that operates a hydroelectric project and monitors Fryingpan Valley water issues…

The Fryingpan conundrum is a classic case of the Endangered Species Act affecting human activity. In this case, the Fish & Wildlife Service has a con tract for water from Ruedi Reservoir and can “call” that water when it is needed for the endangered fish. Chart said Ruedi water is specifically needed to help two species, the pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Their habitat near Palisade has been altered by water diversions and fluctuations in flows of the Colorado River. Jana Mohrman of the Fish & Wildlife Service said releases from Ruedi and other Colorado reservoirs are deter­mined based on a variety of factors, including the snowpack and reservoir storage levels. When the snow pack is high, like last winter, plans are made for high levels of releases. Last year’s planning was thrown askew when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon reduced its call on water in the Colorado Riv er for a dam inspection during August. That required more water from Ruedi and other sources. In addition, August was hot and dry so there was little contribution to river flows from precipitation.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, whose district includes Basalt, said the Fish & Wildlife Service should have altered its plan when conditions dried in August, requiring less water from Ruedi. “I know you’re shooting for recovery, but other people paid a price on the way,” Curry said. She suggested that the local entities, such as Basalt, send a written request with specific goals regarding Ruedi water releases to the reclamation bureau and Fish & Wildlife Service. Their formal responses would establish a starting point for future negotiations, she said.

More Fryingpan River coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District director will use regional approach to managing the watershed

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Not just locally, but in the West, people are recognizing that the watershed is an integral unit,” Barber said Tuesday. “I’ve been chasing this longer than a lot of folks realize. . . . This job is about being in the community and listening to the concerns people have.”Barber, 55, will become the director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District later this month. The district board that approved his hiring in December is expected to finalize contract details at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Barber is a Colorado Springs real estate and water rights broker who has plunged neck-deep into Arkansas Valley water issues in the past decade. As an agent for El Paso County water interests, he participated in discussions that identified future needs as part of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative. Barber was instrumental in helping to form the district as part of the Vision Task Force. He chairs the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, formed in 2005 to hash out disputes. Barber has been a staunch promoter of studying how storing water underground can offset the depletion of the Denver Basin aquifers. He was also part of the Colorado Springs task force that led to the formation of a stormwater enterprise in 2005, which was discontinued late last year after voters approved Doug Bruce’s Issue 300.

His efforts are not always regionally focused. In 2008, he unsuccessfully tried to corner more than half of the shares of the Bessemer Ditch on behalf of his El Paso County clients. Those same interests funded a study of pipelines that would move water from the Lower Arkansas Valley to El Paso County…

Back in 2006, Barber said: “If we don’t use water efficiently, we have no business asking for more water.” He still stands by that and he’ll include flood control and water quality in the list of things that need to be done on Fountain Creek as well…

…the flood of 1999 – where he remembers 9 inches of rain falling in Manitou Springs in three days – that led to the current effort to improve Fountain Creek. The ’99 spring storm led to a cooperative effort of communities along the creek and the Army Corps of Engineers developing a watershed study, completed just last year. That effort, along with the Vision Task Force and an agreement between Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, became the base for information the Fountain Creek district will use as it tries to improve the waterway. “The best strategy I’ve heard is to get some demonstration projects on the ground, like the confluence park in Pueblo, to show what it looks like to aggressively improve Fountain Creek,” Barber said. “A lot depends on what we do in the last two years…

He sees mutual benefit for El Paso County and its neighbors – Pueblo, Canon City, the Lower Ark Valley and even Pinon Canyon – in working together on projects of common interest in the future. “I hope we wind up a community of interest, especially as an economic base,” Barber said. “For our own quality of life, we need to see ourselves as all being in it together. More awareness of that will be more effective than having the stormwater police come around.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Protective and Development Association annual membership meeting January 9

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The meeting [1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rocky Ford Events Center at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds] is open to members or those wishing to join. Membership includes more than 500 well users from Leadville to Hasty in the Arkansas Valley. The group primarily provides sources of augmentation water to assure groundwater use compliance under the Arkansas River Compact between Kansas and Colorado. Guest speakers will be Steve Witte, Division 2 Water Resources Engineer; and a representative from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

More groundwater coverage here.