Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee: Flaming Gorge — summary of January 12 meeting

flaminggorgepipelineearthjustice.jpg

Here’s the link to the summary document from the meeting. My thanks to facilitator Heather Bergman for forwarding it in email. Here’s a tidbit:

During the December Committee meeting, the Committee agreed to reach out to various stakeholder organizations in an effort to fill the open seats for agriculture, environmental, and recreational representatives. As directed by the Committee, Heather contacted the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance (CAWA) and invited them a) to determine if there is a need for additional agricultural representation on the Committee and, if so, b) to nominate individuals to fill up to two allotted seats. In response, CAWA identified Gene Manuello to fill one seat and is working to find another available representative to fill the second.

On behalf of the Committee, Heather sent out letters to the environmental and recreational groups identified in the December meeting inviting each group to nominate up to two representatives to serve on the Committee. A conference call was held on January 6th for each stakeholder group to discuss and develop their representative nominations. The environmental conference call was attended by seven people. Several environmental stakeholder groups invited to participate in the nomination conversation declined for various reasons. The recreation conversation also had limited participation. However, from these conversations, it was determined that Chuck Wanner will fill the West Slope environmental seats with the hope that (if still willing and available) Bob Streeter will fill the Front Range environmental seat. Reed Dils and Ken Neubecker will fill the Front Range and West Slope recreational seats respectively. These representatives (as well as others engaged in the nomination conversations) wanted to stress that while they are filling specifically identified seats as Committee members, they do not represent the views of the environmental or recreational “communities” at large; they are serving as individuals on the Committee in order to represent overarching environmental and recreational interests.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

BLM Issues Draft Programmatic EIS for Oil Shale and Tar Sands; Preferred Alternative Identifies Research and Development as Appropriate First Step on Public Lands

oilshaledepositsutwyco.jpg

Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Megan Crandall):

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has published the Notice of Availability (NOA) of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Possible Land Use Amendments for Allocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The publication opens a 90-day public review and comment period.

The Draft PEIS analyzes several alternatives for land allocation and resource management. Under the BLM’s Preferred Alternative identified in the Draft PEIS, the BLM would continue to support the research and development of hydrocarbon deposits in an environmentally responsible way that protects scarce water supplies in the arid West.

If the BLM decides to adopt the Preferred Alternative, 461,965 acres would be available for research and development of oil shale, a kerogen-rich rock (35,308 acres in Colorado; 252,181 acres in Utah; and 174,476 acres in Wyoming). In addition, 91,045 acres in eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands, a type of hydrocarbon-wet sedimentary deposit.

“The preferred alternative continues our commitment to encouraging research, development, and demonstration projects so that companies can develop technologies that can lead to economic and commercial viability,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “Because there are still many unanswered questions about the technology, water use, and impacts of potential commercial-scale oil shale development, we are proposing a prudent and orderly approach that could facilitate significant improvements to technology needed for commercial-scale activity. If oil shale is to be viable on a commercial scale, we must take a common-sense approach that encourages research and development first.”

To date, technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the United States, and there is currently no commercial development of oil shale in the areas under review in the draft PEIS. Lands that would be open to oil shale development under the Preferred Alternative would be available for Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) leases. The BLM could issue a commercial lease after a lessee satisfies the conditions of its RD&D lease and meets all federal regulations for conversion to a commercial lease.

Additionally, following the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office – which determined that several fundamental questions about oil shale technologies remain unanswered, including critical questions about water demands – the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is undertaking an analysis of baseline water resources conditions to improve the understanding of groundwater and surface water systems that could be affected by commercial-scale oil shale development.

Oil shale is a term used to describe a wide range of fine-grained, sedimentary rocks that contain solid bituminous materials called kerogen. It should not be confused with “shale oil,” which is not addressed by the draft PEIS. Kerogen, which is organic matter derived mainly from aquatic organisms, releases petroleum-like liquids when subjected to extremely high temperatures – more than 750 degrees. Developers have been trying to produce oil from this rock in an economically-viable way for more than a century. The majority of U.S. oil shale (and the world’s largest oil shale deposit) is found in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen. They can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. However, unlike the oil sands deposits in Canada, oil is not currently produced from tar sands on a significant commercial level in the United States. Additionally, the U.S. tar sands are hydrocarbon wet, whereas the Canadian oil sands are water wet. This difference means that U.S. tar sands will require different processing techniques.

Any new land allocation decisions made on the basis of the Final PEIS would replace the land allocation decisions made in 2008 that proposed making up to 2 million acres of public lands available for commercial oil shale leasing in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming and 431,000 acres available for tar sands leasing in Utah. Some Western communities argued that the 2008 PEIS and Record of Decision would have prematurely allowed commercial leasing without technologies having been proven viable and without a clear understanding of impacts on scarce Western water supplies. In response to those concerns and in settlement of litigation, the agency agreed to reconsider the 2008 land allocation decisions.

A 90-day public review and comment period began on February 3, 2012 and is scheduled to end on May 4, 2012.

Public meetings on the Draft PEIS will also be held in Rifle, CO; Rock Springs, WY; Salt Lake City; and Vernal, UT. The public will be notified of the dates and times of these meetings at least 15 days in advance via local media and the project website.

Written comments on the Draft PEIS may be submitted by any of the following methods:

Website – Using the online comment form available on the project Website:

http://ostseis.anl.gov. (This is the preferred method of commenting.)

Mail – Addressed to:

Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources Draft Programmatic EIS
Argonne National Laboratory
9700 South Cass Avenue—EVS/240
Argonne, IL 60439.

Before including your address, telephone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment–including your personal identifying information–may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

To read the BLM’s Federal Register Notice of Availability click here.

To read the Draft PEIS click here.

More coverage from Catharine Tsai writing for The Associated Press via The Casper Tribune. From the article:

A new draft environmental impact statement released Friday says the preferred plan now is to make 35,308 acres in Colorado, 252,181 acres in Utah, and 174,476 acres in Wyoming available for research. Also, 91,045 acres in eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands. The public has until May 4 to comment on the proposal. The Bureau of Land Management estimates the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming has about 1.2 to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil resources, but not all may be recoverable…

Following recommendations from the GAO, the U.S. Geological Survey is analyzing baseline water conditions so it can better understand how commercial-scale oil shale development could affect groundwater and surface water systems.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Energy industry leaders said they are anxious to review details of the “draft programmatic environmental impact statement.”

“Any plan that delays development is not conducive to producing the energy that American consumers demand,” American Petroleum Institute spokesman Reid Porter said. “Testing is extremely important. But also there has to be certainty, an operating environment that’s conducive to investment.”

Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons said he would prefer to see a plan that moves toward commercial development. “Some of it has to do with jobs, and there’s the energy independence question.”[…]

…Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Mike King backed the deliberative approach. “We need to be thorough and have a full understanding of potential impacts to the environment and our communities before we take steps toward large-scale leasing or development of oil shale.”

A coalition of farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and city officials and others has supported a rollback of the Bush administration’s 2008 push for opening public lands to tap oil shale. “We’re really concerned about the impacts on water. We cannot gamble away our water on oil shale speculation,” said Bill Midcap, director of renewable energy development for the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union. “We cannot risk our farm economy.”

More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement outlining how the agency will review and potentially revise land use plans in various jurisdictions in the region.
The BLM announcement garnered a favorable reaction from many quarters.

“Having worked for the BLM and Department of the Interior for many years, I know well the challenge of land management,” said Vern Lovejoy, a former outdoor recreation planner with the BLM in Wyoming. “Oil shale can be developed in many places, but we need to make sure we understand the potential impacts on a site-by-site basis before we enter into leases that will forever change the environment. There has to be more of an analysis than ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

“Hunting and fishing are huge economic drivers in the West – with an economic impact of $1.5 billion in Colorado alone,” said John Ellenberger is the retired big game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “We cannot afford to risk those jobs and the critical big game habitat deer and elk need to survive. But moving forward with oil shale development prematurely puts at risk this world-class wildlife and the jobs and hunting heritage that healthy natural resources provide to our state.”

“While I have long felt there is potential for oil shale development, it is critical that a number of unanswered questions be resolved before commercial-scale leasing takes place,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said in a prepared statement. “Fully understanding the demands of oil shale development on Colorado’s water and local communities is essential to ensuring responsible development.”

More coverage from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

“While I have long felt there is potential for oil shale development, it is critical that a number of unanswered questions be resolved before commercial-scale leasing takes place,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said in a prepared statement. “Fully understanding the demands of oil shale development on Colorado’s water and local communities is essential to ensuring responsible development.”

Last year, the BLM announced it would reconsider the Bush-era land leasing plan as part of a settlement of a lawsuit by environmental groups in 2009 that challenged the 2008 action.

“For the sportsmen, farmers, ranchers and communities on the Western Slope that depend on clean air and clean water, making sure development is done right the first time is vital to their way of life,” said Udall, noting that the BLM will be accepting public comment on its plan for the next 90 days.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, issued a statement reminding residents of “Black Sunday,” May 2, 1982, when Exxon’s massive Colony oil shale project went bust on the state’s Western Slope. “In Colorado, we have seen what can happen when we rush into oil shale development,” Bennet said. “We need to be certain we can do this in an environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable way– particularly with regard to water, which is critical to farmers, ranchers and the economies of western communities. Secretary Salazar’s announcement marks a balanced and prudent next step in our efforts to ensure that any commercial oil shale development is done in a thoughtful manner. An emphasis on continued research is entirely appropriate in advance of crafting any commercial development guidelines that continue to protect our natural resources and provide a fair return to American taxpayers in the process.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

2012 Colorado November election: The Colorado Water Congress is working to keep ‘Public Trust Initiatives’ off the ballot

roadteasttolaplatas032004

From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Denver-area resident Phillip Doe has proposed amending the state constitution to highlight a clause that says streams are the property of the public — and making the public ownership legally superior to longstanding water rights.

A related proposal would spell out in the constitution that water rights can be constricted to prohibit uses that would harm the public’s ownership in the water…

The Colorado Water Congress is going through the Colorado Supreme Court to try to keep the measures off the ballot.

Here’s the CWC’s summary of the initiatives and the sponsor responses to CWC staff questions.

Mr. Doe was at the Downstream Neighbor 2012 Symposium last week and said that they had a huge task ahead of them in collecting enough signatures. He asked the attendees for help. I gave him my business card with the hopes that he would contact me so that I can sit down with him with a few questions. So far I haven’t heard from him. Mr. Doe?

More coverage from Catharine Tsai writing for the Associated Press via CBS4Denver.com. From the article:

Denver-area resident Phillip Doe has proposed amending the constitution to highlight the clause saying streams are public property – and making the public ownership legally superior to longstanding water rights, contracts or property law. A related proposal would spell out in the constitution that water rights can be constricted to prohibit uses that would harm the public’s ownership in the water, and water that goes back into rivers would have to be returned unimpaired.

“It reaffirms and reasserts that the public of Colorado owns the water, and the state has an obligation to protect the public’s interests,” said attorney Richard Hamilton, who is working with Doe…

Efforts are under way to keep Doe’s proposals from making the ballot. The Colorado Water Congress, which includes water users and state agencies, is asking the Colorado Supreme Court to decide whether each proposal properly asks voters to consider only one issue.

Doe said if voters approve the proposals, farmers may not be able to exercise their water rights on rivers during droughts, for example, if that would dry up a river. He also said the proposals could prevent water from being used for hydraulic fracturing, though he said that wasn’t his intent in promoting the proposals.

Doe said he’s been disappointed with Front Range water providers’ plans to tap the Fraser and Cache la Poudre rivers to serve growing cities. Strengthening public’s ownership in state waters would prevent rivers from being polluted or depleted, he said.

“We’re down to our last drop of water. It’s time the public starts asserting its right to that which it owns,” Doe said…

“It’s too extreme, it’s too reckless,” Western Resource Advocates spokesman Jason Bane said of Doe’s proposals. “At the same time, we understand why this is coming up.”

More 2012 Colorado November election coverage here.

Protect the Flows hopes to galvanize business interests the are dependent on wet water in the Colorado River

coloradoriverbasin.jpg

From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjun):

[Zeke Hersh], the owner of Frisco’s Blue River Anglers joined a contingent of six who voiced the message of Protect the Flows, a brand-new, grassroots organization dedicated to raising awareness of water supply and related jobs in the Colorado River system — from the headwaters to the delta. The group represented river-related business interests from Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, Hersh said, adding that the group isn’t just gaining traction by sitting with legislators and leaders in the nation’s environmental governance. It’s also building a broader base, growing from 170 companies to 370 companies involved in the effort from its start in summer 2011 to today.

The goal in going to D.C. was to urge the Department of the Interior and legislators to consider plans that will employ smart, common-sense strategies to keep the Colorado River flowing when they finalize the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Supply & Demand Study this summer.

Now that the “Options and Strategies Phase” of the Colorado River Supply and Demand Study is closed, submitted proposals will be considered and evaluated through June 2012. Upon completion, the study will define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years, and will provide adaptation and mitigation strategies to resolve those imbalances…

As an angler, a guide, and a mountain biker who likes to cruise Moab, Utah and cool off afterwards in the lazy Colorado River that flows through town, Hersh said he can help provide valuable, first-hand insight into the river’s impact throughout the West. It goes far beyond drinking water needs and agricultural impact, he said. The message of Protect the Flows is that more than 800,000 jobs in the West (107,000 and more than $10 billion into the Colorado’s economy alone) come directly from the river, and those people must be considered when the fate of the water supply is considered…

While in DC, the business leaders asked the Department of Interior to implement a plan that will improve urban conservation, improve agricultural efficiency and provide options for existing water storage that will allow for keeping more water in the river. The coalition touts these measures as a way to balance supply and demand to continue to serve the 36 million who rely on the waterway for drinking water and protect the 800,000 river-related tourism and recreation jobs across the seven Colorado River Basin states.

“Department of Interior’s keen leadership is the key to ensuring that the Colorado River Basin Study results in solutions that will benefit all parties,” said Sarah Sidwell, sales director for Tag-A-Long Expeditions in Moab, Utah and member of the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce…

In D.C., they presented some viable ideas for handling the plethora of water issues facing the West, including the extremely difficult task of reworking the complicated water law. Water banks are first on the list, Hersh said. Initiated in Arizona, it allows those holding water rights to override the “use it or lose it” rule of thumb in years of excess flows. These folks can use what they need, and bank the rest for credit later. In the meantime, someone else can buy or borrow the water…

“Jobs are very important right now. We do not want to lose one job,” Hersh said … as we decide how to manage the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Chris Treese (Colorado River District): ‘We’re very concerned about any large project of any kind for Eastern or Western Colorado’

uppercoloradoriverbasinstatesultimatum09011925denverpost.jpg

Mr. Treese was speaking at the Southern Colorado Water Forum this week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We’re very concerned about any large project of any kind for Eastern or Western Colorado,” Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River Conservation District, told the Southern Colorado Water Forum earlier this week…

Colorado’s weather has been, and will continue to be, unpredictable, however. Water availability is dependent on snowpack, and some climate projections claim there will be less snow in the mountains in the next century. But while warmer temperatures appear to be certain, the jury’s still out on the effect on precipitation levels. “It could be more or it could be less,” Treese said. “One thing is certain: The growing season will be longer, driving up demand.”

At one point, Treese portrayed the Colorado River district as a David facing two Goliaths: demand from Colorado’s Front Range for more water and demand from downstream states in the Colorado River Compact…

If one hiked along the western side of the Continental Divide in North-Central Colorado, only three streams that are not part of a diversion project would be crossed, Treese said…

Last year, several counties and water districts announced the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water that set out certain payments and water deliveries that will allow Denver to divert and store more water in Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County. Such cooperative deals make sense and show that the Western Slope does not deserve its “Not One Drop” reputation, Treese said.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.