A review of flooding impacts on the oil patch is underway #COflood

Flooded well site September 2013 -- Denver Post
Flooded well site September 2013 — Denver Post
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

After last month’s Front Range flooding tore through oil and gas facilities, causing some tanks to leak and even become unmoored, employees with the energy producer Encana noticed an interesting trend. Although Encana’s tanks were damaged, the company didn’t experience the kind of damage that some other companies did from trees falling on tanks or being swept into them. As it happens, Encana spokesman Doug Hock said, the company typically fences in well pads where it operates in the flooded area because its operations there tend to be in more densely populated areas. While the fences weren’t installed for flooding purposes, they ended up helping keep out debris.

“It was kind of an ah-ha, light-bulb moment to say, going forward we should do this because it helped protect those pads,” Hock said.

As the energy industry continues cleaning up after the flooding and bringing wells back on line, companies, regulators and environmental advocates are all looking increasingly at what lessons can be learned from the disaster — what went wrong, what went right, and what can be done to reduce problems in the case of future flooding. Eventually, this consideration will likely turn to what possibly should be required of the industry in the future, including in terms of floodplain and riparian regulations.

“I’d like to see us get a stakeholder group together to evaluate and assess the floods and also see what worked, what didn’t work, what we can make better” in terms of oil and gas operations, said state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat who earlier this year got legislation passed tightening oil and gas spill reporting requirements.

Alan Gilbert, special assistant for flood response to state Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King, said while it’s still early, the department and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff are evaluating how things went during the flood and what can be improved in the future, including possibly through new regulations.

“We take that very seriously. We think that’s true, we should do that and that’s what we will do,” he said.

INITIAL ALARM

Photos of floating tanks and reports of leaks alarmed Front Range residents concerned about oil and gas drilling there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who shares some residents’ general concerns over drilling, called in late September for a congressional hearing on the flood-induced oil and gas damage.

“Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public health disasters,” he said in announcing that request.

More recently, though, state health officials reported no evidence of pollutants from oil and gas spills in rivers and streams affected by flooding, even as it found in some areas high levels of E. coli from sewage contamination. That contamination amounted to many millions of gallons, whereas as of Friday 47,106 gallons of oil and 28,149 gallons of produced water from drilling were reported spilled.

Gilbert voiced some relief over no single catastrophic release or cumulative collection of spilled oil or other contaminants being found so far.

“It’s an emergency and a tragedy and a terrible situation but this aspect of it is on the side where we are grateful for less rather than more contamination and releases,” he said.

Although the sheer volume of floodwaters heavily diluted what spills occurred, oil and gas activist Dave Devanney of Battlement Mesa said he shares the concerns of Front Range residents about what happened there.

“Any time you have volatile organic compounds and … chemicals in the waterways, that’s an issue. No matter how much it’s diluted it’s still there, and I think it’s something that the oil and gas conservation commission should be taking a look at and ensuring that there’s adequate protections for future oil and gas development at or near water sources.”

He noted last winter’s natural gas liquids leak from a pipeline leaving a Williams gas processing plant outside Parachute. Contamination reached Parachute Creek and threatened the Colorado River.

“We don’t want to see that happen again,” he said.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Devanney believes preventing such problems means having the oil and gas commission take up the issue of riparian setbacks, which were unfinished business from its comprehensive 2008 rules rewrite, except for setbacks it established to protect municipal water supplies.

“The events of the last few weeks on the Front Range demonstrate that it’s an important topic that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Devanney said.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, agrees.

“I mean, this is just an unfinished topic of conversation,” he said. “… If this isn’t a wake-up call to take a look at those issues I don’t know what would be.”

Noble Energy, which like Encana also has operations in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, reported four floodwater-related releases totaling about 9,000 gallons. But it also points to several things it believes minimized flood-related damage, including proactive emergency response training of more than 150 workers on the Front Range, and automatic technology that let it shut in 85 percent of its wells remotely, with almost all the rest being manually shut in by the time the water reached flood level.

“Overall, our equipment held up amazingly well and was a testament to our engineering and facility design,” the company said in an emailed response to inquiries for this story.

“… We believe we can successfully operate in the flood plain, as proven by this event. We are in the process of evaluating our operations in and around flood plains, and we’re working with the state of Colorado and all stakeholders on how we can improve future preparedness. We will use lessons learned to create new best management practices in those areas.”

WELL DAMAGE SLIGHT

Gilbert said the industry’s proactive effort to shut in wells ahead of the flooding, oftentimes through automated means, was a significant action because it was designed to ensure fluids aren’t moving up wells if the wells are damaged.

Of note was that damage to wells in general was relatively slight compared to the more significant tank damage that occurred, he said. And like Encana, the state has noticed the extra protection that metal fences or berms seemed to provide to tanks and other infrastructure.

“We will take a look at that in more detail and talk to everybody to find what their experiences were as well with that,” he said.

He said something else of note applied to tank batteries in wetlands. State rules require them to be tied down, but companies do so in different ways, some “relatively flimsy,” he said.

“We have noticed some of those ways have held better than others,” he said.

The degree to which it will be left to companies to apply lessons learned as they see fit, as opposed to being required to do so by state rules, is likely to be one of the decisions oil and gas regulators will be left to make.

“Why wouldn’t we require best practices? Why shouldn’t we hold the oil and gas industry to the highest possible standard?” Conservation Colorado’s Maysmith said. “I think the answer is, we should.”

Maysmith also has been critical of the state for not requiring rather than requesting information from the industry pertaining to the status of facilities potentially impacted by flooding. But Gilbert said it hasn’t mattered whether the state asked or required: “The industry is giving us the information we’re asking for.”

WITHHOLDING JUDGMENT

Mitsch Bush, who sits on the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, credited both the oil and gas commission staff and the industry for their post-flooding responses, and said it’s still too soon to know what regulatory or other changes should occur due to what the flooding has taught the state.

“I don’t want to be jumping to any conclusions. … Let’s get all the input from all the sides on what happened and get some technical assessment from (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and COGCC and really understand the impacts,” she said.

The flooding only added to the highly contentious debate over oil and gas development on the Front Range, but Encana’s Hock believes a lot of the more strident voices critical of the industry as it pertains to flood impacts “are opposed to oil and gas whether there’s a flood or not. So that really didn’t change anything.”

For Maysmith, things such as the flooding and the Parachute Creek contamination demonstrate the need to protect an important natural resource in the West.

“We’ve got to be asking ourselves, are we doing all we can to protect our water sources?” he said.

He worries when he sees well pads close to creeks, and knows tanks can be knocked over or other things can cause leaks and benzene and other toxic substances to reach waterways.

“That says we have a problem. That says we don’t have this figured out,” he said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

While ruptured oil and gas infrastructure was part of the problem when it came to the recent Front Range flooding, the energy industry also was part of the solution in terms of providing flood relief. Companies have contributed more than $2 million to American Red Cross relief efforts. Some of the donations initially were prompted by a $500,000 contribution by Noble Energy, a major Front Range oil and gas developer that also has operations in Garfield County. Noble challenged other Colorado Oil & Gas Association members to match its gift and raise a total of $1 million, an amount that now has been more than doubled.

At last report, donations by COGA members had reached about $2.15 million. That doesn’t include donations from company employees or company matches for those donations. It also doesn’t include relief-related contributions from companies who are not members of COGA, such as Encana, which contributed $250,000 to local United Way entities and other organizations assisting in relief. Some of the COGA-member contributors with Western Slope operations include Chevron ($250,000), ConocoPhillips ($200,000), Whiting Petroleum ($100,000), Bill Barrett Corp. ($25,000), Marathon Oil Co. ($10,000), Calfrac ($5,000) and Black Hills Exploration and Production ($2,500). Utility Xcel Energy gave $50,000.

“Their members have been a very generous supporter of our flood relief as well as donating to our general disaster relief over the last month,” said Patricia Billinger, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Colorado.

She said her organization’s flood-relief costs alone at this point are around $7 million, and it has received flood-designated donations of about $4 million. But general-relief donations also have helped enable the organization to respond to continuing other needs such as families left homeless by house fires.

“The recovery process is going to be long, and for some, very difficult,” Michael DeBerry, area manager for a business unit of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., a Chevron subsidiary with operations in Colorado, said in a news release. “We want the people who have been affected by these devastating storms to know that they are in our hearts. With longstanding ties to Colorado, we hope this donation eases the hardship.”

COGA has said that in cases in which companies’ personnel and equipment could be freed up, they were made available for rescue and relief efforts, such as by providing pumps, trucks and earth-moving equipment to affected communities.

Noble says its employees bought and delivered 14 truck- and SUV-loads of relief supplies for one shelter, and served meals three times a day for five days at shelters in Greeley and Evans, and 60 of its workers processed and sorted 57,000 pounds of food in a day for the Weld County Food Bank. The company and a contractor also provided 200 portable toilets in Evans, where a no-flush rule was in effect.

The company also has matched $40,000 in employee donations.

“We have 450 employees who live and work in the Greeley area, where we have operated more than 30 years — we are committed for the long-term,” Noble said in a prepared statement.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought news: Welcome moisture in the San Luis Valley #COdrought

From the Valley Courier:

Wet weather is swelling the streams, and it is making all the difference. The latest reports from the Division III Engineer’s Office show a gain in the Valley’s stream flows and aquifer, a result of the high precipitation the early autumn season brought the region. The Rio Grande’s projected annual index supply as of Oct. 8 is 450,000 acre-feet , which is 150,000 acre-feet more than forecasts predicted, according to the reports. The increase, however, creates a higher demand on the Rio Grande Compact, up to 25 percent, requiring Colorado to deliver a total of 112,000 acre-feet from the river. This month, the Rio Grande’s estimated to see a 47,700 acre-foot stream flow and a 31,000 acre-foot stream flow in November and December combined, according to the reports.

Curtailments are at 18-percent, three times what they were previously because of the flow increase.
Daily flows have stabilized at about 900 acre-feet at the Rio Grande at Del Norte, having dropped in the last few weeks, according to the reports. For the time of year, daily averages are usually 500 acre-feet.

The Rio Grande obligations include sending 8,600 acre-feet downstream this month and an additional estimated 29,700 acre-feet by the end of the year, which is ultimately expected to under deliver 3,000 acre-feet from the Rio Grande, according to the report. The remaining Closed Basin Project share is 1,900 acre-feet , and its allocation is 100 percent.

“We are delivering water to the river,” said Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manger (RGWCD ) Steve Vandiver during the RGWCD quarterly board meeting on Tuesday. “We are meeting our obligations.”

The Conejos River looks like it will over deliver 7,000 acre-feet downstream to satisfy its Rio Grande Compact obligations, according to the reports. Its total obligation is 20,000 acre-feet, which it will easily meet since the river has a 27,000 acre-foot delivery credit. Estimates show the Conejos River will flow at 7,400 acre-feet this month, and at 7,700 acre-feet in November and December combined. There have been zero curtailments on the Conejos River this year, according to the reports. The obligations, however, could change depending on when Division III Engineer Craig Cotten sets the irrigation shut off date. Right now, he said during the meeting, he is considering Nov. 1, but he has yet to consult with the producers and consider their needs and understanding of the current water condition.

RGWCD confined aquifer monitoring reports show gains in several Valley test wells. Two wells in Alamosa County have increased 1.32 and 4.36 feet since 2012, and two Saguache County wells have increased .63 and 3.47 feet, according to the report. The 12 other test wells showed less promise. The highest decline is in Conejos County, minus 16.8 feet, and the lowest in Alamosa County, minus .06 feet. The average difference is minus 2.43 feet, according to the report.

“Rain and a lack of pumping is helping with significant recharge,” Vandiver said. “It is increasing the aquifer levels. The monitoring wells showed a nice response. It did what it should in these conditions.”

Only a small amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing in northern Colorado is recycled

The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates
The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

In Northern Colorado, estimates have put water recycling levels at just 2 percent of water used for fracking.

Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL), for example, has recycled about 2 percent of its water so far this year, or 600,000 barrels, said Adam Prior, technical water specialist for the company. Noble Energy, one of the largest oil companies in Northern Colorado, is working with CSU to improve its water recycling capabilities, but most of its water still comes from water wells and ponds.

“It’s not economical right now,” Prior told an audience at the 2013 Natural Gas Symposium on Wednesday. The CSU event drew hundreds of people from the oil and gas industry, environmentalists and students.

Prior was one of three panelists who spoke about the barriers to water recycling in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which includes Northern Colorado. The low cost of fresh water, prevalence of wells used by companies to dispose of used fracking to dispose of used fracking water, recycling infrastructure challenges and a lack of regulations have led to lower water-recycling levels in the region, panelists said…

Noble has improved its water-recycling program since 2011, when all of its water came from cities. Today, about 80 percent of Noble Energy’s water comes from ponds and wells, 18 percent comes from cities and 2 percent is recycled…

Increased water recycling by companies can improve people’s opinion of oil and gas companies, said David Ellerbroek, vice president of MWH Global, an engineering company focused on water.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘This is the last significant water rate increase we anticipate for the SDS project’ — Gary Bostrom

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Capital projects dominate the 2014 utilities budget with more than $391 million planned for construction, including $229 million for two massive projects, the Southern Delivery System and bringing the coal-fired Martin Drake and Ray Nixon power plants up to federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

To the residents, whose utility bills contribute 78 percent of the total utilities operating budget, it means rate hikes to pay for those capital projects. A typical residential customer can expect a $9.37 monthly increase in their utility bills next year, which includes $5.99 for a water rate increase that was approved last year and kicks in Jan. 1. The combined rate increases will bring in an additional $31 million.

Colorado Springs Utilities Chief Planning and Finance Officer Bill Cherrier presented the proposed 2014 utilities budget to the City Council, which doubles as the utilities board of directors…

Utilities is nearing the finish line with one of its largest projects – SDS, a 53-mile water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs. It’s a $1 billion project that started four years ago and amounted to four straight years of 10- and 12-percent water rate increases. In 2014, utilities will spend $178 million on SDS and expects to complete the project in 2016, said Gary Bostrom, chief of water services.

“This is the last significant water rate increase we anticipate for the SDS project,” Bostrom said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Climate.gov: What’s it like to be an author for the IPCC report?

Global temperature Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

From NOAA:

Today, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented 14 chapters, a Technical Summary, and a Summary for Policymakers to IPCC member governments for approval and acceptance. This report represents the first of four sections that will make up the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report. The Summary for Policymakers is available online, and the full Working Group 1 report, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis,” will be available next week.

For this latest report, more than 250 scientists from around the world evaluated all the peer-reviewed studies about climate change that were published or accepted for publication before April 2013. They presented new evidence to support a series of scientific conclusions: that climate change is real and caused by human activity, and that the need to address it is more urgent than ever.

Ron Stouffer and Gabriel Vecchi of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, N.J., share their experiences working on one of the most comprehensive scientific documents in history.

Gabe, this was your first time being a lead author for the IPCC report. How is this different from your day-to-day job at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory?

Gabe: It’s a whole host of commitments, being a lead author. My son was one year old when I left on my first IPCC trip. I didn’t want to be gone from my family for a week at that stage. And now he’s four years old and getting his first big boy bike. So it’s a really long-term commitment: four years of your professional life.

[Another difference is] the assessment report is not our own research. It’s our synthesis of the research that is in the published literature, some of which may be your own personal research and interpretations of the data. A fraction of your own work might make it into the report, or it might not. So you have to read a lot of papers—many more than you end up actually citing, because you’re trying to find some coherent structure within them or inconsistencies. And then, there’s the international aspect. There is a lot of travel, and there are a lot of phone meetings at weird hours because you want to involve people across all continents…

Ron: You haven’t mentioned the 50 million emails.

Gabe: Oh, and the emails! Emails and emails. What’s interesting is that as these emails come in, you can see the work day move around the planet. Because you’ll wake up in the morning and check your email and see the first email comes from your colleague in Hawaii, then your colleague in New Zealand, and then your colleague in Japan — all the way around. By the time a document has been handed off to you, it’s already been edited many times and you better do it in a hurry before your colleague in Chicago gets it.

So it’s a big commitment, but it also seems like a big honor. How did you both come to be a lead author?

Ron: I was at one of the first lead author meetings for Working Group I held anywhere on the planet. It was at GFDL in the late 1980s. I sat in on that meeting and I got interested in it. One of the following lead author meetings was in Brisbane, Australia, and my boss was a convening lead author. He didn’t want to fly all the way to Brisbane so instead, he sent me! That’s how I got involved in the process.

For the next three reports, I was involved in the process the whole time, serving as an author. I was also was involved in writing the Summary for Policymakers [for Working Group I] and the Summary for Policymakers for the Synthesis Report. For this latest report, I served as a reviewer.

Gabe: I first heard about [the IPCC] when I was in college in the ‘90s. In the news, they were talking about a climate change report that came out but I didn’t really know what it meant. I don’t think I ever thought I’d be a part of it. At the time, I was more focused on things like El Niño and variability in my research. Climate change wasn’t on my scientific radar. Then I came to GFDL and was surrounded by a lot of different people who did climate change research. Little by little, I started shifting my research interests to include more and more the climate change problem.

At the laboratory, an email went around asking us if any of us were interested in being lead authors, contributing authors, or review editors, and for which chapters we were willing to do it. So I submitted my name and listed the chapters that I would want to do. From that point, a collection of nominations must have gone up the chain. The United States State Department sent a set of names out to be evaluated by the United Nations so that they could see if they had the right combination of experts and so forth.

At some point, in early 2010, I got an email that I had been selected and asked if I would still be willing to be a lead author on Chapter 11 [of the 5th Assessment Report]. This chapter wasn’t in the previous reports. It focuses on how variability and change come together to give you the climate that you’re likely to see over the next few decades. It was a broadening of my horizons and a broadening of the IPCC’s horizons. It was a neat opportunity.

So at first, there’s this feeling: “Wow, they selected me, how nice.“ And then: ”Wait a second, now I have to decide. Am I really willing to do this or not?” It actually took a while to decide because it’s not just a commitment of my time, it’s a commitment from my family. We eventually decided that yes, it was going to be a lot of work, but it was worth it and an important contribution. So I accepted.

Are you glad you did it?

Gabe: Ha! Ask me in a few weeks…. Personally, by the time the review round came around, I was so burnt out I had a hard time providing feedback for other chapters. It was tough. Going into it, you think you know what you’re getting into but you don’t really know until you’ve done it. I think now I can reflect a little because my role in it is pretty much done.

But in addition to the sense of participating in what is a very important enterprise, I think there have been some interesting questions that I’ve thought about for future work. There are some interesting relationships I’ve developed throughout this process that are good for me, some potential collaborations.

Ron, for this latest report, you helped design and evaluate the IPCC modeling experiments that took place in advance of the forthcoming report. Why must modeling experiments be designed specifically for the IPCC process?

Ron: The way you phrased it is a very common misconception. Actually, the CMIP [Coupled Model Intercomparison Project] panel—a subcommittee of the World Climate Research Programme—designs experiments to get at the science, to understand: why do models behave like they do? The lead authors of the IPCC can use that data, but so can other scientists who write papers on what they find. Those papers end up being a part of the assessment process that Gabe went through this time. But CMIP doesn’t design experiments for the IPCC per se; it designs them for the science.

Gabe: So, for example, rather than have this report scattered about with, for example, one figure that is an anomaly relevant to 1971-2000, and another that is an anomaly relevant to pre-industrial climate, you have to come up with some consistent way of showing the results. The CMIP models become a tool by which you can do that. But then, you shouldn’t be making figures that present some sort of new result or level of understanding that is not contained in previously published papers.

Most scientific papers in journals are the collaboration between a small group of scientists, and are peer-reviewed by two or three experts. The IPCC report, on the other hand, is based on the work of more than 250 scientists and experts from nearly 40 countries who receive more than 50,000 review comments. How do the report’s authors work together to ultimately reach the scientific conclusions that make it into the final report?

Gabe: Before the IPCC lead authors are even contacted and decided upon, there’s a scoping meeting that occurs that identifies what the layout of the IPCC report will be, what the chapters will be and what the scope of each chapter will be.

Then comes the process of combing the literature. Papers start trickling in. You and your co-authors share them with each other, you start collecting them, you put them in piles, and your office ends up looking like a horror show. In this whole process, you’re writing what will be become the zero order draft. It’s called zero order because it’s really rough, it hasn’t had much feedback. So you write that, and you send that in for review. The review is usually incredibly harsh, and rightly so.

Ron: It’s called a ”friendly” review because it’s only a select handful of scientists that are invited to comment on specific chapters in this review round. It’s not like the other reviews where anyone can ask to be a reviewer. I think Gabe had the misfortune of having me as one of his reviewers this last time. I had the easy job!

Gabe: Yeah, Ron had the easy time. His job was to read the report and just start hurling things over the fence at me saying, “Fix it.” And then I had to fix it. With every draft’s review process, you argue, you debate with your co-authors, and you try to figure out how you’re going to respond to the comments. Each draft has more references, a cleaner structure, cleaner results, cleaner assessments.

Ron: The first draft goes out for expert review — only people who can claim some level of expertise on the manner. That’s a big group of people. Climate science is a very integrative science. There are statisticians, civil engineers, amateur scientists, physicists — they can all claim expertise, and rightly so. The second draft goes out to experts as well as reviewers selected by all the countries involved, and the third extends the circle to non-governmental organizations.

Gabe: Meanwhile, you’ve got to make sure that your chapter is consistent with the other chapters. You argue with other chapter authors over who is going to say what. Each chapter has a certain number of words and certain things need to be included. We’re fighting under a tight space constraint. Well, I shouldn’t say fight…

Ron: It’s a negotiated settlement!

Gabe: Right! And then the fourth draft, or last draft, is what comes out [this week], along with the Summary for Policymakers. Whatever ends up in the Summary for Policymakers must match what’s in the assessment chapters. And each bit of text in those chapters is supported by published literature. So you can see, these statements are incredibly buttressed. Literally every line has been reviewed.

Wow, it sounds like there is a lot of debate throughout this process. How do disputes get resolved?

Gabe: I think where there are truly scientific disagreements, in my experience, we highlight it in the report. If we can’t come to consensus, we don’t come to consensus. We explain that this particular topic remains a challenge and explain why it is a challenge. And then somebody researching this down the line will hopefully come and take a look at that, and find a way to reconcile the disagreement, maybe by proving somebody wrong.

Ron: For example, during the process when the Summary for Policymakers is approved, if the representatives can’t agree on specific words or phrasing or points, what will happen is they will actually make footnotes and they’ll say “Countries A, B, and C do not agree to this statement.” That has not happened on Working Group I reports but it’s happened on Working Group II and III reports.

You know, I’ve always said that scientists are trained to not talk about what they agree on but focus on their disagreements. But the IPCC is a process that is about 180 degrees off of that. The idea is to find consensus among a group of authors and then to clearly define the places of disagreement. Scientists love to spend all their time arguing about the disagreements rather than the agreements. But in the IPCC writing, most of the writing should be about the agreement part, the consensus part. It’s a different kind of process for most scientists and one that we’re not well trained for. You have to learn how to do it.

Gabe: What we do, our main topics of research, and our own main interpretations of the data and the theory, are generally foremost in our mind. But this is a process that is much more explicit about considering the other — looking at the big picture and the broad evidence. This is one aspect that is very unique about this report: the extent to which it considers many different points of view. It makes you have to take a much humbler view of your own work. It’s very, very different. What comes out of the process is a much more robust assessment of our state of understanding and the way the world works.

Is there anyone that is just flat-out skeptical of the science?

Ron: Skeptic is one of those interesting words because scientists are supposed to be skeptical by nature. So having that as a moniker for a set of people who don’t believe in global warming, I don’t like that very much.

Gabe: I would hope that the reviewers were all to some degree skeptical of what was written [in the initial drafts]. They wouldn’t be very helpful reviewers if not. Everyone with expertise on the matter was included by the review structure of the process.

Have some of the conclusions remained the same from the last report, or even from the very first one? What can we expect to learn from the latest report?

Ron: The pattern of warming hasn’t changed much. The statements about certainty are becoming more certain over time about the human influence on climate. Climate change by 2100 — that story is not going to change much from past reports. The new thing on this report is actually taking a hard look at near-term climate change over the next several decades.

Gabe: For global mean temperature a hundred years from now, I think it very much becomes a story of CO2. Things in the middle part of the next century, from now until somewhat closer than mid-21st century, become a very subtle and interesting question, especially as you look regionally. CO2 is an important player in timescales of decades, but it’s not the only player. There are other elements at play, such as other trace gases, changes in aerosols — not what comes out of the spray can but little particles of soot and dust in the air. There are also modes of natural variation in climate such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or the variations that arise when the North Atlantic circulation speeds up and slows down.

The chapter for which I served as a lead author for the latest IPCC report focuses on how variability and change come together to give you the climate that you’re likely to see over the next few decades. As we look at the last 10-15 years and as we’re looking forward, we need to look at how the rate at which we force climate change — be it from [increased levels of] carbon dioxide or aerosols — and natural climate instability are intertwined. Understanding what will happen at any given place or at any given period of time that is shorter than the next 100 years really involves considering these aspects of climate science together.

We’ve heard about some of the challenges inherent in being an IPCC contributor: time away from family, extra hours spent working, the vast amount of feedback you need to address during the writing process. But what are some of the rewards?

Gabe: Well, a lot of them are intangible. There’s the sense that you’ve contributed to an important project. So I can look back and say, I did my part as a scientist. As scientists, it’s our responsibility to make sure this report is written in as correct a manner as possible. I mean, really, it’s very much community service.

Ron: For one of the previous reports, I went through the process of finalizing the Summary for Policymakers. The Summary for Policymakers is approved by representatives from all the countries, and it’s a process that typically takes about 3 days. It goes day and night. It’s incredibly intense. I’ve been involved in these things where I was awake for 36 straight hours in conferences and meetings, talking about the wording. They literally go through it line by line.

The people who set up the IPCC originally were trying to divorce the arguments over the science from the political arguments of what to do about the science. During the Summary for Policymakers approval process, you see those two forces intersect and you can see it happening right in front of you as a participant in that process. You know, there were folks that had agendas that were obvious and there were folks who were just trying to communicate the science better, trying to get the wording right. That was a very eye-opening experience for me. It was a fascinating process and it gave me a much larger sense of community service than I had before I went through that.

More climate change coverage here and here.

Slow recovery for immigrants left homeless from September flooding #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From KUNC (Kirk Siegler):

A woman named Claudia, who doesn’t want to use her last name because of her immigration status, is sitting on a couch in the lobby of a shabby hotel in Greeley, about an hour’s drive northeast of Denver.

She’s come because a friend has been staying here. Both women lost their homes when the floodwaters wiped out the mobile home park in the nearby town of Evans.

“Where can we go?” Claudia says in Spanish. “We lost everything in the floods — all of our clothes, everything, from our 10 years living here.”

Her husband is trying to keep his construction job. The family has been told that they qualify for FEMA assistance because her youngest daughter was born in the U.S. and is a citizen. But the agency is still processing their application, and she doesn’t know if it’s been approved.

The rental market here was already tight due to an oil boom. The women say landlords are preying on them, asking them questions like: “Have you received FEMA money? How much did you receive? What is your immigration status?” And the county hasn’t returned her calls for help finding an apartment.

These are common stories being told right now across this flooded region, where thousands of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador have flocked to jobs in the fields and the dairy and meatpacking industries.

Colorado Foundation for Water Education Energy Tour November 8

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Forest Service
Directional drilling from one well site via the National Forest Service

Click here for the pitch.

‘The Town of Fraser is locked in an epic battle with beavers on the Fraser River’ — Reid Tulley

North American beaver (Castor canadensis)
North American beaver (Castor canadensis)

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

Dams have caused flooding on portions of the Fraser River Trail, closing the trail for longer than three weeks.

Other municipalities would just exterminate the creatures for damaging a town asset such as the Fraser River Trail, said Town Manager Jeff Durbin. But according to Durbin “we take a more friendly approach in this community.”

The town isn’t in the business of beaver brutality, he said, and doesn’t necessarily want to remove all of the beavers from that particular section of the river.

What the town is planning to do is to “strategically remove” the beavers causing the biggest problems. This process involves bringing in trappers to capture the beavers alive and relocate the rodents, according to Durbin. The process of live trapping and relocating the beavers also requires the approval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure where the beavers are relocated can sustain the animals.

More Fraser River coverage here and here.

United Water: Chambers Reservoir beginning to fill

Weld County Farmers Union: ‘…secession is not a solution’

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Agriculture is one of the industries Weld County commissioners say they’re standing up for in their push to secede from Colorado, but some members of the industry this week spoke out against the commission’s ongoing secession efforts.

“We recognize there is a disconnect between rural and urban communities, but we also agree secession is not a solution,” states a special resolution adopted by Weld County Farmers Union members attending the organization’s recent annual meeting.

Weld County commissioners since this summer have spoken out in favor of creating a new state to allow northeast Colorado’s robust agriculture and oil and gas industries to thrive under regulations of their own design — rules different than those created through the influence of the state’s urban lawmakers. Commissioners have said a collective mass of issues have accumulated during the past several years that isolate rural Colorado from the rest of the state and put those rural counties at a disadvantage. They’ve specifically made reference to state regulations impacting agriculture and oil and gas.

“We all appreciate that rural communities, along with farmers and ranchers, seem to have less of a voice each year,” said Ray Peterson, president of Weld County Farmers Union, in a news release. “Action to withdraw into a 51st state does not solve the larger problems. All this will do is isolate us even more. Maybe we need to do some serious analyzing as to why our rural message is not getting though.”

However, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said Thursday he and other commissioners are hearing from many others in the ag community that they are fed up with disconnect between rural Colorado and urban lawmakers and still support the secession movement.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Weld County Farm Bureau, a separate ag organization, had not officially spoken out in favor or against the 51st state movement, according to its board members.

Peterson is a former Colorado state senator who operates the ranch on which he was born, northeast of Nunn.

“I grew up appreciating the values of rural Colorado. But I see secession as a reactionary response to legislative actions at the state capitol,” Peterson said. “To withdraw will cause further fragmentation of Colorado. We need to be working together to iron out differences.”

Weld County Farmers Union members said in their news release they believe people need to know there are residents of the county who are not in favor of forming a 51st state.

Peterson said residents of Weld County would be better served if their elected officials worked with their counterparts in both rural and urban communities to find common ground. Otherwise, Weld County residents run the risk of being locked into a situation that has short-term uncertainty and potentially long-term harm.

From Aljazeera America (Sandra Fish):

On Nov. 5, residents in Weld and 10 other counties will vote on whether to start the process to create a 51st state. Those counties account for 24 percent of Colorado’s landmass, but only about 7 percent of the state’s 5 million people.

It’s a quixotic effort, and one not unique to northern Colorado, that highlights the deep divisions between urban and rural — or, at least, the sense of disconnectedness that residents of rural America are feeling. Two northern California counties recently voted to leave their state. There’s an effort underway in western Maryland.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Julie Taylor, co-owner of Gilcrest Farm Supply.

Gilcrest is about 40 miles northwest of the college town of Boulder, which is often held up as a poster child of all that’s wrong with urban Colorado. Taylor said the recent floods in Boulder and Weld counties are an example of the differences between urban and rural life.

“Around here, it was more worry about how’s it going to affect your livelihood, with animals and crops,” she said. “In Boulder, it was ‘How are we going to get around?’”[…]

Jeffrey Hare, a spokesman and organizer for the 51st State Initiative, said gun control legislation — universal background checks and magazine capacity limits — and laws requiring higher renewable energy standards for rural electric cooperatives are part of the impetus for the movement.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to accomplish is better representation for rural America and more direct representation,” Hare said. “We have a disenfranchised class of voters, that are smaller and don’t have the votes to fend for their values.”

A new state, he said, “would provide a better check-and-balance for the urban-rural divide. It would also provide check-and-balance for the Republican-Democratic divide.”

That political divide may be the real root of the problem, said Daniel Lichter, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University who specializes in rural demographics.

“You’ve got a tea party that is disproportionately rural, it’s disproportionately white. They are oftentimes anti-government,” Lichter said. “They see urban America, urban minorities taking over their country.

“I think we have a very big cultural gap between urban and rural America at the moment, with rural states having a whole different set of cultural values.”

That gap is evident at both the local and national levels, Lichter said. But even rural areas differ, as Jess Haynes pointed out in a conversation break while studying at Zoe’s Café in Greeley recently.

Haynes grew up in the rural mountains of Park County and has worked in the ski town of Breckenridge.

“It’s very high income, a lot more liberal, a lot more tolerant,” she said of the mountain towns. “A lot of my friends who are in the agricultural rural (region), it’s a lot more conservative, more politically right, more of a work-ethic based as opposed to play … It’s a more somber, less frivolous society.”

Here’s a guest column written by Dave Young that’s running in The Greeley Tribune:

Voters in Weld and a handful of other Colorado counties will soon have the opportunity to weigh in on the notion of seceding from Colorado and forming a separate, 51st state. As a proud native Coloradan, I have deep misgivings about the idea.

The secessionists insist that the state government isn’t concerned with anything outside the Denver metro area. Yet Gov. John Hickenlooper and members of his administration have been spending a lot of time lately in Weld County and other rural areas hammered by last month’s flooding.

The flood illustrates a critical point: We’re all in this together. Hickenlooper, just like his predecessors, takes seriously his role as governor of all of Colorado. He and state officials on both sides of the aisle are making sure the state is doing everything it can to provide short-term relief in all flood-ravaged areas and to marshal the funds to rebuild damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

When the floods came, volunteer first responders converged on Weld County from around the state. Our Colorado National Guard engineers and civilian crews hired by the state are working feverishly to rebuild U.S. 34 and other storm-damaged roads and bridges before winter sets in. I’m grateful for their effort. A vote to secede is hardly a way of saying thanks, and it could undermine the recovery.

The state’s attention is not just a one-time disaster relief effort. A recent I-News report estimates that Colorado spends between $60 million and $120 million more per year in the 11 counties considering secession than it receives from those counties in taxes and fees.

Regardless of the outcome of next month’s vote, secession would require the approval of the Colorado Legislature, the U.S. Congress and, probably, the voters of Colorado. It’s next to impossible to envision the Legislative and popular majorities that would both be needed to partition Colorado. It’s equally inconceivable that Congress would ever vote to set a dangerous national precedent by breaking up a state.

The only state formed without the blessing of its “parent” state was West Virginia, which split from Virginia in 1863. Because Virginia had seceded from the Union in 1861, and because the nation was in the middle of the Civil War to reverse the secession of Virginia and the other Confederate states, the U.S. Congress welcomed any move to weaken Virginia, and unilaterally recognized the upstart West Virginia government.

Those were extraordinary circumstances, when the issues of the day were nothing less than preserving the Union and abolishing slavery. By contrast, the North Colorado secessionists seem most worried about the changes to our renewable energy standard. But as even the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union points out, “Wind development in Weld and Logan counties has had a positive economic impact for those counties, leading to around $2.5 billion of private investment in infrastructure just in those counties.” The new standard will create even more investment and more jobs.

Many in Weld County and northeastern Colorado feel Denver isn’t listening. I share their frustration. If the secession vote is meant to send a message that we need more dialogue, then I hear you loud and clear. But the fix for a breakdown in dialogue is better and more productive dialogue, not a divorce.

Different areas of this state will disagree now and then, but we all have a role to play in making Colorado great.

I’m proud to represent House District 50 and its residents, and I’m working hard to make our voices heard in Denver in a constructive way. I urge a no vote on secession.

State Rep. Dave Young’s House District 50 includes Greeley, Garden City and Evans.

Here’s a guest column written by Sean Conway that’s running in The Greeley Tribune:

As a Coloradan and Weld County resident, did you watch with alarm as the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation this past session that went after our farmers, ranchers and small business owners?

Do you remember where you were in June when you heard Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened in the execution of Nathan Dunlap despite more than two decades of judicial review and the Colorado Supreme Court upholding his conviction for the cold-blooded murder of teenagers working at Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora? Did you have a sense of outrage?

Do you remember seeing our legislators last March ignoring the pleas of law enforcement, sheriffs and police chiefs to not pass into law unconstitutional and unenforceable gun control laws in Colorado just because the mayor of New York City demanded they do so?

Are you embarrassed that Colorado college students and their families who qualify for in-state tuition pay more to go to CU, CSU or UNC than they would pay in out-of-state tuition for the University of Wyoming or other state universities in the Rocky Mountain region?

Are you tired of seeing hundreds of millions of dollars generated by oil and gas production in Weld County going to Denver to fund K-12 school districts in the metro areas, while our Weld County districts have some of the worst per-pupil funding levels in Colorado?

Then vote yes on Question 1A, the statehood question on this year’s ballot, to send a clear message to Denver that we need a change.

Hickenlooper and the current leadership in the General Assembly have too long ignored Weld County and rural Colorado. They have supported anti-agriculture, anti-oil and gas and anti-small business legislation that, if fully enacted, will destroy our economy and very way of life in Weld County.

In the summer of 2012, when farmers asked the governor to invoke the same emergency powers he used to help put out the wildfires — emergency powers that would help farmers in Weld County and northeastern Colorado save their crops from a devastating drought — he said no. It is time to send a message that that was wrong, and everyone in a time of need should be treated equally.

When urban legislators passed Senate Bill 252, imposing renewable energy mandates on rural REA’s and co-ops and then exempting their own municipal utilities and Xcel from those same standards, it was hypocritical and wrong. Still, Hickenlooper signed the bill into law. It is time to send a message that this type of selective legislation is not acceptable.

And when law enforcement officials from across the state came to the state Capitol last spring to explain why the gun control bills being proposed could not possibly be enforced and in fact violated the Second Amendment, they were ignored, kept from testifying and made fun of by legislators who cared more about Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his feelings than the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us. It is time to send a message that this behavior is not acceptable.

Question 1A is simply a straw poll on whether you believe the governor and leaders in the Colorado General Assembly are acting in the best interests of all Coloradans. A yes vote does not create a new state immediately; it only allows the conversation to continue.

By voting yes on 1A, you are sending a message: We want to see a change to a more common sense approach that respects rural Colorado as well as urban Colorado.

I respectfully ask you join me in sending a strong message to Denver on Nov. 5. Vote yes on Question 1A, the statehood question.

Sean Conway is a Weld County commissioner serving in his second term.

From the Associated Press via the The Colorado Springs Gazette:

In a letter sent on Monday to Don Mueller, chairman of the Weld County Council, the three attorneys – Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson – say the Colorado Constitution gives citizens the authority to alter their form of government, but no such authority is granted to county commissioners.

“We have reviewed the Colorado Constitution, the statutes of Colorado and the Weld County Home Rule Charter,” the letter states. “We can find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County from the state of Colorado.”

Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said those claims are “totally baseless.”

“We obviously wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t have a legal basis to do it,” Rademacher said.

Witwer, one of the attorneys who signed off on the letter, said commissioners’ proposal to secede from Colorado is their most recent action in a number of instances that he said don’t necessarily fall under their authority. He said no state law or county charter outlines commissioners’ authority to focus on issues outside of county affairs.

Weld commissioners have said they were approached by a group of residents who asked them to start a secession movement. But Witwer said the fact that constituents approached them still doesn’t grant commissioners authority to start the movement.

Witwer said the November ballot question asking voters whether they would like to secede isn’t an official action, but more of a poll. He said that kind of initiative has no real legal base.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker acts as legal counsel for commissioners and the Weld County Council, so the letter asks the county council to seek a neutral attorney to investigate commissioners’ authority.

Finally, here’s an editorial from The Greeley Tribune editorial staff:

It won’t surprise anyone who regularly reads this page to learn that we’re urging residents to vote against Weld County Ballot Question 1A, which asks the county commissioners to work with commissioners from other counties to form the nation’s 51st state.

In June, when commissioners first proposed working with roughly 10 other eastern plains counties to break away from Colorado and form their own, largely agrarian state, many around Colorado and the nation simply laughed.

We didn’t.

We understand full well the frustration and sense of alienation that many in this part of the state feel after last year’s legislative session in which leaders of the Democratic majority — predominantly from the state’s urban corridor — frequently seemed to eschew debate in favor of lock-step, party-line votes that were certain to elicit the kind of reaction that has led to the secession movement.

The commissioners and other supporters of the 51st state are right to point out that the diminishing influence of rural areas comes as the result of large, long-term trends that have seen cities and suburban areas rise in political and economic influence around the country as the nation has become more urban during the past two centuries. However, other things also have contributed to the decline of rural power in Denver. Term limits, for example, pushed out several effective and experienced legislators who ably represented the interests of rural communities. The legislators who have gone to Denver in recent years to represent Weld County have proved woefully inadequate to the task.

Rural discontent and estrangement are real problems, and they need serious solutions. The chimera of secession offers no such result.

In fact, it’s hard to say exactly what an affirmative vote on Ballot Question 1A would accomplish. It won’t create a new state. It won’t repeal the onerous requirement that rural electric cooperatives double the amount of power they get from wind and solar sources. It won’t change the state’s gun control laws or redraw legislative boundaries.

What it will do is push this county onto a path that’s fraught with uncertainty. How would the commissioners work toward forming a new state? How much would these efforts cost? How would others in Colorado and around the country view these efforts? And how would that affect existing business and personal relationships around the state and country?

Even its supporters grant that the actual formation of a 51st state is a virtual nonstarter because it requires approval of both the Colorado Legislature and Congress. However, if a new state were ever to become more likely, that, too, would carry its own unprecedented levels of uncertainty. Everything from water rights to regulations on business and even in-state tuition at the University of Colorado and Colorado State would be up in the air. More importantly, even supporters of secession grant that Weld County has its own divide between urban and rural residents, and concede that the formation of a new state isn’t sure to heal the fissure.

Secessionists contend a “yes” vote would send a message to politicians in Denver. There may be some truth to that, but there are other, less costly ways to send such a message. And even supporters of the new state say that leaders at the capitol have already taken greater notice of rural Colorado.

Hickenlooper, himself, has signaled a renewed willingness to engage in constructive dialogue.

“If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive,” Hickenlooper told the Craig Daily Press. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”

To the degree that the secession movement has resulted in a better place at the table for Weld and other rural counties, the commissioners and their allies deserve credit for that. However, it’s unlikely that pushing the 51st state movement further will accomplish more. In fact, any effort to continue further down the rabbit’s hole of secession will only squander the real opportunity that exists to address the divide facing this state and much of the country. To do that, we must engage our urban counterparts in real dialogue. The legislators who represent Weld and other rural communities must play a more effective role in that conversation than they have in the recent past. But we also must have a conversation among ourselves as residents of a rural part of the state. We must work to reach a real consensus about which policies are of vital importance to our way of life and which can be traded as bargaining chips.

In a new state or the old, dialogue and smart, effective leadership offer the only real hope of bridging the divide between us. Secession is simply a distraction.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

The CWCB meeting and the State Water Plan road show hit Telluride this week

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The board is holding its bimonthly meeting at The Peaks Resort, where it will spend two days discussing Colorado River conditions, flood protection and ongoing work on a state water plan, among other topics.

The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and will continue through Wednesday afternoon. It is open to the public.

“I think anyone who has an interest in state water policy might be interested in sitting in on some of the agenda items,” said April Montgomery, a Telluride resident who serves as the Dolores/San Juan/San Miguel Basin representative on the CWCB…

The most notable item on the board’s agenda is perhaps the state water plan. The board will discuss that issue Wednesday from 9-10 a.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.