Boomtowns: Once connected by railroads, #ColoradoRiver Valley towns now feel threatened by them: Local officials spar over Uinta Basin oil trains in the heart of Rep. Lauren Boebert’s district — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #COriver

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff):

DE BEQUE, Colo. — As they head east out of the bottomlands of the Grand Valley, trains on the Union Pacific’s Central Corridor continue to follow the Colorado River in reverse, climbing gradually into Garfield County, where the rocky cliffs and sagebrush-spotted scrubland of the high desert begin to give way to the gentler slopes and lush alpine forests of the Rocky Mountains.

The railroad and Interstate 70 run in parallel through this narrow stretch of the Colorado River Valley for 60 miles, rarely separated by more than 100 yards as they pass industrial lots lined with frac tanks and truck-mounted drill rigs, and narrow strips of Bureau of Land Management acreage where sheep graze beside natural gas compressors and flare stacks.

The communities that the Central Corridor passes through between the Grand Valley and Glenwood Canyon have long been shaped by the boom-and-bust cycles of fossil fuel extraction, their economic fortunes rising and falling along with the viability of the energy sources buried underneath them — first coal, then oil, and now natural gas, extracted from a subterranean formation known as the Piceance Basin.

“We’re an oil and gas county,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in an interview. “We have some of the largest natural gas reserves in the United States, and we do a lot of work to protect those revenues.”

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the far-right congresswoman who has made “drill, baby, drill” a signature agenda item alongside her denial of the 2020 election and Christian fundamentalism, calls Garfield County home, having run her gun-themed Shooters Grill restaurant in Rifle for almost a decade before bursting onto the political scene with a shock victory in the 3rd District Republican primary in 2020.

The Piceance gas boom, which peaked a decade ago, swelled county property-tax revenues and provided many families like the Boeberts with high-paying jobs. But a confluence of factors, topped by a global decline in natural gas prices, has gradually soured the basin’s outlook. Corporate oil giants like ExxonMobil and Occidental have largely divested from their holdings here, and Garfield County’s total gas production last year was only slightly more than half of 2013 levels.

It’s a lesson that’s been learned over the decades in the Piceance Basin: to sit atop vast reserves of valuable natural resources often isn’t enough on its own to bring a town or a region prosperity, especially in the wide-open spaces of the West. Whether it’s a lack of infrastructure, technological limitations, the pressures of global commodity markets or simply bad geological luck, obstacles to resource extraction have a way of cropping up.

And it’s a lesson that drillers and county governments in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin, a hundred miles west, have learned, too.

Although the two basins form a nearly continuous 200-mile-wide belt of underground hydrocarbon reservoirs straddling the Colorado-Utah border, producing oil and gas from many of the same layers of prehistoric rock, the Piceance and the Uinta have little to do with each other on the surface. Travel between them is possible only by circuitous highway routes that skirt north or south around the rugged Roan Plateau.

A flare stack burns at a natural gas facility in Garfield County on May 16, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Soon, though, that could change in a big way. The 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway, proposed by a partnership between industry and Utah county governments, would establish a direct rail connection between the basin and Garfield County for the first time in nearly a century.

The result would be one of the largest sustained efforts to transport crude oil by rail ever undertaken in the U.S., sending hundreds of fully loaded tanker cars daily along the banks of the Colorado River through Garfield County — and many residents here aren’t happy about it.

“Nobody wants it,” Caitlin Carey, a Town Council member in New Castle, said in an interview. “It’s not a sound decision environmentally, it’s not a sound decision as far as safety is concerned in our small towns, and it’s not bringing any revenue to the area. So economically, environmentally and safety-wise, it doesn’t make any sense for it to come through this area.”

Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

The rock that burns

Seven miles past the Garfield County line, eastbound trains on the Central Corridor route roll through Parachute, population 1,390. It’s the county’s smallest incorporated town, paling in comparison even to Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated retirement community on the other side of the Colorado River.

Together, they make a pair of quiet rural villages that have spread out over the ridges of the river valley — but within the lifetimes of many of their residents, officials at the highest levels of corporate America and Colorado state government planned for this to be the center of a new metropolis.

The same geological formations that produce natural gas in Garfield County and waxy crude oil in the Uinta Basin hold a much larger deposit of another hydrocarbon resource: oil shale. When subjected to subterranean heat and pressure over millions of years, the components of oil shale break down to form oil and gas, but it can also be mined and, with some difficulty, processed to produce synthetic fuels. Parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sit atop by far the largest oil shale deposit in the world; the amount of synthetic oil that could be produced from this deposit alone, according to some estimates, is more than double the entirety of the world’s conventional crude oil resources.

Parachute was the epicenter of the most ambitious attempt to unlock the potential of “the rock that burns,” launched by Exxon in 1980, after a decade of sky-high oil prices had spurred a nationwide search for alternative energy sources.

An oil shale mine, left, in Garfield County is pictured in the 1970s. “The rock that burns” can be processed into synthetic fuel, but development of oil-shale resources is cost-effective only when the price of conventional crude oil is very high. (U.S. Department of Energy)

The multibillion-dollar Colony Project envisioned massive oil shale strip mines across Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and synthetic fuel plants that would produce a staggering 15 million barrels per day. Exxon began developing Battlement Mesa to house the project’s workforce as job-seekers flocked to the Western Slope from all around the country. Local governments prepared for more than 200,000 new residents to move into the narrow valley between Parachute and New Castle by 2010; Exxon’s own projections suggested it would be as many as 1.5 million people.

It was the most feverish energy boom in Colorado history, and it wasn’t long before things went bust. Within two years, oil prices began to fall again, and interest in the development of costly new synthetic fuels evaporated. Exxon abruptly pulled the plug on the Colony Project on May 2, 1982, known locally as “Black Sunday.” Thousands lost their jobs overnight, property values plummeted and hundreds of businesses went under in a crash that left its mark on Garfield County for decades.

Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon — Photo / Associated Press

“It’s a blow for the state and also a blow for the country, which needs alternate energy resources,” then-Gov. Dick Lamm, a cantankerous environmentalist who had nonetheless welcomed Exxon’s investment in Colorado, told The Denver Post shortly after Black Sunday. “This is part of the boom-and-bust cycle the West has been experiencing throughout its history.”

Utah has seen its own share of abortive attempts to mine oil shale, but lately, drilling interests in the Uinta Basin have set their sights on an ambitious effort to overcome a longstanding obstacle to development of the region’s conventional crude oil resources.

Although vast reserves were discovered there in 1948, the high degree of paraffin, or wax, in the Uinta Basin’s crude oil has kept a hard ceiling on its output. Though not as complicated as squeezing synthetic fuels out of oil shale, processing waxy crude comes with a unique set of challenges; because it congeals into a solid at room temperature, conventional pipelines aren’t an option, and it must be heated to be loaded in and out of tanker trucks and rail cars, or blended into thinner crudes in small enough proportions that it won’t cause a blockage.

Members of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a Utah public entity comprising governments in and around the Uinta Basin, conduct their monthly public meeting in Orangeville, Utah, on June 8, 2023. (Screenshot via Zoom)

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a public body made up of the Uinta Basin’s local governments, has worked with industry groups for years to study potential solutions, including a costly insulated pipeline that would be able to transport the waxy crude at high temperatures, or a “cracking” process that would partially refine and liquify it within the basin.

“There’s only those two-lane highways. How do you get bulk commodities out? You can’t do it very effectively, you can’t do it very safely,” Keith Heaton, the SCIC’s executive director, said at the group’s monthly meeting in June. “Not to criticize the way it’s been done, but you need transportation.”

In 2019, the SCIC settled on an answer: a new railway that would connect the basin to the national rail network, allowing its waxy crude to be shipped to refineries out of state. The SCIC’s effort, in partnership with private equity firm Drexel Hamilton and the short-line railroad company Rio Grande Pacific, revived a state-led railway plan that was dropped in 2014 over concerns about high costs.

The railway’s proponents point to extensive research showing that railroads are a safer mode of transport for hazardous materials than trucks. Tanker trucks hauling waxy crude out of the Uinta Basin have been involved in repeated accidents and spills since production began to rise in the region a decade ago.

A train of tanker cars travels the tracks along the Colorado River near Cameo on May 16, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

During a two-year-long environmental review process, the Uinta Basin Railway’s backers told federal regulators that its construction could nearly quintuple the basin’s daily oil production to over 440,000 barrels per day — an output that would put the Uinta Basin on par with northeast Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, currently the largest oilfield in the Mountain West.

They estimated that 90% of the additional output — potentially over 400 tanker cars full of heated waxy crude per day — would be shipped by train on the Union Pacific’s eastbound route through western and central Colorado, before taking one of several routes out of the Denver metro area to refineries in Texas, Oklahoma or Louisiana.

In December 2021, the federal Surface Transportation Board voted 4-1 to approve the new railway. Conservation groups and Colorado’s Eagle County have sued the STB over the decision, calling the board’s environmental review “fatally flawed,” and state leaders have asked at least four different federal agencies to bring a halt the project. But so far, President Joe Biden’s administration has shown no signs of hitting the brakes.

The railway partnership’s announcement earlier this year that it would seek $2 billion in tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds, which must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, opened a new front in Colorado leaders’ battle to stop the project. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing to overturn the STB’s approval, estimates that the bonds’ lower financing costs would amount to an $80 million annual federal subsidy to the interests behind the railway.

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former petroleum geologist, has long been an ally of Colorado oil and gas producers, embittering many in his own party who accused him of siding with the industry throughout his time as governor, which overlapped with unprecedented boom times for drillers in the Piceance and Denver-Julesburg basins. Though he’s hardly been an outspoken opponent of the project itself, Hickenlooper in March joined other Colorado Democrats in objecting to the railway’s plans to seek financing through PABs.

“While we support boosting domestic energy production for the benefit of American consumers and our allies abroad, private-sector investments should be based on consumer demand where they pertain to mature technologies with existing, robust markets,” Hickenlooper and his colleagues wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “There is no precedent for using PABs to fund a rail project solely to transport crude oil.”

A scenic trip to a refinery in Louisiana’

The signs for Rulison, seven miles east of Parachute, direct passersby to a sparse patchwork of small farms and pastures at the foot of the Grand Mesa to the south.

It was at a spot hidden high on one of these hills where, in August 1969, men in hard hats carefully lowered a long, thin canister down a hole drilled a mile and a half deep into the Earth, penetrating a thick underground rock layer that kept a large reserve of natural gas trapped further below.

A few weeks later, crews triggered the device inside the canister: a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb.

The blast from “Project Rulison” toppled chimneys and cracked foundations in Rifle and Parachute, and shook the ground as far away as Golden. It was one of the few instances ever in which the federal government, in partnership with the oil and gas industry, tried fracking with nukes. The method was soon abandoned, because — surprise, surprise — the gas produced as a result of the explosions proved too radioactive to be marketable.

These days, the thing most likely to rattle windows in the Colorado River Valley is freight traffic on the railroad, which passes directly through almost all of Garfield County’s towns — small communities of a few thousand people each, where tracks were laid almost a century and a half ago, along main streets and town squares. In many places, trains pass just yards away from homes and businesses, often at high speeds.

Even when the fracking isn’t being done with nuclear bombs, the fossil fuel economy brings with it benefits and risks — and rarely, if ever, are they evenly distributed. In the case of the Uinta Basin oil trains, many of the risks of increased production would be shouldered by communities in this valley, while almost all of the benefits would accrue to producers, mineral owners and county governments a hundred miles away in Utah.

“This train is not bringing anything to this area,” Carey said. “It’s not taking crude from Garfield County, or Mesa County, or Moffat County. It’s taking Utah crude on a scenic trip to a refinery in Louisiana.”

Gas wells operate in Garfield County near Interstate 70 and Parachute, June 9, 2023. (William Woody for Colorado Newsline)

But the oil and gas industry wields power here, and the jobs and flush bank accounts that the gas boom provided remain an important part of the county’s economy and self-image. And in a country where local politics have become increasingly nationalized, small-town safety concerns aren’t the only thing being debated.

Though Boebert has been an outspoken critic of the Biden administration over the February chemical spill caused by a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, she has remained silent on a proposal that could drastically increase the amount of hazardous materials shipped by rail through the heart of her district. A Boebert spokesperson declined to comment on the record regarding her position on the Uinta Basin Railway.

“We’ve had citizens’ comments and so forth, but we haven’t spent time on it, and I don’t think it’s our business to spend time on it,” Jankovsky said. “It seems like people are making a big deal out of something that’s not such a big deal.”

In March, Garfield’s Board of County Commissioners brushed aside concerns about the oil trains. Commissioner Mike Samson faulted local opponents for “fear-mongering” and railed against what he called the “disaster” of the Biden administration’s energy policy. The response stunned New Castle residents and officials who’d come to the commission with their concerns.

“We have the most residents in close proximity to the rail line,” Carey said.

“The problem isn’t oil and gas altogether,” she added. “The problem is that this is a high-speed train coming through with a payload that is toxic in some situations, and deadly in others. That shouldn’t be something that is politicized.”

Awaiting the ‘iron horse’

Though its gold-rush days are the stuff of legend, it was the silver boom that followed that did more to make Colorado what it is today.

During the 1880s, settlements promising the next silver bonanza sprang up all over the mountains, especially after the Ute people were dispossessed of their lands on the Western Slope. With each new boomtown — Leadville, Aspen, Silverton, Ouray, Creede — Colorado railroad companies raced to be the first to connect them with the outside world. Backed by enterprising local mine owners or Eastern financiers, competing railroads warred over trackage rights and frantically added new branches and spurs to their “mainline” systems, grading out the canyon trails and mountain passes that would become permanent features of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

After completing its narrow-gauge line through Grand Junction to Salt Lake City in 1883, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway Company battled the newly founded Colorado Midland Railway to build the first route into the Roaring Fork Valley’s booming Aspen mining district. While the Midland struggled with a more direct route over the mountains from Leadville, the Denver & Rio Grande turned north, laying the first-ever tracks along the old burro trails of the central Colorado River Valley, then turned south again at Glenwood Springs to follow the course of the Roaring Fork.

When the Denver & Rio Grande reached Aspen three months ahead of its rival, the official celebrations lasted a week. Six hundred rail workers were treated to a giant barbecue, and the first train to arrive, on Nov. 1, 1887, carried Gov. Alva Adams and U.S. Sen. Henry Teller as passengers, among other dignitaries.

Residents of Aspen pose with the first Denver & Rio Grande train to arrive in the silver-mining boomtown in 1887. (Denver Public Library Special Collections, Z-5481)

“Our mines have been practically idle, waiting the coming of the iron horse,” Aspen Mayor Herbert Harding said in a welcoming address. “We are now entering upon an era of prosperity that will be unprecedented in our history.” (In fact, within six years the silver boom would be over for good, brought to an end by the Panic of 1893 and repeal of federal silver-coinage policies.)

But the railroads were more than just highways for heavy industry, and even for towns that weren’t founded on mining, the arrival of the iron horse was a signal event. A month before tracklayers from the Denver & Rio Grande reached Aspen, their arrival in the resort community of Glenwood Springs was greeted with fireworks, a parade and a lavish banquet at the Hotel Glenwood. It was the same a few years later in New Castle, Rifle and other small settlements in the Colorado River Valley, as a subsidiary of the Denver & Rio Grande laid track to connect its Aspen Branch to Grand Junction, completing the right-of-way that trains still travel today between the state line and the east end of Glenwood Canyon.

Even in the golden age of railroading, passenger service was a loss leader for most railroad companies, subsidized by the more lucrative business of hauling freight, said Paul Hammond, director of the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.

“By the late 19th century, freight traffic is what’s making the money,” Hammond said. “Passenger travel is something that is offered as a public good, and as a marketing awareness tool.”

But especially in parts of western Colorado where road and highway networks were slow to develop, railroads became a vital service connecting towns across rugged terrain, and stayed that way for generations.

In 1914, trains on the Denver & Rio Grande made 16 stops between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. From Main Street in New Castle, a passenger could step onto a train and step off a short while later onto the Main Street of every town that still exists in the valley today, and many that don’t: Akin, Morris, Lacy, Ives, Chacra. For most of the first half of the 20th century, there were two local Denver & Rio Grande passenger trains each way daily.

“You could go down (to Glenwood Springs) in the morning and come back in the evening,” an old-timer told journalist Conrad Schrader in 1996. The Denver & Rio Grande’s long-haul California Zephyr began operations in 1949, and continued as the country’s last independent intercity passenger line until 1983.

A California Zephyr passenger train operated by the Denver & Rio Grande railroad is pictured in Mesa County in March 1949. (Denver Public Library Special Collections, Z-6354)

After merging with the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1980s, the Denver & Rio Grande was acquired by the Union Pacific in 1996. But affection for the “Action Road” lives on at the Colorado Railroad Museum, which houses some of its iconic locomotives and rolling stock, and in a dedicated community of local “railfans” who help keep its history alive.

Carl Smith, a third-generation railroader whose father and grandfather worked on the Denver & Rio Grande, is no railfan — “I like trains on payday,” he said — but he’s seen first-hand the effects of rail industry consolidation in Colorado.

“The local supervisors, managers, officials, they had connections to the community,” said Smith, the Colorado legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART. “Now it’s just turned into this large beast, and nobody even knows who the person to call is in case of emergency.”

Boebert country

In Rifle, 15 miles east on the interstate from Parachute, more than 200 businesses went under in the 18 months after Exxon pulled the plug on the Colony Project. By the time the Piceance Basin’s gas boom began to revive the region’s economy in the mid-2000s, the politics of oil and gas had been irrevocably changed.

In 1988, NASA physicist James Hansen testified to Congress that a growing body of evidence corroborated what some scientists had theorized as early as the 19th century: The Earth’s climate was being dangerously warmed by human activity, mostly through the combustion of fossil fuels. By 2007, the fourth in a series of exhaustive scientific reports commissioned by a United Nations panel called the evidence for global warming “unequivocal” and human activity the “very likely” cause.

A generation earlier, it hadn’t been inconceivable for Lamm and others in America’s nascent environmentalist movement to offer qualified support for Exxon’s oil-shale gambit and its promise of a more efficient, more abundant source of energy for the nation. But the planetary scale of the threat posed by climate change, and the urgency of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has made a transition away from fossil fuels the top priority for environmental activists around the world.

The Colorado River flows along Interstate 70 near Rifle, June 9, 2023. (William Woody for Colorado Newsline)

In Colorado, alarm over climate change has grown over the course of a two-decade “megadrought” more severe than any dry spell the Southwest has experienced in at least 1,200 years, putting stress on water supplies and greatly increasing wildfire risk. All of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred since 2001, and the three largest on record burned a combined 540,000 acres during a long, destructive fire season across the state in 2020.

At the same time, oil and gas production exploded in Colorado thanks to advances in drilling technology; statewide crude oil production increased tenfold between 2000 and 2019, while natural gas output more than doubled. Throughout the 2010s, state officials struggled to keep the peace between outraged anti-fracking activists and the industry’s emboldened political allies. Though Gov. Jared Polis expressed hopes for an end to “the oil and gas wars” when he signed a law strengthening health and safety protections in 2019, tensions between activists and drillers remain high.

Few politicians have championed Colorado’s oil and gas industry more aggressively than Boebert, a far-right activist who unseated former U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton with an upset victory in the 3rd District Republican primary in 2020.

Boebert herself once worked for a pipeline company, and her husband, Jayson, from whom she recently filed for divorce, is a 20-year veteran of Garfield County’s natural gas industry. He collected nearly $1 million in consulting fees from gas driller Terra Energy Partners in 2019 and 2020. Boebert’s former restaurant, the gun-themed Shooters Grill, opened in downtown Rifle in 2013, on the same block where so many businesses had closed their doors in Black Sunday’s wake — a symbol of both the town’s economic recovery and its increasingly conservative political bent.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt speaks Sept. 10, 2022, during the Club 20 Western Colorado Candidate Debates at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Boebert debated her opponent Adam Frisch, a Western Slope Democrat. (William Woody for Colorado Newsline)

In Congress, Boebert has been one of the Biden administration’s most outspoken critics on energy policy. The first bill she introduced in the House of Representatives sought to force the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and she made headlines last year when she attended the State of the Union wearing a shawl emblazoned with the words “Drill Baby Drill.”

“These radicals have no regard for jobs, our economy or responsible energy production and will mount a full-court press to force their socialist agenda down our throats,” she wrote shortly after Biden’s election. That’s an attitude shared by many residents and local officials in oil- and gas-producing regions in Colorado and Utah, even if it’s not always expressed in such confrontational terms.

“Eastern Utah has always relied on the energy sector as the pillar of our economy, and it’s been very good to us,” Heaton, the director of the SCIC, said in June. “(That’s) being taken away. We all know that — and it’s not a market decision, it’s not a decision we’re making. They’re being dictated by government policy at a higher level.”

Boebert has been especially critical of environmental activists’ successful efforts to block the Jordan Cove Energy Project, a proposal to build a 234-mile natural-gas pipeline and export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon. The project was championed by Piceance Basin gas drillers who sought to open up new markets for their product overseas, but it was denied key permits by Oregon state officials who cited concerns over its climate and water-quality impacts.

Despite her record of opposition to environmental and safety regulations, however, Boebert has joined other Republicans in harshly criticizing the Biden administration over railroad accidents like the February derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine. In April, Boebert wrote that Buttigieg “can’t seem to fix the near-constant train derailments in our country,” and praised former Fox News host Tucker Carlson for covering the incident after “the mainstream media has given up discussing” it.

Along with other right-wing commentators, Carlson spoke of the East Palestine derailment in dark, conspiracist terms, accusing Biden of intentionally neglecting an area in rural Ohio that is “overwhelmingly white and politically conservative.” The Anti-Defamation League also said in the wake of the derailment that white-supremacist groups were “co-opting the tragedy … to advance their claims that the political system is in place to disadvantage and overlook white people.”

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt has lodged repeated criticisms of President Joe Biden’s administration over rail safety in the wake of a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, but has remained silent about a project that could result in a tenfold increase in hazardous materials traveling by rail through the heart of her district.

But even amid her persistent criticism of Biden over East Palestine, and even as other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have lodged repeated protests with the Biden administration over the Uinta Basin Railway, Boebert has declined to comment publicly on the project to date.

An estimated 550 million gallons of various hazardous materials were shipped by rail through Mesa County, directly to Garfield County’s southwest, in 2021, according to officials there. Based on that figure, the crude oil shipped through Colorado from the Uinta Basin Railway would cause as much as a tenfold increase in the volume of hazardous materials traveling through Boebert’s district.

Local officials in Garfield County say they’ve reached out to Boebert’s office to no avail. Some say the congresswoman’s silence is as much as they can realistically hope for.

“If a position of neutrality, or no position, is the best we’re going to get, I don’t know that that’s a poor outcome,” said Jonathan Godes, a City Council member and former mayor of Glenwood Springs.

‘God and the railroad’

Today, the only time many people in Garfield County think about the railroad is when something goes terribly wrong.

One such day came in November in New Castle, 14 miles east of Rifle, when 47-year-old Lisa Detweiler was struck and killed by a passing freight train near a grade crossing at Kamm Avenue, just south of Main Street. Detweiler was a longtime employee of the Garfield County library system, and her loss was deeply felt in this town of just under 5,000 residents.

“She was my son’s favorite librarian. A lot of the kids had a hard time with it,” said Carey, the New Castle council member. “It was devastating for our town, it was devastating for our library community. It has been an eye-opener.”

Union Pacific referred questions about the incident to the New Castle Police Department. But a spokesperson for that department said the investigation into Detweiler’s death was handled by Union Pacific Police Department, a private law-enforcement agency that “has primary jurisdiction over crimes committed against the railroad,” according to Union Pacific’s website. Union Pacific did not respond to follow-up questions about their investigation.

Even if not a single drop of Uinta Basin oil ever spills in Colorado, such a large increase in freight traffic — as many as five fully loaded eastbound trains per day, with five empty trains returning — worries residents in towns like New Castle, where trains pass at high speeds just a few yards from a playground, an elementary school and the backyards of dozens of homes.

Railroad tracks run through downtown New Castle in Garfield County, June 9, 2023. (William Woody for Colorado Newsline)

With support from the Garfield County commissioners, New Castle has petitioned Union Pacific to require lower train speeds through town. But communities here have grown accustomed to making such requests of the Omaha-based corporate giant, only to be ignored or dismissed.

In response to an inquiry about the speed-reduction request, a Union Pacific spokesperson wrote simply, “We abide by the Federal Railroad Administration’s speed limits.”

“What’s the difference between God and the railroad?” Godes asked. “God might answer your prayers.”

As recently as 1980, the Denver & Rio Grande was one of 40 so-called Class I railroads operating in the U.S., but a wave of deregulation and consolidation has reduced that number to just seven. Just two companies, Union Pacific and BNSF, control virtually all major freight routes west of the Mississippi River, and many towns along those routes say community relations have deteriorated as railroads face investor pressure to cut costs and maximize profits.

“When we have some kind of project, whether it be a stormwater project or something that possibly could impact their operations, it is incredibly time-consuming and difficult to even get somebody to respond to you,” Godes said.

“They are so insular, because of the legal protections that we have granted them over the centuries, that they just don’t have to care about anything,” he added. “And so they don’t.”

Amtrak, which took over the operation of the California Zephyr passenger line in 1983, still serves Glenwood Springs’ historic train station once each way daily — its only stop between Grand Junction and Granby. Beginning in 2021, the Rocky Mountaineer, a Vancouver-based luxury passenger line operating a scenic three-day rail trip between Denver and Moab, also makes several stops in Glenwood Springs each week.

But for most towns in the Colorado River Valley, the railroad tracks that once did so much to connect communities to each other, and to the outside world, are now little more than a nuisance at best, and a deadly hazard at worst.

“They’re not stopping in New Castle. We don’t have a depot anymore. Silt doesn’t have one, Rifle doesn’t have one,” said Carey. “If (the railroad) was moving people, if it was creating opportunity for transit in the area, that would be a really different conversation.”

Left: The train station in New Castle is pictured in 1906. Right: A tank car sits on the tracks near downtown New Castle on May 16, 2023. (Denver Public Library Special Collections, X-12501, Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

State Sen. Perry Will, a New Castle Republican, is among the only GOP elected officials at the state level to voice opposition to the Uinta Basin Railway, joining other Western Slope lawmakers in writing to federal officials in March to express their “grave” concerns. Will did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“We strongly urge you and your partners in the federal government to conduct a more thorough risk analysis in light of recent events and our pressing concerns regarding water supply and wildfire,” the lawmakers wrote to Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we understand and support the desire to increase domestic energy supply, the potential negative impacts of this project far outweigh any economic benefit.”

New Castle, like so many other Western Slope communities, started as a boomtown. The soft bituminous coal mined from the mountainsides nearby was prized as a fuel for silver smelters — and steam locomotives.

But it’s a town that knows better than most the long-term risks of such frenzied heavy-industrial activity. A series of fires and explosions rocked New Castle’s coal mining industry in the 1890s, and more than a dozen underground fires in the area have been smoldering for over a century now. Investigators said that one such blaze caused the 2002 Coal Seam Fire that destroyed 30 homes in New Castle, and flare-ups from others still occasionally send columns of smoke into the skies overhead.

State Sen. Perry Will, a New Castle Republican, is among the only GOP elected officials at the state level to voice opposition to the Uinta Basin Railway, joining other Western Slope lawmakers in writing to federal officials in March to express their “grave” concerns. Will did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“We strongly urge you and your partners in the federal government to conduct a more thorough risk analysis in light of recent events and our pressing concerns regarding water supply and wildfire,” the lawmakers wrote to Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we understand and support the desire to increase domestic energy supply, the potential negative impacts of this project far outweigh any economic benefit.”

New Castle, like so many other Western Slope communities, started as a boomtown. The soft bituminous coal mined from the mountainsides nearby was prized as a fuel for silver smelters — and steam locomotives.

But it’s a town that knows better than most the long-term risks of such frenzied heavy-industrial activity. A series of fires and explosions rocked New Castle’s coal mining industry in the 1890s, and more than a dozen underground fires in the area have been smoldering for over a century now. Investigators said that one such blaze caused the 2002 Coal Seam Fire that destroyed 30 homes in New Castle, and flare-ups from others still occasionally send columns of smoke into the skies overhead.

@GretaThunberg on the #climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’ — The Guardian

Greta Thunberg via her Twitter Feed

Click the link to read the guest column on The Guardian website (Greta Thunberg). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments may say they’re doing all they can to halt the climate crisis. Don’t fall for it – then we might still have time to turn things around

Maybe it is the name that is the problem. Climate change. It doesn’t sound that bad. The word “change” resonates quite pleasantly in our restless world. No matter how fortunate we are, there is always room for the appealing possibility of improvement. Then there is the “climate” part. Again, it does not sound so bad. If you live in many of the high-emitting nations of the global north, the idea of a “changing climate” could well be interpreted as the very opposite of scary and dangerous. A changing world. A warming planet. What’s not to like?

Perhaps that is partly why so many people still think of climate change as a slow, linear and even rather harmless process. But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilising. It is breaking down. The delicately balanced natural patterns and cycles that are a vital part of the systems that sustain life on Earth are being disrupted, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Because there are negative tipping points, points of no return. And we do not know exactly when we might cross them. What we do know, however, is that they are getting awfully close, even the really big ones. Transformation often starts slowly, but then it begins to accelerate.

The German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf writes: “We have enough ice on Earth to raise sea levels by 65 metres – about the height of a 20-storey building – and, at the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose by 120 metres as a result of about 5C of warming.” Taken together, these figures give us a perspective on the powers we are dealing with. Sea-level rise will not remain a question of centimetres for very long.

The Greenland ice sheet is melting, as are the “doomsday glaciers” of west Antarctica. Recent reports have stated that the tipping points for these two events have already been passed. Other reports say they are imminent. That means we might already have inflicted so much built-in warming that the melting process can no longer be stopped, or that we are very close to that point. Either way, we must do everything in our power to stop the process because, once that invisible line has been crossed, there might be no going back. We can slow it down, but once the snowball has been set in motion it will just keep going…

“This is the new normal” is a phrase we often hear when the rapid changes in our daily weather patterns – wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, storms, droughts and so on – are being discussed. These weather events aren’t just increasing in frequency, they are becoming more and more extreme. The weather seems to be on steroids, and natural disasters increasingly appear less and less natural. But this is not the “new normal”. What we are seeing now is only the very beginning of a changing climate, caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Until now, Earth’s natural systems have been acting as a shock absorber, smoothing out the dramatic transformations that are taking place. But the planetary resilience that has been so vital to us will not last for ever, and the evidence seems to suggest more and more clearly that we are entering a new era of more dramatic change.

Climate change has become a crisis sooner than expected. So many of the researchers I’ve spoken to have said that they were shocked to witness how quickly it is escalating.

Locals advise @SenatorBennet on West’s #climatechange strategy — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Diminishing water supply part of report

Numerous western Coloradans were part of a group that has presented U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., with recommendations for how to increase resilience to climate change in the West.

Bennet said in a news release that he plans to use the recommended priorities to drive his policy work in the Senate and in working with the Biden administration on its national climate strategy.

“The terrific work this group has done to reimagine climate policy is already informing my team’s work. I plan to share their framework with my colleagues in the Senate and the Biden Administration to help them understand why climate resilience is so important to Colorado and the rest of the Mountain West,” Bennet said in the release. “I will do my part to ensure these priorities are part of every discussion going forward about climate and the country’s economy. I think this framework will be an important tool to demonstrate to the country that climate change isn’t a future condition in the West — it’s here now. And the survival of our economy and our way of life depends on tackling this challenge.”

The group was formed in November and chaired by Andy Mueller, general manager of western Colorado’s Colorado River District, which has been focused on dealing with the challenges of diminishing water supply in a warming climate, and the implications that may have for Western Slope agriculture and communities…

The group made recommendations focused on three overall priorities, saying:

  • Resilience is dependent on strong local economies in the West, and a climate resilience strategy must include tools for local economies to adapt to changing climate and economic conditions and build long-term prosperity in a future powered by a clean economy.
  • Supporting healthy soils, forests, rangeland, rivers and watersheds will make communities more resilient and help maximize the climate mitigation potential of western landscapes.
  • Climate resilience is dependent on a thorough and science-based understanding of actions needed to sustainably adapt to and mitigate climate change.
  • A wide range of more specific recommendations within the framework of those priorities include:

  • Helping communities transitioning from fossil-fuel-based economies through measures such as job training, support for building broadband infrastructure, and investing in forest restoration, clean energy and outdoor recreation to attract new business, jobs and tax revenues;
  • Modernizing and building new infrastructure, including water infrastructure that protects and enhances rivers and habitat, and provides water for communities and agriculture while enhancing a vibrant outdoor economy;
  • Updating federal management of natural resources so it is informed by the best available science;
  • Increasing funding for research and development programs throughout the West that focus on developing climate change solutions.
  • Bennet’s office said he already is taking action based on the recommendations.

    He recently urged the Biden administration to prioritize locally driven economic development solutions for communities transitioning away from fossil fuels. He plans in coming weeks to reintroduce a bill to invest in $60 billion in forest and watershed restoration across the West.

    Say hello to The Land Desk newsletter from Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace

    From (Jonathan Thompson):

    With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

    This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

    The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

    I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

    I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

    That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.

    For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

    • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
    • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
    • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
    • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
    • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

    Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.

    I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

    Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.

    Lawsuit challenges @POTUS administration approval of #Utah #oilshale development — Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    Ed Quillen used to say that oil shale had been the, “Next big thing for 100 years.”

    Here’s the release from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Ray Bloxham) via Earth Justice:

    Conservation groups today sued the Trump administration to challenge what would be the nation’s first commercial-scale oil shale mine and processing facility. The lawsuit says officials failed to protect several endangered species when they approved rights-of-way across public lands to provide utilities to the proposed oil shale development.

    The massive Enefit project in northeast Utah’s Uintah Basin would also drain billions of gallons of water from the Green River, generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gas pollution and exacerbate the Uintah Basin’s often-dismal air quality.

    Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Utah, argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the law by ignoring the potential harm to endangered fish. In its biological opinion, the agency considered only the harm from water depletions necessary to build the pipeline, not the billions of gallons of Green River water that will be sent through the pipeline to Enefit’s oil shale development.

    “The responsible federal agencies have worn blinders in approving this project, leaving themselves and the public in the dark about the immense ecological harm it would cause,” said Alex Hardee, attorney at Earthjustice. “We’re going to court to uphold the nation’s environmental laws and save the Upper Colorado River Basin from the devastating effects of oil shale.”

    The Bureau of Land Management also violated the law by failing to adequately analyze the significant environmental impacts of the proposed oil shale development, which likely would not occur but for the agency’s approval of the rights-of-way.

    “This is a prescription for disaster for our climate, wildlife, and the Colorado River Basin,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Draining the Green River to mine one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet sends us in exactly the wrong direction. It’s putting us on a collision course with climate catastrophe so a foreign fossil-fuel company can make big bucks.”

    The Trump administration paved the way for the project last year by approving rights-of-way for electricity, oil, gas, and water lines across public lands. At full buildout, the Estonian-owned Enefit American Oil facility would produce 50,000 barrels of oil every day for the next 30 years or more from the Green River Formation.

    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

    “The environmental destruction, air pollution and water pollution inherent in this proposed oil shale mining project is something that every citizen of Utah should be alarmed about,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “That it would become a long-term public health disaster is being callously dismissed by a BLM that is being run as a subsidiary of the dirty energy industry.”

    Huge amounts of water are required in the oil shale production process. The water pipeline will allow Enefit to drain more than 10,000 acre feet annually from the Green River, harming critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The project comes as Western states struggle with record droughts and climate-driven declines in river flows in the Colorado River Basin.

    “Our region is already feeling the effects of pollution and climate change. To destroy our public lands in order to drill for more polluting fossil fuels would be a disaster for our communities and our planet,” said Dan Mayhew, conservation chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should be accelerating the transition to clean energy, not sacrificing our water, air quality, and climate for an investment in one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world. Today we continue the fight to ensure that federal agencies can’t continue to approve dangerous, dirty energy projects without fully considering the totality of environmental damage that would result.”

    Enefit intends to strip-mine about 28 million tons of rock a year over thousands of acres of high-desert habitat, generating hundreds of millions of tons of waste rock. It will also construct a half-square-mile processing plant, about 45 miles south of Dinosaur National Monument, to bake the rock at extremely high temperatures to turn pre-petroleum oil shale rock into refinery-ready synthetic crude oil. That will require vast amounts of energy and emit huge amounts of ozone precursors in an area recently listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as not in attainment with healthy ozone standards.

    Oil shale is one of world’s most carbon-polluting fuels, with lifecycle carbon emissions up to 75 percent higher than those of conventional fuels.

    “BLM’s approach here is to ignore the elephant in the room, which never ends well,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’ve focused exclusively on the relatively small impact of building some power lines and pipes, hoping no one will notice that this infrastructure will facilitate large-scale environmental destruction. Well, we noticed.”

    The project would produce 547 million barrels of oil over three decades, spewing more than 200 million tons of greenhouse gas — as much as 50 coal-fired power plants produce in a year. Those emissions would contribute to global warming and regional drought already afflicting the rivers and their endangered fish.

    “Enefit’s proposed oil shale operation could deplete more than 100 billion gallons over three decades,” said Sarah Stock, program director at Living Rivers. “That’s water taken away from other current water users and the downstream river ecosystem. The BLM needs to stop side-stepping their responsibilities by ignoring the devastating impacts that oil shale development will have on the climate and downstream water availability in the Colorado River Basin.”

    “As a result of mismanagement, drought, and accelerating climate change, the Colorado River system is on the verge of collapse,” said Daniel E. Estrin, advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Yet despite this crisis, BLM and FWS have approved rights-of-way across public lands for a project that could remove 100 billion gallons of water from the basin, push several endangered species closer to extinction, and rapidly degrade the water supply of almost 40 million people. These approvals, that will allow an Estonian hard rock oil shale company to exploit US public lands and resources, must be reversed.”

    “The BLM approved the rights-of-way to service Enefit’s proposed oil shale mine and processing facility based on an utterly inadequate analysis of potentially devastating air, water, climate and species impacts,” said Michael Toll, a staff attorney at Grand Canyon Trust. “Considering the rights-of-way are a public subsidy of an otherwise economically unfeasible oil shale development, the public has a right to know exactly how Enefit’s project will impact their health and environment.”

    The groups filing today’s lawsuit are Living Rivers/Colorado RiverKeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Waterkeeper. The groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust and the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Petroteq Energy has begun oil sand production west of Rangely #ActOnClimate

    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Petroteq Energy, formerly MCW Energy Group, has built a facility at Asphalt Ridge outside Vernal and is using what it says are benign solvents to produce oil from oil sand deposits. The company says its approach uses no water, produces no waste or greenhouse gas and doesn’t require high temperatures.

    It is working to ramp up production to the plant’s capacity of 1,000 barrels a day.

    The company said this month it received a small-source exemption from the Utah Division of Air Quality for its facility, allowing it to begin sales. It said in a news release that it got the exemption because the plant’s estimated emissions are less than the level for which a permit is needed, “further confirmation that Petroteq’s process is an environmentally conscious method of oil extraction.”

    Oil sands are also known as tar sands or bituminous sands, and contain a heavy oil also described as asphalt or bitumen.

    Petroteq says its leases have 93 million barrels of estimated oil resource. Eastern Utah is home to the largest oil sands resources in the country, with resource estimates running as high as 32 billion barrels…

    Petroteq’s project is at Asphalt Ridge, which the federal Bureau of Land Management has reported has been the target of oil/tar sand exploration and development efforts as early as the 1920s, when Vernal paved its streets from Asphalt Ridge deposits.

    Work there included a plant that used hot water to extract oil in the 1930s. Hot water also is used in Canadian tar sands development that also incorporates tailing ponds. “Our ‘Asphalt Ridge’ asset has (from time to time) caught the attention of major oil companies going back 70 years. But nobody has been able to unlock its resources in a financially sound and environmentally friendly manner until the Petroteq team and its proprietary technology came along,” David Sealock, Petroteq’s chief executive officer, said in a recent news release announcing the company’s start of commercial production.

    The company says its focus is on development and implementation of proprietary technologies for environmentally safe production of heavy oil from oil sands, oil shale and shallow oil deposits. Northwest Colorado and northeastern Utah are home to world-class deposits of oil shale, rock containing kerogen-like hydrocarbon deposits.

    The efforts of companies like Petroteq continue to be criticized by groups including Utah Tar Sands Resistance, which says on its website, “The production of tar sands in Utah is a story of false claims and impossible promises with a long history of failed companies, bankruptcies and name changes.”

    Gov. Hickenlooper joins western governors in continued commitment to uphold standards of the Clean Air and Water Acts

    Mount Rainier and Seattle Skyline July 22 2017.

    Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.

    “We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”

    Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.

    In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”

    View the full letter here.

    Opinion: Stopping Climate Change Is Hopeless. Let’s Do It. #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Click through and read the whole article from The New York Times (Auden Schendler and Andrew P. Jones). Here’s an excerpt:

    Mr. Schendler is a climate activist and businessman. Mr. Jones creates climate simulations for the nonprofit Climate Interactive.

    On Monday, the world’s leading climate scientists are expected to release a report on how to protect civilization by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Given the rise already in the global temperature average, this critical goal is 50 percent more stringent than the current target of 2 degrees Celsius, which many scientists were already skeptical we could meet. So we’re going to have to really want it, and even then it will be tough.

    The world would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster than has ever been achieved, and do it everywhere, for 50 years. Northern European countries reduced emissions about 4 to 5 percent per year in the 1970s. We’d need reductions of 6 to 9 percent. Every year, in every country, for half a century.

    We’d need to spread the world’s best climate practices globally — like electric cars in Norway, energy efficiency in California, land protection in Costa Rica, solar and wind power in China, vegetarianism in India, bicycle use in the Netherlands.

    We’d face opposition the whole way. To have a prayer of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we would need to leave most of the remaining coal, oil and gas underground, compelling the Exxon Mobils and Saudi Aramcos to forgo anticipated revenues of over $33 trillion over the next 25 years.

    Left: Fossil fuel emissions 1850 to 2010 and since 2000. Right: Amount of fossil fuel emissions to keep warming under 2 C, vs. potential emissions from proven reserves. Fossil fuel companies know that they cannot compete with renewable energy v. cost. The competitive cost advantage will be advanced if the fossil fuel companies are compelled to pay a cost for their pollution.

    Oil shale operation access approved, another straw in the #GreenRiver and the #ColoradoRiver #ActOnClimate

    Left: Fossil fuel emissions 1850 to 2010 and since 2000. Right: Amount of fossil fuel emissions to keep warming under 2 C, vs. potential emissions from proven reserves. Fossil fuel companies know that they cannot compete with renewable energy v. cost. The competitive cost advantage will be advanced if the fossil fuel companies are compelled to pay a cost for their pollution.

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

    …the federal government authorized a 14-mile corridor across public land in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin to service a proposed strip mine and processing plant that could produce 50,000 barrels of a crude a day — but also deplete the Green River.

    The Bureau of Land Management issued the decision last week after a six-year environmental review that dodged studying impacts associated with the controversial South Project, proposed by Estonia-based Enefit American Oil on private land 40 miles southeast of Vernal.

    Environmental activists argue that this omission renders the decision suspect because the 9,000-acre mine’s impacts to air quality, groundwater, the Green and White rivers and the landscape remain unknown.

    “Oil shale has been the next big thing for a hundred years!” — Ed Quillen

    Ireland votes to divest from fossil fuels #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    By Jeff Schmaltz – NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain,

    From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

    Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’

    The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.

    The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.

    The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.

    Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]

    The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.

    “The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

    Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”


    The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.

    Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”

    Three reasons for optimism about climate change — The Mountain Town News

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide

    U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.

    Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.

    Brian Deese photo credit

    “I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

    Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.

    The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.

    But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.

    “China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”

    That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”

    The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

    In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.

    Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.

    A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.

    To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.

    He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”

    Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

    @Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

    Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

    The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

    At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

    What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

    The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

    The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

    That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

    And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

    We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

    The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

    This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

    The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

    David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.


    NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

    Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

    “We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

    Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

    He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

    Battle lines form over oil shale — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    As my friend Ed Quillen once said, “Oil shale has been the ‘Next big thing’ in Colorado for over a hundred years.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The White River meanders through Utah on its way to joining the Green River, flowing slowly through land on which an energy company hopes to develop its oil shale holdings.

    Opponents and supporters of the proposal by Enefit American Oil have drawn familiar lines in the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau.

    Opponents contend that the project threatens the local environment and that development could unbalance the global climate.

    Supporters say the project would prop up local economies in two states still reeling from the fall in oil prices that slowed production and put a virtual halt to exploration.

    Enefit is seeking a right of way across federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which listed the route as a preferred alternative in its environmental study of the request.

    Oil shale development is a greater threat to the atmosphere than other fossil-fuel development, said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

    “It’s not a contribution to society,” Weisheit said. “It’s a detriment to society.”

    More like a lifeline to struggling northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, said Lannie Massey, natural resource specialist for Rio Blanco County.

    “This Enefit deal is a good deal for everybody involved,” Massey said. “It would lessen our dependence on foreign sources” of energy and pump new life into the moribund energy industry.

    Enefit’s project has attracted an array of opposition, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Earthjustice, Western Resource Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as Living Rivers.

    The northwest Colorado town of Rangely stands to benefit from Enefit’s project because of the town’s proximity. Rangely is about 30 miles from the area via Rio Blanco County Road 23, which could connect to Dragon Road in Utah, and then into the project site.

    The project is expected to require about 2,000 jobs, which would be “a huge boost for this area and for this region, eastern Utah and western Colorado,” said Tim Webber, executive director of the Western Rio Blanco County Metro Recreation and Park District.

    Bonanza, Utah, and Rangely are the nearest towns and they sit 20 miles apart as the crow flies, 28 miles apart by road. The rough-and-tumble territory in between is pockmarked with drillpads and Gilsonite mines that cut deep, straight-edge swaths into the earth.

    Enefit’s oil shale project sits on private land as well as state land set aside for development to benefit Utah schools and other institutions.

    Enefit is planning to mine oil shale under 27,243 acres, most it privately held.

    The project under consideration by the BLM is a utility corridor over federal land that Enefit would use to extend utilities to serve the project, which projects production of 50,000 barrels of oil per day for as many as 30 years.

    Enefit is planning to build three pipelines, expand an existing road and run a 138-kilovolt power line to the project area 12 miles southeast of Bonanza.

    “I fly over that area a lot,” said Bruce Gordon of Aspen-based EcoFlight. The corridor land is “relatively pristine” with good habitat for animals, Gordon said.

    The area is “pretty industrialized and disturbed already,” said Enefit Chief Executive Officer Rikki Hrenko-Browning.

    Enefit could develop its private holdings without crossing federal land, but that would require a constant stream of heavy trucks and other heavy equipment, resulting in reduced air quality, the BLM said in its draft environmental impact statement.

    The BLM needs to better understand the oil that would be produced by Enefit, as well as take into account the potential effects on water quality and of spent shale, said Anne Mariah Tapp of the Grand Canyon Trust.

    The possible effects of a spill of oil into the White River or Evacuation Creek — and how to clean it up — have gone unstudied, Tapp said.

    “Water quality is as important as water quantity,” Tapp said.

    The BLM also should have a better idea of what will happen with 23 million tons of spent shale produced every year, Tapp said.

    Spent shale — as the rock left over after the process is referred to — contains poisons, such as arsenic, as well as minerals, such as lithium.

    Enefit is planning a “zero-liquid discharge” process in which all water to be used will be captured, treated and reused, said Hrenko-Browning. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Plans also call for Enefit to have ongoing reclamation in areas of surface mining, Hrenko-Browning said.

    Once the BLM completes its process, Enefit will seek permits from the state, including the state mining permit.

    Rangely and western Rio Blanco County are working hard to diversify the regional economy, said Massey.

    There is more at stake than that, however, Massey said.

    Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the largest oil shale resources in the world.

    “If we can get somebody to commit money and improve the retort process,” Massey said, “it would be a benefit to all of us in the oil shale region.”

    Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

    From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

    Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

    In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

    With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

    Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

    Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

    Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

    @USGS: Map of Assessed Continuous (Unconventional) Oil Resources in the U.S., 2014

    The truth behind oil shale’s water demands — Anne-Mariah Tapp and David M. Abelson #ColoradoRiver

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Anne-Mariah Tapp and David M. Abelson):

    As the new Congress ramps up in the coming weeks, energy policy will quickly top the list of priorities. Debates over the Keystone Pipeline, natural gas exports, and climate change may dominate, but they won’t be the only issues demanding Congress’ attention. In the West, the link between energy development and water use has never been more dire. And for the Colorado River Basin’s 40 million residents —and the water they depend on — a critical piece of legislation on the docket is the PIONEERS Act.

    The PIONEERS Act seeks to jumpstart the non-existent oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for private gain at the expense of Colorado River Basin water resources. Oil shale, the poor cousin of the shale oil and fracking boom, is technically feasible to extract, but in 100 years of dogged attempts by the federal government and the oil industry, extracting it has never turned a profit. Now provisions in the PIONEERS Act attempt to improve the economics by providing federal subsidies in the form of cheap public land and below-market royalties.

    In securing passage of the PIONEERS Act in the past three sessions of Congress (each time the bill has been thwarted in the Senate), Colorado Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton have maintained that oil shale development, should the technologies be successfully commercialized, would require little water. This claim seems to be based solely on public assurances made by the oil industry. However, recent water court filings by oil shale developers now cast doubt upon these assurances, and it’s time for Lamborn and Tipton to reconsider their endorsement of the industry.

    In recent months, oil shale industry leaders Chevron Oil and ExxonMobil have undercut Lamborn and Tipton’s lead talking point. Chevron filed a lengthy report in Colorado water court showing that the company’s proposed oil shale development activities alone would require up to 125,000 acre-feet of water per year. That’s enough to supply more than half of Denver Water’s 2.3 million customers. ExxonMobil is seeking rights to even more water than Chevron, saying oil shale’s water demands “are anticipated to be higher than that of other sectors.” Other companies across the Colorado River Basin are also pursuing water rights to support oil shale operations.

    For those of us who actually depend on Colorado River water to live, from the headwaters in Colorado to the delta in California, these projected water demands are alarming. By 2050, when oil shale supporters predict a mature industry might flourish, the competition for water could be extreme, pitting vital agriculture and recreation economies against a burgeoning population and water-intensive energy demands. If oil shale indeed develops at a large-scale, the family farm — the bedrock of our rural communities and a critical economic driver for our region — will face a full-court press from industry for water rights.

    Even without oil shale development, water providers throughout the Colorado River Basin will be hard-pressed to meet existing and future demand. Colorado’s Water Plan, published in December 2014, indicates that by 2050, the gap between water availability and demand will be roughly 500,000 acre-feet, more water than the cities of Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque collectively use in a year. Oil shale gets scant attention in this analysis, but developing these deposits would increase the gap and further strain water supplies.

    As James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has noted, “No single issue will have a more direct impact on Colorado’s future than our ability to successfully and collaboratively manage our life-giving water.” This challenge is not unique to Colorado. States throughout the West are grappling with complex supply and demand questions.

    As Congress takes up the PIONEERS Act and considers whether to fast-track oil shale development in the Colorado River Basin, it’s time to examine supporters’ key talking point that oil shale won’t use much water. We must remember the court filings and hold our elected officials accountable. There is too much riding on the myth that oil shale wouldn’t require much of a far more precious resource: water.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Shale industry scales back potential in region — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    An oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is likely to be about one-third the size it had been envisioned, an industry association said. Instead of a 1.5-million barrel-per-day industry, the more likely scenario is a 500,000-barrel-per-day industry, according to estimates by the National Oil Shale Association. The estimates were dramatically reduced “in light of a more pragmatic view of what an industry might look like in 50 years or so,” the association said, in an estimate that also noted that oil shale production would demand less water than had been previously believed.

    The United States in 2013 consumed 6.89 billion barrels of petroleum products or 18.89 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    The oil shale association’s estimate is based on production of 225,000 barrels per day from in-situ means, or heating shale deep below the surface; 200,000 barrels per day from retorting shale on the surface; and 75,000 barrels per day from modified techniques, such as heating it in an earthen capsule, which is left in place.

    Additional information about water demands of each technique sharply lowered the association’s estimate of water use from its 2013 estimate of 1.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Depending on approach, production from oil shale could require between 0.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil to 1.2 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Production of 500,000 barrels per day could demand between 16,400 acre feet to 28,900 acre feet of water per year…

    The reduction in the anticipated size of an oil shale industry is the result of new information that came to light this year, the association said.

    “Projects have matured, and some developers have taken a new look into technologies that dramatically reduce water needs,” the association said. “However, estimates are still preliminary and may change as projects reach commercialization.”

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

    It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

    This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

    Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

    That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

    In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

    The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐ It is under the “Resources” tab.

    Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Climate change: “The fossil-fuel industry…has been able to delay effective action” — Bill McKibben

    Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan
    Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan

    Here’s an essay about the risk of doing nothing about climate change from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Bill McKibben, a writer and activist, has made the most cogent arguments. Two years ago, after crunching the numbers, he concluded that private companies own five times more carbon in the ground than the world can possibly absorb. “On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens,” he wrote in an essay titled “A Call to Arms” that was published in the June 8 issue of Rolling Stone.

    He identifies a clear problem. “The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late,” he wrote. [ed. emphasis mine]

    McKibben’s has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would export Alberta’s bitumen to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It’s largely a symbolic fight, as Michael Levi points out in his book The Power Surge. The tar/oil sands would, if fully developed, elevate atmospheric concentrations of C02 by 60 ppm. At current rates of tar/oil sands mining, that would take 3,000 years, he says. Isolating the climate debate to Alberta’s bitumen, he says, is a mistake.

    But Keystone XL represents business as usual. We need accelerated change. The United States should follow the lead of British Columbia in levying a carbon tax. My impression of B.C.’s tax is that it not precisely the best model. We need a revenue-neutral tax, accelerating over time, giving the private sector clear market signals to instigate changes.

    Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary in the Bush years, made this case in an 1,800-word essay in the New York Times on June 22. A few days later, a group that includes Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stanford’s George Schultz, who is another former treasury secretary, and a number of other high-profile individuals — including billionaire Tom Steyer — released a report titled “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.”

    More climate change coverage here and here.

    “Oil shale has been the next big thing in Colorado for over a hundred years” — Ed Quillen #ColoradoRiver

    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM
    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Microwaving rock in northwest Colorado could turn the oil shale business inside out, said a Grand Junction inventor who is working to restart oil shale at a time when many are pulling away from it. Using equipment small enough to be loaded onto two trucks traversing the surface could result in minimal surface disturbance, said Peter Kearl, a Grand Valley native who heads Qmast LLC,, the company pursuing the project.

    Not only would his technology disturb little of the surface, it also would likely produce — rather than use — water, Kearl said.

    It could be run using natural gas from the Piceance Basin itself as a fuel source and leave behind subterranean caverns that could be used for carbon sequestration, Kearl said.

    Most approaches to developing oil shale, from retorting it above the ground to mining and in-situ heating in large expanses, have run afoul of environmental and cost concerns.

    Rather than employing a “big-risk, big-reward” approach such as that of Royal Dutch Shell before it pulled out of oil shale entirely last year, Kearl said he’s hoping to use a more measured approach and achieve more reliable and regular results.

    Several other oil shale ventures are pushing ahead in Utah, and Kearl acknowledged that it might be easier to test his technology across the state line.

    “But I’m a Colorado boy,” he said, voicing his preference for developing oil shale in the Centennial State.

    He has a geology degree from what was known then as Mesa College and a degree in hydrogeology from the University of Nevada.

    It also helps that the richest, though deepest, deposits of the Green River Formation’s oil shale are in the northwest corner of Colorado. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the world’s largest deposits of oil shale that contain as many as 4.2 trillion barrels of oil, according to recent estimates.

    Applying microwaves to heat-
targeted areas of rock makes more sense than heating large areas using other methods of heating, Kearl said.

    “The fundamental physics are definitely on our side,” he said.

    The process would send the microwave equipment down a well to heat the hydrocarbon-bearing rock to the point that it would release crude oil that then could be collected by conventional drilling, he said.

    The technology could tap shale on steep slopes from the side, allowing the oil to simply flow out, he said.

    He presented his idea in 2012 at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on the Stanford University campus.

    The more targeted approach he advocates could prove to be a financial success, Kearl said.

    A well 300 meters deep could produce revenue of $80 million, based on $100-per-barrel crude prices, he said.

    Kearl and his partners are working to arrange financing of $5.5 million for a test. That step is difficult because the federal government appears to be uninterested in making available any more land for research, demonstration and development leases.

    The effective ban on experimentation “thwarts inventiveness,” Kearl said.

    So he’s also looking for a small parcel of land, a quarter of an acre would do, on which to test his technology, including his estimate that he could produce about half a barrel of water for each barrel of oil he produces.

    The patented microwave technology he’s considering wouldn’t require a large electricity supply, he said, because the process also would produce natural gas, which could be used to fire the generators for the microwave equipment.

    Read the post with Ed’s quote here.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings, Inc. to research oil shale development #ColoradoRiver

    Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon -- Photo / Associated Pres
    Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon — Photo / Associated Pres

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings Inc. have edged another step closer to undertaking oil shale research-and-development projects with the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of their development plans. The approvals are for the company’s research, demonstration and development leases on federal land southwest of Meeker in Rio Blanco County. The projects still must undergo review by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety.

    For ExxonMobil, its project marks a renewed attempt to commercially extract petroleum from oil shale after what was then Exxon shut down its Colony Project in 1982. That shutdown resulted in some 2,000 workers losing their jobs and caused economic repercussions for years from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction.

    Natural Soda, meanwhile, has extensive experience with another kind of mining at a site just north of its federal lease. It injects hot water underground to solution-mine for baking soda, known as nahcolite in its natural form. On its lease, it proposes first removing the nahcolite using its normal process, then producing oil from underground by heating it using either a downhole burner or a closed-loop steam system.

    ExxonMobil also is proposing an in-situ, or in-place, development project involving heating the oil shale underground and then pumping out the oil — a process different from the Colony Project, which involved surface mining and heating of oil shale. Exxon wants to hydraulically fracture the oil shale, fill the fractures with conductive material and then electrically heat the shale.

    The companies acquired the leases under a second round of R&D leasing conducted by the BLM. The leases initially cover about 160 acres but potentially can be enlarged by some 480 acres for commercial development if certain conditions are met.

    Shell, Chevron and American Shale Oil hold R&D leases in Rio Blanco County from the earlier round of leasing — including three leases in Shell’s case — with the potential to convert each lease to nearly eight square miles for commercial development. But while AMSO continues to work on an in-situ project, Chevron, and more recently Shell, have ended their oil shale projects in connection with their leases. Shell had done the most work of any company on an in-situ shale project in Colorado before shutting it down last year.

    Economics, environment

    In approval documents for the ExxonMobil and Natural Soda plans, BLM White River Field Office manager Kent Walter wrote that each proposed action “with mitigation represents an opportunity to develop domestic energy sources and to inform and advance knowledge of commercially viable production, development and recovery technologies of oil shale resources consistent with sound environmental management. It also will provide a basis for informed future decisions about whether and when to move forward with commercial scale development and allow for the assessment of its impacts on the environment.”

    David Abelson, an oil shale policy advisor for the Western Resource Advocates conservation group, said that if history is any indication, there’s a strong likelihood the latest projects won’t prove economically viable.

    But he added, “One thing I think we have learned over the years is to proceed cautiously so we don’t repeat what happened in western Colorado in the early ‘80s.”

    He said both Shell and Chevron showed a big difference from companies’ past practice in acknowledging failure early on rather than proceeding to the point where shutting down a project is economically devastating.

    New approach

    He said ExxonMobil and Natural Soda also will operate under a framework governing the second round of leases that requires more reporting regarding protection of air and water quality and other concerns.

    “And that is good public policy. That’s the basis for making smart decisions,” he said.

    ExxonMobil repeatedly has emphasized the desire to take a prudent, step-by-step approach to its new oil shale undertaking, something reiterated in its development plan.

    “It is recognized that development of a commercial(ly) viable in situ oil shale technology will require a paced approach to thoroughly evaluate and optimize technology viability, with appropriate focus on environmental protection, water conservation and responsible land use,” the company said in the plan.

    It plans to first conduct an appraisal phase involving drilling one or more test wells to ascertain the oil shale resources within the lease, along with groundwater monitoring wells to do baseline testing of water quality before further work ensues.

    It currently estimates a resource of 600 million barrels of oil are contained in the shale within its lease.

    The appraisal phase would be followed by three experimental phases, first to establish the ability to install the technology in the test zone, secondly to heat the zone, and then to do a pilot test to determine commercial viability on a field scale.

    “ExxonMobil has consistently proposed a staged and deliberate development program that allows for technical advancement while minimizing the potential for environmental impacts,” its plan says.

    Natural Soda also is outlining a phased approach in its plan, starting with a monitoring well to be drilled as soon as this year. That would be followed by steps such as building processing facilities, installing heating elements, operating the facilities and expanding and replicating the process over a period of up to nine years.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Oil shale: An alliance of conservationists are asking Utah to reconsider recent permits for groundwater disposal

    Deep injection well
    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Conservation groups are asking the state of Utah to reconsider its December approval of a groundwater discharge permit for Red Leaf Resources’ oil shale project.

    The request comes as the company hopes to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project in the Bookcliffs about 55 miles south of Vernal.

    The groups on Tuesday filed what’s called a “request for agency action” with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the department’s Division of Water Quality. It seeks review and remand of the division’s December decision and an order revoking the permit.

    Attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates filed the action on behalf of Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

    In a news release, the groups said the permit “lacks measures to prevent or detect surface or groundwater pollution, in violation of state law.”

    Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said in the release, “Amazingly, they are not even requiring monitoring of springs, seeps, or groundwater on site.”

    Spokespersons for the Department of Environmental Quality and Red Leaf Resources could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a December news release, the department said that “leachate produced from mining operations appears to have levels of dissolved contaminants that are comparable to, or less than, the levels in existing groundwater in underlying rocks.”

    It also said rock just below the project area “is of very low permeability and protects underlying aquifers from any contaminants that could possibly be released from the capsule.”

    Red Leaf Resources plans to try out what it calls a capsule approach in which it will excavate shale from a pit, install heaters and collection pipes, replace the shale and heat it to produce oil. The groundwater permit applies to a test capsule, and if the company wants to build additional ones for commercial production it would have to seek a major modification to the permit.

    The conservation groups’ challenge of the permit says a planned 3-foot-thick liner made of up shale mixed with clay is inadequate. It says the Division of Water Quality determined groundwater just beneath the mine site doesn’t quality for protection because it is not usable, but in fact the division is required to protect all groundwater from contamination.

    Meanwhile, a British Company, The Oil Mining Co (TOMCO), is moving ahead with plans to implement Red Leaf’s kerogen recovery process just west of the Colorado Border. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    A British company filed papers in Utah to begin mining oil shale on land just west of the Colorado state line. TomCo submitted a notice of intent to begin mining on 2,919 acres in Uintah County for shale, which it plans to roast in large earthen capsules to release oil.

    Red Leaf Resources, which owns the technology that TomCo plans to use, last month received a groundwater discharge permit for its operation, and TomCo said it is working to obtain a similar permit for its leases, which are on state property.

    TomCo, which is an acronym for The Oil Mining Co., anticipates tapping the leases for 126 million barrels of oil on what is known as the Holliday Block lease. TomCo licensed the Red Leaf technology, in which oil shale is excavated and the pit is lined with a network of pipes. The crushed shale is then replaced into the pit and covered over, then heated by the network of pipes beneath, to the point at which the oil breaks free of the surrounding rock and is collected with another network of pipes. Once the oil has been recovered, the material is left in place beneath its covering.

    The EcoShale In-Capsule Process is expected to produce up to 9,800 barrels of oil per day on TomCo’s leases.

    TomCo said it hoped the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining would approve the permit for mining in the middle of this year, and then open the matter for a 30-day comment period.

    Red Leaf, meanwhile, expects to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project the company hopes will allow it to tap as many as 600 million barrels of oil at the rate of 9,800 barrels per day.

    Red Leaf Resources expects it to take a year to construct its first test capsule and that it will take into next year before oil will be recovered.

    Red Leaf’s site is on Seep Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of the TomCo holdings.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    ‘I firmly believe we will some day see oil shale become a reality’ — Glenn Vawter

    Oil shale deposits Colorado, Wyoming and Utah
    Oil shale deposits Colorado, Wyoming and Utah

    Here’s a recap of a presentation about the future of oil shale at Rifle Community College on November 19, written by Mike McKibbin for the Rifle Citizen-Telegram. Here’s an excerpt:

    The long sought-after petroleum product is infamous for its long-held promise of economic benefits, high-paying jobs and what sounds like an almost non-ending supply to meet America’s growing energy needs.

    But while that reality has proved elusive for centuries, some, such as Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, are ever optimistic. The nonprofit group promotes factual information about oil shale…

    “I firmly believe we will some day see oil shale become a reality, and 75 percent of the world’s oil shale is in the U.S.,” Vawter said. “It’s already been produced commercially for decades in Brazil, Estonia and China.”[…]

    The underground mining processes used by companies such as Unocal, which produced 10,000 barrels of shale oil a day during its limited operation, totaled five-million barrels and was proven feasible, Vawter said.

    The in-situ process that companies are now developing has the advantage of no mining, Vawter said.

    Currently, research, design and development projects on Bureau of Land Management leases are underway by American Shale Oil, ExxonMobil and Natural Soda in western Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, along with Red Leaf Resources and Enefit American Oil in Utah.

    “It was discouraging that Shell recently announced they were pulling out,” Vawter said. “But Red Leaf plans to start commercial production of up to 10,000 barrels a day in Utah next year. There’s a lot going on over there in Utah. They have policies that are more welcoming to energy and oil shale industries.”

    Enefit has operated shale oil projects in Estonia for decades, Vawter pointed out, with a proven technology.

    And Vawter pointed to a recent U.S. Geological Survey estimate of 4.3 trillion barrels of shale oil in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Of that, Vawter said up to 1.14 billion barrels are now considered recoverable. That is up to six times more than the total oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and significantly more than known U.S. conventional oil resources.

    “There are places in the Piceance Basin that are estimated to have one million barrels in just one acre,” Vawter said. “The Piceance Basin could have up to 152 trillion barrels.”

    Water used in the oil shale process has often been cited by opponents as a large hurdle, Vawter said, but current processes for a 1.5 million barrel per day project would require just 2 to 3 percent of an estimated 8 million acre feet per year of water in the Colorado River.

    “That’s not an insignificant amount, but it’s far less than some still believe,” he said…

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

    New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables
    New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

    Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

    The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

    Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

    Continue reading “Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan”

    ‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

    Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

    Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

    More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

    The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

    The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

    The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

    Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

    Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    School of Mines 33rd Oil Shale Symposium recap

    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM
    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    It could require less than half a barrel of water to buoy up a barrel of oil from the high desert of the west, Shell Oil Co. said. One barrel of oil could be produced from oil shale for as little as a third of a barrel of water, Tom Fowler, commercial lead for the Shell project, said at the 33rd Oil Shale symposium at Colorado School of Mines.

    Water use has long been a point of contention in the running battle over the development of oil shale.

    Shell’s announcement comes on the heels of its decision to shift assets away from oil shale in northwest Colorado to other assets, among them a $12.5 billion shale-to-gas plant in Louisiana.

    “We were laser-focused on water,” and the techniques refined in Colorado “translate very well to other places, I’m specifically thinking of Jordan, where they also are very concerned about their water, Fowler said.

    Shell’s new estimates are based on a project producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day.

    One major factor in Shell’s reduction in anticipated water use was to switch from water cooling to air cooling, especially in the power-generation part of the process. Power is needed to heat the rock to about 700 degrees Fahrenheit to free kerogen from the rock. Vaporized kerogen condenses into crude oil that can be recovered.

    Shell also reduced its estimates of water use by targeting the deepest, though not richest, layers of oil shale, Fowler said. By recovering oil from the deepest layers, which lie beneath groundwater, the company eliminated any need to steam-strip the area from which it removed kerogen. That, combined with other efforts to reduce and better manage water, could reduce the ratio of water to oil to 0.3 barrels of water to 1 barrel of oil. It also would leave the richest layers of shale still available for development with more refined techniques in the future, Fowler said. Shell’s estimates include domestic water and usage for reclamation and other purposes.

    The most kerogen-rich oil shale in the world sits in northwest Colorado, under thousands of feet of overburden and Shell’s departure leaves one company pursuing development of shale in place, with little surface disturbance.

    Two companies, Enefit American Oil and Red leaf Resources, are mining more shallow resources in Utah and heating them to recover oil.

    Shell’s estimates don’t apply to those techniques, but Enefit American Oil says its methods will require between one and three barrels of water per barrel of oil, with the likely outcome closer to the lower end.

    Opponents of oil shale development frequently cite a Government Accountability Office report, widely panned by industry officials, citing water needs at seven barrels per barrel of oil produced.

    More oil shale coverage here via Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    While oil shale development in the United States suffered a blow when Shell Oil announced it was pulling out of its much-touted Mahogany project, other nations are encouraging industry development. Genie Energy, which is still moving ahead on its project in northwest Colorado, has a new project in Mongolia. Irati Energy, based in Canada, is moving ahead on a pilot oil shale project in Brazil. Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, the world’s largest oil shale company, also has a concession, or lease, in Jordan, to produce electricity and oil from shale deposits there.

    And while Shell pulled out of Colorado, it didn’t pull out of oil shale. The international energy giant still is working on an oil shale project in Jordan, despite abandoning its plans to produce oil from shale in the Colorado portion of the Green River formation.

    China, Morocco and other countries are seeing development of their oil shale deposits, as well.

    Northwest Colorado, the focal point of the richest, thickest deposits of oil shale in the world, however, is seeing no new interest in its deposit even as Enefit American Oil is working to produce oil from shale in neighboring Utah.

    David Argyle organized Irati Energy to begin work on the Brazil project and he’s on the lookout for new resources. He’s not looking immediately at the U.S., however.

    “We don’t have the time or patience” to work through the regulatory issues facing oil shale development in the United States, Argyle said, noting that he doesn’t reject development in the United States out of hand.

    The industry, however, has to overcome emotional opposition, despite having a good environmental record, Argyle said.

    “In Brazil, we’re getting quietly on with it. In Israel, they’re getting quietly on with it,” Argyle said of oil shale development.

    Boom-bust cycles aren’t a major issue because the Brazil project anticipates a 200-year lifespan, Argyle said.

    Another project in Brazil has a 300-year lifespan, he said.

    The development around the world demonstrates that “oil shale has a global footprint” that is growing, Argyle said. That footprint expanded into Mongolia by accident, said Claude Pupkin, Genie Energy CEO. Genie Energy sent a geologist to Mongolia on an unrelated mission and he stumbled on a “world class,” previously unrecognized oil shale deposit, Pupkin said.

    “We’ll do a pilot project that is smaller than AMSO,” Pupkin said, referring to the American Shale Oil project in Colorado.

    In both cases, the projects will be in-situ, meaning that there will be little surface disturbance. Genie obtained commercial production rights and is working with the government in Mongolia to establish a regulatory system for development, Pupkin said.

    Colorado’s deep oil shale deposits don’t fit with the retorting technology developed in Estonia, Enefit American Oil CEO Rikki Hrenko said.

    Update: From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    With the shadow of Nazi occupation looming over the country, Sweden turned to oil shale in 1940.

    “Oil shale got the Swedish economy through World War II,” Dr. Harold Vinegar said.

    Vinegar outlined for the Oil Shale Symposium at Colorado School of Mines last week how Sweden exploited a low-grade oil shale deposit near the town of Kvantorp, using an in-situ process that bore a striking resemblance to the in-situ process Shell Oil Co. was pursuing in northwest Colorado. Vinegar is an oil and energy scientist who spent more than 30 years with Shell.

    The Swedes already were mining the same oil shale deposit when they became frustrated by the cost and difficulty of digging to reach the shale they retorted to produce oil, Vinegar said.

    Fredrick Ljungstrom came up with the idea of heating the shale in place and leaving the soil above it undisturbed. Ljungstrom drove heating elements in a closely spaced hexagonal pattern down into the shale and sunk a collection well in the center.

    The heaters and wells were shallow, in the tens of feet instead of the thousands of feet below the surface in the Piceance Basin.

    Making the project more difficult was the lack of electricity. Ljunsgstrom could only get electricity to heat the shale four months of the year, during the spring runoff, when hydroelectric power was available, Vinegar said.

    During those months, Ljungstrom used a mobile transformer to direct power into the cells he was using at any given time to heat the rock to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

    “It really was a brilliant idea,” Vinegar said.

    And it worked.

    The Ljungstrom process produced 90,000 barrels of oil from 1942 to 1945 and 1.5 million barrels during its production life that ended in 1959. The oil produced from Ljungstrom’s in-situ process was lighter and cleaner than the oil produced from the retort process on the same deposit, Vinegar said. Groundwater beneath the deposit was protected by an impermeable clay layer that prevented contamination, Vinegar said.

    In addition to inventing what is known as the Ljungstrom process for oil shale, Ljungstrom was also a co-inventor, with his brother, of high-pressure steam boilers, steam turbines and steam locomotives.

    He also was a sailing innovator and the Ljungstrom rig — an arrangement of sails — is named for him.

    The land he used to produce oil from shale over the years has changed.

    “The area revegetated naturally,” Vinegar said. “It’s now a park where the in-situ process was run.”

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    ‘Worldwide production of oil shale has nearly doubled in the last six years’ — Jeremy Boak

    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM
    Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Reports of the death of the oil shale industry are grossly exaggerated, a Colorado School of Mines expert said.

    Oil shale “is no longer in its infancy,” Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at Mines, said during the opening of the 33rd annual Oil Shale Symposium here. “It might be in its rambunctious adolescence.”

    Worldwide production from oil shale has nearly doubled in the last six years from 18,000 barrels per day of crude oil from oil shale to 35,000 barrels per day, Boak said.

    The states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the richest deposits of oil shale in the world. The deposits of northwest Colorado are the most significant of them.

    Shell Oil, however, this year announced it was pulling out of its Mahogany Project in Rio Blanco County, citing increased risk and competition. Shell was working on producing oil from deeply buried oil shale with little surface disturbance. Even though it is ceasing its Colorado operations, Shell is continuing to work in Jordan on a project, Boak said.

    Other energy giants, such as Petrobras in Brazil, and Total in France, are continuing to work on oil shale production.

    Planned projects and others in the works could account for production increases of as much as 10 percent over the next five to 10 years, Boak said.

    Though critics have questioned the amount of water an industry would use, “I think we’ve got a perfectly good estimate of water use,” about 0.4 percent of the water used annually in Colorado each year, Boak said.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Parker-based Independent Energy Partners and the School of Mines are testing a new oil shale production technology

    Geothermic fuel cell well field -- via Independent Energy Partners
    Geothermic fuel cell well field — via Independent Energy Partners

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A Colorado company is working with the Colorado School of Mines on the next stage of testing for a novel approach to developing oil shale. Parker-based Independent Energy Partners is pursuing the concept of using what it calls a geothermic fuel cell to employ heat to produce oil from shale in-situ, or in place, underground. Strings of fuel cells would be stacked in wells drilled into the shale.

    The idea was first conceived by Marshall Savage, whose family has extensive land holdings in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin and who serves as IEP’s vice president of technology development.

    A fuel cell can convert a fuel like natural gas into electricity through a chemical process. The patented, downhole heater being developed by IEP will use the waste heat to warm up the oil shale rock in what’s called a geothermic process, versus the geothermal one of tapping heat from the ground.

    The company plans to use locally produced natural gas to get the fuel cells going, but under the concept the cells then will operate on gas generated along with oil in the heating process. Electricity production will be a side benefit of the process, and IEP President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Forbes said the process would be water neutral because water produced by the fuel cell would offset consumption. Carbon emissions would be minimal because there’s no combustion, he said.

    The company had Pacific Northwest National Laboratory do work to confirm the concept’s technical viability, and had Delphi, a solid oxide fuel cell maker, make a downhole prototype. Now, IEP is paying about $900,000 for the School of Mines to do prototype testing at its Colorado Fuel Cell Center. The school received a small unit earlier this year and a stacked one more recently.

    Initial testing will be followed next year by in-ground tests on campus, and then field tests in oil shale formations, with a goal of producing oil in 2015. IEP holds several leases on private property in Rio Blanco County.

    “It’s kind of an exciting research project,” said Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the School of Mines.

    Said Forbes, “We’re pretty confident it’s going to work fine, it will work as advertised.”

    Boak said one challenge the company might face is rock shifting when heated and damaging heaters. He said he thinks Shell faced such problems but was able to solve them. [ed. emphasis mine]

    The company is pressing forward even as Shell has announced the end of its Colorado oil shale research and development project, citing a desire to focus on other global opportunities.“I know that they haven’t been doing really well at a corporate level and I think they’re just readjusting their priorities,” Forbes said.

    He said IEP’s work is “moving right along.”

    “We’re quite pleased with the progress and the parties we’re working with right now.”

    Those parties include the energy giant Total, which also is a partner with American Shale Oil in an in-situ project in Rio Blanco County and is invested in Red Leaf Resources’ project to mine and process oil shale in Utah.

    “I think Total is very energized by this (IEP) approach and other approaches and is eager to see something proceed here,” Boak said.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Oil shale: Shell’s exit from the game does not worry companies left standing #ColoradoRiver

    Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon -- Photo / Associated Pres
    Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon — Photo / Associated Pres

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Some companies pursuing oil shale projects in Colorado and Utah voiced confidence in their efforts Wednesday even as they absorbed the news that Shell is shutting down its undertaking in Rio Blanco County.

    Among them is American Shale Oil LLC, which holds a federal research, development and demonstration lease in Rio Blanco County and is working to develop oil shale in-situ, meaning in place underground. “AMSO’s still committed to its project. We still believe (oil shale) is a viable resource using our approach” to develop it, said Claude Pupkin, chief executive officer of Genie Energy, which owns a 50 percent interest in AMSO.

    In northeastern Utah, Red Leaf Resources continues to move “full-speed ahead” with its project, with the next goal being a commercial demonstration of its surface-mining and processing approach to develop oil shale, said CEO Adolph Lechtenberger.

    “Everything we look at in our technology says it’s certainly economic at today’s oil prices,” he said.

    Shell said this week it is ending its in-situ Colorado oil shale project, which it began in 1996. Shell has been a leader in oil shale research in the region and owns three federal RD&D leases in Rio Blanco County. Shell said it had decided to focus on other opportunities and assets in its global energy portfolio, including oil shale projects in Jordan and Canada.

    Last year, Chevron, which also holds a federal RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County, also said it was ending its oil shale project.

    ExxonMobil, which recently was granted a federal RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County for an in-situ project, declined to react to Shell’s decision, saying it doesn’t comment on the activities of other companies. But spokesman Patrick McGinn said it is continuing lab-based work on its process.

    Different barrel of oil

    ExxonMobil is hoping to fracture shale, fill fractures with conductive material and then heat the shale with an electric charge to produce oil. “We are concentrating our efforts on developing additional improvements in thermal and electrical process efficiency to further improve the economic and environmental factors of any commercial development.

    “Field experiments to test new developments could be conducted at either (the company’s Parachute-area) Colony Mine or the ExxonMobil RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County. We do not anticipate field tests in 2013,” he said by email.

    Lechtenberger said it’s unfortunate to see a player of Shell’s size pull out of Colorado. “They’ve done a lot of good work over the years and made pretty good strides,” he said.

    But he added, “I think we’re going after a different barrel of oil than Shell was going after.” Shell was targeting shale deep underground, he noted.

    “Our technology is going after shale closer to the surface, easier to mine, with a lower cost to remove,” he said.

    Enefit also is working on a surface shale project in Utah. Lechtenberger said he thinks the deeper-shale projects in Colorado “are going to be a challenge. I think they’re going to be capital-intensive and they’re going to take good technology to do it.”

    Companies pursuing the in-situ process in Colorado are targeting the heart of what is the world’s largest oil shale resource and extends into Utah and Wyoming. They also say their approach will result in fewer surface impacts.

    AMSO has been working through some challenges with heaters for its project and is currently evaluating alternative heaters it can use.

    Pupkin said it’s important to note that Shell isn’t pulling out of oil shale altogether. “They have a very active project ongoing in Jordan and our understanding is that it’s because Jordan not only has very attractive oil shale but they’ve put in place a regulatory framework that makes investment projects capital-attractive,” he said.

    Regulatory uncertainty

    Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said the last he heard Shell has more than 200 people working on oil shale in Jordan. Worldwide, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on oil shale, he said. “They’re clearly not abandoning oil shale as a concept. They’re just deciding that Colorado is not the place they want to do it right now even though it’s (home to) the world-class resource.”

    Pupkin said he thinks the regulatory uncertainty related to the Bureau of Land Management’s changing position regarding royalties and other oil shale rules contributed to Shell’s decision. Shell has voiced concern over that uncertainty in the past but didn’t specifically cite it this week.

    The BLM also has sharply reduced the amount of land potentially available for oil shale leasing in the three-state region, and particularly in Colorado. “We think that the Obama administration has taken a pretty negative approach towards oil shale,” Pupkin said.

    Jeff Hartley of Red Leaf Resources noted that his company doesn’t face the constraints Shell faced with BLM lands because it is working on school trust lands instead.

    Viable technologies

    Chevron spokeswoman Cary Baird said she doesn’t believe her company raised regulatory concerns as an issue when it made its oil shale decision. Rather, it was just a matter of prioritizing what opportunities to invest financial and human resources in at a global level, she said, somewhat echoing Shell’s reasoning. “There are difficulties occasionally in getting good, qualified people to work on different projects and when you have a global portfolio it makes it more complicated,” she said.

    Shell’s decision comes as companies are using hydraulic fracturing to produce growing amounts of natural gas and oil. Shell just this week identified a location for a $12.5 billion natural-gas-to-liquids facility it hopes to build in Louisiana.

    “When you compare the challenge of oil shale to the viability of these other sources, Shell like Chevron decided to place their focus on viable technologies and viable business models,” said David Abelson, oil shale policy advisor for the Western Resource Advocates conservation group. He said he wasn’t surprised by Shell’s announcement, and that it’s learned what other companies have learned over a century about the “extremely challenging” economics of developing oil shale.

    “Shell has always said that this is a research project and they always talked about it being a heavy lift to create a viable fuel and what they learned is what Chevron learned,” he said.

    He said Shell hasn’t been among the strongest boosters of oil shale. “It was the elected officials that got ahead of Shell and claimed the viability of these technologies,” he said.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Shell turns its back on the ‘Next big thing’ — plans exit from the oil shale game after 30 some years

    Oil shale deposits Colorado, Wyoming and Utah
    Oil shale deposits Colorado, Wyoming and Utah

    Oil shale has been the “next big thing” in Colorado for over 100 years. It looks it will take a bit longer to develop as Royal Dutch Shell is pulling out of the play in western Colorado. Here’s a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

    “There’s been a shift in our oil shale project,” spokeswoman Carolyn Tucker said Tuesday. “The energy market has evolved since Shell first started its oil shale research project in 1981. We plan to exit our Colorado oil shale research project in order to focus on other opportunities and producing assets in our broad global portfolio,” she said in an email.

    “Our current focus is to work with staff and contractors as we safely and methodically stop research activities at the site,” she said.

    The announcement regarding the closure of Shell’s oil shale research and development work comes as the company announces plans to put its assets on the market across the United States, including oil and gas assets in northwestern and southeastern Colorado…

    …scientists have spent decades trying to unlock oil shale’s bounty, and many believe that breakthroughs are years away — if they ever happen. Chevron, another Big Oil major, abandoned its oil shale research efforts in February 2012.

    I hate to tell you that I told you so but here’s an article that I wrote in 2008 for the Denver Examimer.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    In 2008, the Colorado and Yampa-White Basin Roundtables, which are groups of stakeholders responsible for “bottom-up” regional water planning, commissioned a study on future water needs for energy development. The initial phase of the study raised eyebrows with the estimate that if oil shale really took off, the industry could be using nearly 380,000 acre feet of water/year by the 2040s, largely due to water use by power plants needed to provide the energy to extract oil from shale. An acre foot is approximately enough water to supply 2-3 households for a year.

    A later version of the roundtables’ study revised the oil shale water use projections down significantly, in part by changing assumptions about how the energy for the extraction process would be generated (with less thirsty natural gas-fired plants rather than coal-fired plants). This version settled on an estimate of 120,000 acre feet/year to supply a large-scale oil shale industry and concluded that it could be supplied mostly from the White River.

    Although significantly lower than the earlier estimate, 120,000 acre feet/year is still much more than the water needs projected for other energy development sectors in the region, including natural gas development. Water use of that magnitude could impact the state’s ability to develop water from the Colorado River and its tributaries for other uses, including meeting the needs of our growing cities. Current uses, such as irrigated agriculture, could also be impacted if senior water rights were applied to meeting the industry’s needs.

    So … does Shell’s withdrawal from oil shale research in the region mean water planners no longer need to account for this potentially large increase in the use of our region’s water? Not necessarily, since several other companies are still actively working on their oil shale research and development projects.

    However, since the water use estimates used in the roundtables’ studies were based largely on the technologies Shell was testing, the numbers will certainly need to be reconsidered, and the time horizon may be pushed back even further.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    In a major setback to the effort to develop oil shale in the United States, Shell is closing down its research and development project in Rio Blanco County.

    The company was the biggest player in oil shale in Colorado, holding three federal research, development and demonstration leases.

    Shell spokeswoman Carolyn Tucker said the decision reflects an evolving energy market since Shell began its oil shale research in 1981.

    “We plan to exit our Colorado oil shale research project in order to focus on other opportunities and producing assets in our broad Global portfolio,” she said in an e-mail. “Our current focus is to work with staff and contractors as we safely and methodically stop research activities at the site.”

    In an interview, she said employment at Shell’s research site has ranged anywhere from 10 to 50, depending on activity levels.

    “It’s not going to be an abrupt exit,” she said.

    Shell has obligations and projects it needs to wind down, including reclamation and decommissioning work required by the Bureau of Land Management, she said.

    Chevron, which also received a research and development lease from the BLM, decided early last year to divest itself of the lease, saying it wanted to focus on other priorities.

    Just last month, Shell announced plans to sell its oil and gas project in Routt and Moffat counties. That followed an earnings decline and a review of Shell’s various oil and gas projects in the Americas, followed by a decision to keep those with the most growth potential.

    At that time, Tucker said that decision had no bearing on its oil shale project, saying it involved a separate business that’s still in the research stage.

    But she said this week’s decision results from another review project looking specifically at Shell’s oil shale assets, which also include holdings in Jordan and Canada.

    “A number of factors went into the decision. Based on those many factors we’ve chosen to put those resources into the other oil shale assets and not in Colorado,” Tucker said.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Thanks Secretary Salazar for Protecting Water from Oil Shale Speculation #coriver


    Here’s the release from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union:

    Today, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union launched an ad campaign thanking outgoing Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar for his smart approach to protecting western water and Colorado farms and ranches from costly oil shale speculation. In the ad, RMFU says, “Thank you Secretary Salazar for not gambling our water away on oil shale!”
    (View the ad here.)

    The ad will run in seven newspapers across the state, including the Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera, Longmont Daily Times-Call, Loveland Daily Reporter Herald, Canon City Daily Record, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and Pueblo Chieftain.

    The Salazar plan requires oil shale companies to demonstrate that oil shale technology is commercially viable and will not jeopardize water supplies or air quality before Interior will consider granting commercial leases. The plan also ensures that technologies developed include proper safeguards for western water, land, wildlife, air quality, and local economies.

    Agriculture is a keystone of Colorado’s economy and way of life, and as the state moves further into the second year of the worst drought in a decade, water supplies are already overtaxed. One of the greatest threats oil shale speculation poses, is to western water sources.

    The Government Accounting Office and industry experts have said oil shale could require up to 140 percent of what Denver Water supplies to residents and local businesses.

    “Colorado’s farmers and ranchers applaud Secretary Salazar for protecting our farms, our ranches, and our food,” said Bill Midcap, RMFU Director of External Affairs. “Western farmers believe in common sense, and that’s what the secretary used in determining this approach to protecting our water from costly oil shale speculation. We wish we saw a little more of this common sense approach in other public land policy. Colorado farmers and ranchers are facing the worst drought in more than a decade, and we simply cannot afford to gamble away our scarce water resources on oil shale speculation.”

    More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Nick Bonham):

    The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is thanking outgoing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar with an advertising campaign. The union praises Salazar, a San Luis Valley native, for protecting Western water and Colorado ranches and farms.

    The ad is appearing in seven state newspapers, including The Pueblo Chieftain, and it reads: “Thank you Secretary Salazar for not gambling our water away on oil shale!”[…]

    “We wish we saw a little more of this common-sense approach in other public land policy. Colorado farmers and ranchers are facing the worst drought in more than a decade, and we simply cannot afford to gamble away our scarce water resources on oil shale speculation.”

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Bureau of Land Management: Oil shale and tar sands record of decision hits the street #coriver


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Bureau of Land Management on Friday proceeded with plans to sharply reduce the amount of land available in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah for possible oil shale leasing, and to require a research-first approach.

    The agency also said it is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to royalty rates and other regulations applying to commercial oil shale development. It has identified several options for amending the rates, including setting a 12.5 percent minimum royalty rate — the same as for oil and gas leases — with the flexibility of the secretary of Interior to increase it later if warranted. Royalty rates adopted by the administration of George W. Bush consist of a 5 percent initial lease rate that eventually reaches 12.5 percent by the 13th year of commercial production. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said that approach shortchanges taxpayers.

    The BLM said it has decided to make about 679,000 acres available for potential oil shale leasing in the three states, and 132,000 acres available for potential tar sands leasing in Utah. Only 26,300 oil shale acres are available in Colorado, compared to about 360,000 acres previously. Overall, the oil shale acreage is down from about 2 million acres the Bush administration allocated for potential commercial leasing. In addition, the acreage is available initially only for research, development and demonstration leases, with the ability for companies to convert to a commercial lease after meeting clean air and water and other requirements. “This plan maintains a strong focus on research and development to promote new technologies that may eventually lead to safe and responsible commercial development of these domestic energy resources,” Salazar said in a news release. “It will help ensure that we acquire critically important information about these technologies and their potential effects on the landscape, especially our scarce water resources in the West.”

    The Obama administration agreed to reconsider the Bush-area shale land allocations and commercial regulations to settle two lawsuits by conservation groups. Conservationists largely praised Friday’s announced decisions.

    Michael Saul, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, said it’s important that companies show their projects are economically justifiable and environmentally sound before obtaining commercial leases. “On the whole we think this is a common-sense approach,” he said of the BLM decision.

    In a news release, Rifle City Council member and former Mayor Keith Lambert noted that the city long has argued commercial leasing shouldn’t occur until R&D leases show oil shale can be developed responsibly, with minimal impacts. “The city of Rifle appreciates that attention has been given to these concerns as the impacts of oil shale development have been and will be felt in this community and others,” he said.

    But Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the BLM’s land decision won’t satisfy the county and commissioners will have to meet “and decide where we’re going to head from here.” Asked where that might be, he said, “There’s only one place to head, the same place the environmentalists go when they’re not satisfied.”

    Northwest Colorado counties and several in Utah and Wyoming were concerned about the direction the new land plan was heading. Jankovsky said Garfield commissioners will have to talk to other affected counties and see if there might be some agreement on how to move forward, possibly with litigation. The Colorado acreage made available in the plan is centered in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, home to what are considered the richest deposits of oil shale in the world.

    This oil shale actually is a kerogen that’s locked up in the rock and must be processed through means such as heating to extract it. It differs from the liquid oil now being pulled from shale formations in the United States and other countries through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

    Western Colorado’s oil shale industry has gone through several booms and busts as companies have sought to develop the resource economically. Several companies now hold federal R&D leases in Colorado and Utah. Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute industry group, said Friday’s decision “takes 1.3 million acres off the table for potential investment in American energy development. That is a step backwards for America’s economic and energy future.”

    U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, decried locking up land from oil shale development and said the new regulations floated Friday would discourage production. “Today, President Obama is turning his back on new innovation by driving investment overseas and hurting America’s energy security,” he said.

    However, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “Oil shale holds great promise for Colorado and the West, but despite decades of trying to extract shale oil, there has not yet been an economical or ecologically feasible method to develop it. The Interior Department’s plan will ensure that commercial oil shale development is feasible and sustainable before leases are issued. It also will make sure that we do not sacrifice our most precious resource, water, in pursuit of oil shale development.”

    Said Bill Midcap of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, “The plan just makes all kinds of sense when it comes to conserving our water resources.” Midcap praised Salazar’s leadership. “He’s brought a lot of common sense to oil shale, (common sense) that we value out here in the West, something we need more of in this country,” Midcap said.

    Friday’s oil shale announcements come as Salazar is just about to leave office. The proposed royalty and other regulatory changes also come more than 10 months later than when the Interior Department had committed to proposing them under the lawsuit settlement agreement.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Bureau of Land Management: Oil shale and tar sands record of decision hits the street #coriver


    Click here to read the ROD. Here’s the introduction:

    This Record of Decision (ROD) approves the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to amend 10 Resource Management Plans (RMP) to designate certain public lands, managed by the BLM, in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming as available for application for leasing and future exploration and development of oil shale and tar sands resources. This ROD does not address, and does not change, any decisions for the management of the public lands for other resource uses and values in the areas subject to these 10 RMPs. The RMP amendments were described as the Proposed Plan Amendments in the November 2012 Proposed Land Use Plan Amendments for Allocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PRMP/FPEIS) (BLM 2012a). This ROD provides the background for the development of the plan amendments, describes in brief the alternatives considered, and presents the rationale for approving the proposed decisions contained in the Proposed Plan Amendments. In addition, the ROD describes the clarifications and modifications made to address protests received on the plan amendments. The BLM’s purpose and need for this planning action is to evaluate the appropriate mix of allowable uses with respect to oil shale and tar sands leasing and potential development in light of Congress’s policy emphasis on these resources. Specifically, as adopted, the Proposed Plan Amendments amend the applicable RMPs to close certain specified areas in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming currently open for application for future leasing and development of oil shale or tar sands. The BLM’s focus in this planning initiative is the potential development of oil shale and tar sands as sources of energy, consistent with congressional policy as expressed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required that a commercial leasing program be established for these resources. Under the approved 2013 land use plan amendments, the BLM amends 10 land use plans in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to make approximately 678,000 acres available for potential development of oil shale, and approximately 132,000 acres available for development of tar sands.

    This ROD provides that the areas allocated as open for future oil shale leasing are, at this time, open only to research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) leases. The BLM would issue a commercial lease only when a lessee satisfies the conditions of its RD&D lease and the regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 43, Subpart 3926 (43 CFR Subpart 3926) for conversion to a commercial lease. The preference right acreage, if any, which would be included in the converted lease, would be specified in the RD&D lease. Similarly, while there is no formal RD&D program for tar sands, this resource is not, at present, a proven commercially viable energy source. Therefore, the BLM has determined that it is necessary to obtain more information about the environmental consequences associated with tar sands development, prior to committing to broad-scale commercial development.

    The land use plan amendments remove from potential oil shale and tar sands leasing the following categories of lands within the planning area in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming (1) all areas that the BLM has identified as having wilderness characteristics (LWC) (2) the whole of the Adobe Town “Very Rare or Uncommon” area, as designated by the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council on April 10, 2008; (3) core or priority sage-grouse habitat, except in Wyoming, where the BLM will coordinate its approach with the policy direction in Wyoming’s Executive Order (E.O.) 2011-5, which has been recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as an adequate regulatory mechanism for the conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse; (4) all Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) and areas currently under consideration for designation as ACECs; and (5) all areas identified as excluded from commercial oil shale and tar sands leasing in Alternative C of the September 2008 Oil Shale and Tar Sands (OSTS) Programmatic EIS (BLM 2008a). In total, more than 1,340,770 acres of the planning area in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming are excluded from oil shale leasing and development, and more
    than 301,100 acres in Utah are excluded from tar sands leasing and development.

    If and when applications to lease are received and accepted for oil shale or tar sands resources within the acres available for leasing under this ROD, the BLM will conduct additional required analyses, including consideration of direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the proposed development, reasonable alternatives, and possible mitigation measures. On the basis of that analysis of future lease application(s), the BLM will establish general lease stipulations and best management practices (BMPs) and amend applicable land use plans, if necessary. After a lease is authorized, actual development will require additional analysis to address the site-specific conditions of the proposed development and to develop mitigation measures as necessary. The attached RMP Amendments to Address Land Use Allocations in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming (Attachment — Appendix A) (also referred to as the Approved Plan Amendments) describes the specific decisions made in this ROD.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Anvil Points: Oil shale research facility cleanup completed


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb) via The Denver Post:

    High up the Roan Plateau above the 365-acre research site, four gaping mine portals large enough that big trucks once drove through them have been closed off to all but bats. The portals tapped mines that were sometimes 1,000 feet long or more, employed hundreds of miners at their peak and provided 400,000 cubic yards of oil shale that underwent retort heating processes at the research site…

    Congress transferred the research site and the oil shale reserves to the Bureau of Land Management in 1997, and provided that cleanup of the site would be paid for by federal revenues from nearby oil and gas development. “There were huge waste piles of retorted oil shale that didn’t pose an immediate hazard but still needed to be cleaned up,” said John Beck, who is branch chief for lands and realty for the Colorado state office of the Bureau of Land Management, and oversaw the $24 million cleanup project.

    “I think they did a very good job with the (cleanup) work over there,” Cooley said.
    He said he didn’t think the site posed much of an environmental concern. But still, “I think it did need to be cleaned up and put to bed, so to speak, from an aesthetic standpoint if nothing else,” he said.

    For the BLM, part of the problem was that waste shale had been dumped in an adjacent valley that’s home to the intermittent West Sharrard Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, raising concern about the potential for contamination from runoff. Carla DeYoung, a BLM ecologist who was an inspector for the project, said arsenic levels in the waste measured six times background levels in the area.

    In addition, a fire of undetermined origin in a waste pile created a lot of ash that had to be shipped to a landfill in Denver. The fire also drew oil out of the shale and it accumulated at the base of the waste pile. Petroleum-contaminated material was shipped to C B Industries Delta, a Delta facility where it could be spread out and “land-farmed,” a process under which bacteria can consume the petroleum.

    The sheer volume of waste also proved daunting. The BLM planned on building one waste repository but ran out of room and had to build a second, smaller one nearby, and eventually an even smaller third one…

    The repositories include geomembrane liners at the bottom and 30-inch-thick clay caps on top, covered by reseeded topsoil. Other aspects of the cleanup included demolition and site restoration work involving a former water treatment plant near the river that supplied Anvil Points, and closing off of the mine entrances, which are highly unstable because of the loose surrounding shale.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Colorado River Basin: Recent study by the Bureau of Reclamation highlights future supply problems #coriver


    Here’s a guest column running in The Denver Post, written by Allen Best, that gives an overview of the current state of the Colorado River. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Tow icebergs from Alaska? Pilfer from a tributary of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming? Or, even sneak water from the Snake, boring a 6-mile tunnel from a reservoir near Jackson Hole to the Green River? While it’s sure to make Idaho’s spud farmers cranky, it would help Tucson, Los Angeles and that parched paradigm of calculated risk, Las Vegas.

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and everybody else with a megaphone has carefully branded these ideas as improbable or worse. Only slightly more credible is the idea of a pipeline from the Mississippi River. It could originate near Memphis, traverse 1,040 miles and, if reaching Castle Rock, rise 6,000 feet in elevation. Pumping would require a steady 800 megawatts of electricity, or a little more than what the Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo produces.

    In theory, this 600,000-acre feet of muddy Mississippi would replace diversions from the Colorado River headwaters between Grand Lake and Aspen. Those diversions range between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet annually. That would leave the creeks and rivers to the whims of gravity and geography, at least until arriving at Las Vegas and other places with growing thirst.
    Cheap water? Not exactly: It would cost $2,400 per acre-foot for this Memphis-flavored sludge, assuming the idea isn’t grounded by protests from barge and riverboat operators. (Sometimes they, too, say they need more water.)

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Folks from both sides of the Great Divide are finding economic common ground around urging caution in the development of oil shale #coriver


    Here’s a guest column written by Deborah Ortega and Allyn Harvey running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    It is not often that we find common ground across the Rockies on issues that affect our friends and neighbors. We sometimes think of issues as “ours” or “theirs,” though many issues transcend the mountains.

    Communities and local businesses across our state depend on clean, abundant water from the Colorado River Basin. There is no greater reminder of that fact than the current drought and the resulting economic impacts we are facing.

    It is with those challenges in mind that people in communities from the Western Slope to the Front Range — such as Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle, Grand Junction, Thornton and Denver — support a balanced, commonsense approach to oil shale that requires research prior to commercial leasing of taxpayer-owned land in the West.

    Oil shale development could pose a significant risk to the health of our rivers and the availability of water for agriculture, drinking supplies and local businesses. We need to know the risks ahead of any commercial development.

    Energy development in our state has always been a significant economic driver, but it must still work in concert with our other job-creating industries that rely on their fair share of the water supply. Impacts to our water sources could affect the livelihoods of millions of residents in every corner of our state.

    The technology to make oil shale viable still has not been developed. Since commercial technology does not yet exist, there is no possible way to know the impacts, especially on our water, that would accompany full-scale oil- shale development. All of us have a right to know the facts, so that municipalities, farmers and ranchers, as well as tourism and outdoor recreation businesses that depend on healthy rivers and safe drinking water supplies can plan and make wise decisions. Some have suggested that development will not use much water, and others say it will take too much. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know for sure.

    The Government Accountability Office reviewed a wide range of estimates that found that industrial-scale oil shale development would require as much as 140 percent of the amount of water Denver Water provides each year (or as much as a city 30 times the size of Grand Junction would use).

    There are also those who say that investing public land and water in oil shale will provide a worthwhile return in jobs on the Western Slope and energy for our nation. We hope they are right. We don’t know that for sure either. But we have 100 years of promises and a dismal record of failure with projects such as the Exxon Colony Project, which devastated the local economy after laying off more than 2,000 workers when it closed down on “Black Sunday,” May 2, 1982.

    No good investor would put money into a venture without first seeing the books. The Bureau of Land Management’s new plan does just that by requiring oil shale companies to do the research first, so we know just how much water would be needed and what the impacts to water quality would be, before going forward with commercial leasing.

    Our neighbors in Arizona and Nevada have also asked that we know the impacts to water — particularly the Colorado River — prior to commercial development.

    It was former Denver Water Manager Chips Barry — often heralded by those on both sides of the divide for bringing people together — who cited concerns that industrial-scale oil-shale development could prevent Colorado from fulfilling its obligations to downstream users. In 2009, he told The Denver Post, “That is a risk not only for Denver Water but for the entire state.”

    More than 100 business leaders, recreation organizations, farmers, ranchers and others asked the BLM to ensure that Colorado water is protected. Sportsmen have cautioned that reduced stream flows will negatively impact fish and the region’s outdoor-dependent economy. These businesses depend on healthy rivers and safe water supplies. We cannot afford to gamble the backbone of our economy without fully understanding the risk that oil shale poses to it.

    We have much to offer here in the West. People come to our communities to visit, and sometimes they stay and call it home, largely because of our big skies and outdoor recreation. We are all concerned about the potential impact on existing water rights throughout the Colorado River Basin once oil shale companies begin to exercise the senior rights they hold. In a worst-case scenario, this could turn the West Slope into an industrial zone, ruin the Colorado River and threaten drinking water supplies on both sides of the Copntinental Divide.

    As local officials, our responsibility is to ensure safe, healthy drinking water for our residents and a healthy community. With that in mind, both of our municipalities have taken positions supporting a cautious approach to oil shale. Given that a commercial industry does not yet exist, it is just smart planning to require that research of oil-shale technologies be completed first and impacts fully analyzed before moving forward with a commercial leasing program, as the federal plan suggests. That is an approach that puts the health of our water and the future of our communities first, to ensure that communities on both sides of the Rockies — and our entire region — continue to thrive.

    More oil shale — the next big thing for over a hundred years now — coverage here and here.

    ‘There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology’ –Steven Hall


    Oil shale has been “The next big thing” in Colorado for over a hundred years now. Here’s an article exploring the water needs of oil shale development, from Judith Lewis Mernitc writing for the High Country News via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Click through and read the whole article, there is a lot of good detail there. Here’s an excerpt:

    Trapped in fossil-fuel purgatory, oil shale has to be heated to super-high temperatures, a process called “retorting” that requires enormous amounts of water. No one can even say for sure how much, although some energy companies try.

    Utah-based Red Leaf claims its technology needs only a tiny amount; other estimates say that full-scale development of oil shale in Colorado would require more water than all of Denver uses in a year.

    “There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology,” says Steven Hall, Colorado spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, which recently signed a lease with ExxonMobil for an experimental oil shale project in the Piceance Basin.

    “I don’t think the technologies those (low) water-use estimates are based on are commercially or environmentally feasible,” Hall said.

    In November, the BLM published a fresh analysis of oil shale development’s environmental impacts on Western public lands. Much of the analysis, which also looks at tar sands in Utah, is concerned with water — the lack of it in this arid region, the great need any energy-extraction technique has for it, and the vulnerability of freshwater aquifers to industrial contamination…

    Lawmakers including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warn that the BLM’s parent, the U.S. Department of Interior, stands in the way of economic progress. But not even the oil producers have figured out how to get the water to the rock without incurring huge energy costs — costs that may not pencil out in the final analysis.

    In other words, it may take more energy to get the water to the oil shale than anyone can actually extract from it…

    This problem with the so-far embryonic industry is what regulators and industry experts call an “energy-water nexus” issue: Just as water needs energy to travel from source to tap, nearly every form of energy needs water throughout its lifecycle, from mining to generation to reclamation.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    Water Under Pressure: What Oil Shale Could Mean for Western Water, Fish and Wildlife


    Click here to read a new report on oil shale exploration and production [well, maybe someday] from Melinda Kassen:

    For more than a century, efforts to wring oil out of rock formations in the Rocky Mountain West have waxed and waned. The deposits underlying northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Utah have been portrayed as “the Saudi Arabia’’ of oil shale, a vast source of domestic energy that would cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, create many jobs and produce millions of dollars of revenue for state and local governments.

    That same area, the 16,000-square-mile Green River Formation, is home to some of the nation’s most valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Colorado’s Piceance Basin boasts North America’s largest migratory mule deer herd and some of the country’s largest elk herds. The huge tracts of public land also support greater sage-grouse, Colorado River cutthroat trout, black bear, bald eagles and mountain lions. Hunting, fishing, other wildlife-based activities and outdoor recreation are cornerstones of the regional economy and integral to the area’s lifestyle, heritage and identity. Coursing through the wildlife habitat, ranches, fruit orchards and communities is the water that allows the people, the wildlife and the commerce all to thrive in the semi-arid climate. The rivers, fed by mountain snow and beloved by anglers, include the Green, the White, Uintah, Lake Fork, Strawberry and Duchesne. They include Utah’s top two fishing destinations, the renowned Green River gorge and Strawberry Reservoir, as well as hundreds of miles of headwaters trout and larger reaches with fat rainbows and browns.

    This report explores how large-scale commercial oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado could affect the region’s water supply and quality and what that might mean for fish, wildlife and communities. After more than 100 years of trying, we are still several years away from an economically viable oil shale industry. The technology is unproven and the potential environmental impacts are unknown. Even conservative estimates indicate the volume of water needed to transform kerogen – a precursor to oil – into a usable fuel could be huge. For a resource that lies in the midst of the semi-arid West, with sparse precipitation and few large rivers, it is not
    clear where the water would come from, or how it would affect the fish that live in the local streams. With the region already straining its water supply and facing continued population growth, finding another increment of water for oil shale, while protecting native and sport fisheries, may be an insurmountable challenge.

    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently proposing a cautious approach to oil shale development. The BLM has proposed keeping development off sensitive wildlife habitat, limiting new public leases to research and demonstration projects and moving ahead with commercial leases only after the pilot projects produce results. This approach is a prudent way to test oil shale potential and limit the risk to the regions water supplies

    From American Rivers’ The River Blog (David Moryc):

    If you were to draw up a list of rivers where you wouldn’t want to extract oil shale in the United States, the Green, the White and the Upper Colorado would be in the list. (Similar to developing a massive copper and gold mine in the most productive salmon watershed on the planet, but I digress.)

    Yet, due to a curse of geology that is unfortunately exactly where industrial-scale oil shale production of oil shale is proposed that could require as much as 123 billion gallons of water, according to a new report [PDF] authored by Melinda Kassen.

    More coverage of oil shale — the next big thing for over a hundred years now — here and here.

    Farmers and conservationists both find something to like in Interior’s new oil shale leasing policy #CORiver


    From the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

    Bill Midcap, renewable energy director with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, likes the new plan. He says it will help preserve one of Colorado’s most precious resources: water. “We all know that water has all the potential of running out of Colorado. We think it’s prudent that they ensure to the agricultural community how much water is going to be taken, before they move forward.”

    The new policy says that public lands can only be leased if oil shale companies can show the economic and environmental viability of the technology used for research or development. The previous policy made nearly 2 million acres available without those restrictions; now, just under 700,000 acres of public land could be used. Twenty-six thousand of those acres are in Colorado. Supporters of increased oil shale research – including the oil and gas industries – worry that the amount of public lease land available is too small to offset economic costs and risks in development.

    Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute, says the viability restriction is important, because energy companies often have water rights that trump those of agriculture or Colorado cities. Also, he warns, the current technology used to develop oil shale abroad is not practical in the arid Mountain West. “That is actually a pretty water-intensive operation, using two-and-a-half to four barrels of water for each barrel of oil. It’s a lot easier to do in Estonia and Latvia, but it’s not that easy to do here. Those are wet countries, and this is very dry country.”

    Midcap says the new plan leaves him optimistic that the government will listen to the concerns of Coloradans and those across the West about the region’s natural resources. “Farmers and ranchers have a strong enough voice that I don’t think we’ll be pushed out. I think our voice is strong.”

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    How a Water District that Wasn’t Needed Had a Board that Wasn’t Legal & Tried to Take Half of a River for Technology that Doesn’t Exist


    Update: I added an article from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Scroll down to the bottom.

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

    The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments today [November 7] in a case that has significant implications for the entire State of Colorado. The Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District (YJWCD) of Rio Blanco County is appealing a Water Court ruling that strips the district of massive amounts of water rights intended to be leased for oil shale production.

    Today’s hearing comes just weeks after local residents filed a separate lawsuit alleging that the YJWCD is unlawfully taking budget action that has left the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

    “This is an odd situation to say the least,” said Rob Harris, Staff Attorney for Western Resource Advocates. “We’re talking about a water district that isn’t needed, run by a board that wasn’t legal, trying to gather water rights equal to half of the White River—all to meet the theoretical demands of an oil shale technology that doesn’t exist.”

    In 2009, the board of the YJWCD filed water court applications equal to almost half of the White River—with the expressed intent to lease that water for potential oil shale production. In 2011, Western Resource Advocates and a coalition of local residents, business owners, ranchers, and others (the Coalition) challenged the legality of these water rights applications. The YJWCD board voluntarily abandoned half of the contested water rights in the face of opposition, and the Coalition filed a legal challenge in regards to the other half.

    “The timeline is clear, and so is the law in this case,” said Mike Sawyer, one of the attorneys representing the Coalition group. “The Yellow Jacket board didn’t have a valid board to approve new office supplies, let alone a water rights application.”

    In July 2011, the Colorado Water Court stripped the YJWCD of the remaining contested water rights. Because only four of the nine seats on the YJWCD board were legally occupied in Sept. 2009, the board had no legal quorum when it filed for the contested water rights. After the Water Court denied a “Motion for Reconsideration” in Sept. 2011, the YJWCD filed an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    The Colorado Supreme Court did not render a decision following today’s oral arguments, but is expected to issue a written opinion within the next several months.

    On Oct. 18, two local residents and landowners filed a lawsuit against the YJWCD. Joe Livingston and Ted Edmonds are plaintiffs, which alleges (among other things) that the board has violated Colorado Budget Laws and TABOR requirements in running a debt that had reached ($142,257) by the end of 2011.

    “I take great offense that the board isn’t following the law yet continues to spend my tax dollars to no end,” said Livingston, whose family has owned and operated Big Beaver Ranch near Meeker since 1941. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”


    The YJWCD was created in 1959 with the intent of acquiring water rights that could be leased for future oil and gas production. Most of the district’s income is from a Rio Blanco County mill levy. The YJWCD does not own or operate any water facilities—it exists solely for the purpose of acquiring water rights. Since its inception, the district has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to adjudicate water rights for the oil shale industry.


    – Oct. 2008: Terms of office expire for four of the nine YJWCD board members.
    – Sept. 2009: YJWCD submits diligence filings for certain water rights, despite the fact that only four of the nine YJWCD could authorize the filings (a fifth member of the board had resigned in Spring 2009).
    – April 2011: Western Resource Advocates joins a local coalition to file a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the YJWCD board did not have a legal quorum to approve a water rights application.
    – July 2011: Colorado Water Court grants the Coalition’s “Motion for Summary Judgment,” and cancels the contested water rights application.
    – July 2011: Yellow Jacket files “Motion for Reconsideration” with Water Court.
    – Sept. 2011: Water Court denies “Motion for Reconsideration”
    – March 2012: YJWCD submits appeal for hearing by Colorado Supreme Court
    – Nov. 7, 2012: Colorado Supreme Court hears oral arguments from appeal.

    More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado’s Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments by the Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District, which is challenging a state water court’s decision rejecting its rights to 140,000 acre-feet of water from the river — water that otherwise would flow into the Green and Colorado rivers.

    Yellow Jacket has proposed to build reservoirs east of Meeker to store the water and make it available to oil and gas companies. The district also is talking with towns and irrigators, Yellow Jacket attorney Sarah Klahn said after the hearing.

    “There’s plenty of water in the White River,” Klahn said. “There ought to be an effort to keep water in this state, rather than letting it flow downstream to California.”

    A coalition of residents whose taxes fund Yellow Jacket, a governmental district, opposes the project…

    Justice Greg Hobbs questioned whether holdover status of board members could be a basis for forfeiting water property rights. Hobbs also asked why board members failed to fill positions…

    The court is expected to issue a written decision in a couple months.

    More coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Colorado’s highest court is considering a challenge to the water rights held by a Meeker-area water conservancy district for eventual use in energy development.

    Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District is appealing a water court finding that canceled its right to about 140,000 acre-feet water in the upper White River Basin.

    The trial court had agreed with Western Resource Advocates in a lawsuit that when Yellow Jacket filed an application to maintain its rights, the action was invalid because some members of the Yellow Jacket board of directors had yet to be reappointed.

    Oral arguments were conducted on Wednesday in Denver.

    The district appropriated the industrial rights in the 1960s with an eye to using them in the event oil shale development took off.

    While there was always an understanding that the district, which collects $30,000 a year from property taxes, would partner with private industry to develop reservoirs.

    No such arrangement, however, exists, Glenwood Springs water attorney Scott Grosscup said., adding that the district’s efforts are aimed at “establishing resources to protect the White River Basin when there is demand” for water by oil shale development.

    While attorneys for the district said the suit amounted to an argument over a technicality, Western Resource Advocates attorney Rob Harris said there is more to it.

    “We’re talking about a water district that isn’t needed, running a board that wasn’t legal trying to gather water rights equal to half of the White River,” Harris said, “all to meet the theoretical demands of an oil shale technology that doesn’t yet exist.”

    Yellow Jacket’s attorney, Sarah Klahn, said Western Resource Advocates was “whipsawed” by precedent that allows Yellow Jacket to proceed with showing due diligence.

    Companies not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office have been found to have filed valid reports with the water court, Klahn said.

    “Where in Colorado water law does it say you have to have a fully appointed board as a precondition of a water- rights application?” Klahn said.

    The problem of having board members sitting on the board past the end of their terms has been rectified with their reappointment by district court, Klahn said.

    Appeals of water court rulings go directly to the state Supreme Court and no schedule for a ruling was set.

    More water law coverage here and here.

    The 2012 Oil Shale and Tar Sands Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is hot off the press


    Click here to download a copy.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Bureau of Land Management today released a final proposal to go forward with sharp reductions in land to be made potentially available for oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

    However, the acreage reductions are somewhat less than what were laid out in a draft proposal earlier this year.

    Under the proposal, about 677,000 acres would be open for application for leasing, compared to about 2 million acres under a 2008 decision under the Bush administration.

    In Colorado, about 26,000 acres would be available. About 357,000 acres would be open for leasing in Utah and 293,000 acres in Wyoming.

    The total acreage in the final proposal compares to about 462,000 acres that would have been made available in the draft proposal. The BLM said in a news release that the change reflects its correction of acreage identified in the draft study as lands with wilderness characteristics in Wyoming, re-evaluation of some lands designated as areas of critical environmental concern, and refinements to management of greater sage-grouse habitat to reflect information from state wildlife agencies.

    However, Colorado’s acreage would continue to be a small fraction of the 360,000 acres made available in 2008.
    The final plan also carries forward the draft proposal that only research, development and demonstration leases would be issued at first. Commercial leases would be issued only when a lessee satisfies conditions including those in the RD&D lease.

    The final proposal also would result in about 130,000 acres being open for commercial tar sands leasing in Utah.
    The agency reconsidered its 2008 decision as part of a lawsuit settlement with conservation groups. While some conservationists and others have said the agency needs to take a go-slow approach to commercial leasing given uncertainties about technologies and impacts, counties that are home to oil shale deposits have called on the agency to keep the 2008 land allocations.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement that he welcomes the “measured steps” the Interior Department is taking to encourage oil shale research and development.

    “With water being one of our most precious commodities in the West, I have concerns about the potential impacts of commercial oil shale development. Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing this technology explored further. … The Interior Department’s decision today ensures that we will not be out over the front of our skis with untested technology .”

    Also today, the Colorado BLM said it signed RD&D leases with ExxonMobil Exploration Co. and Natural Soda Holdings, Inc.

    The leases, which the agency had approved in August, are for technologies the two companies are planning to test to develop oil shale in place underground in Rio Blanco County. The leases take effect Dec. 1.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    CMU weekly seminar recap: ‘We’re going to be stressing major reservoirs’ — Eric Kuhn #CORiver


    From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The unfounded optimism that underlaid the structure of the 1922 Colorado River Compact might soon take a toll on Colorado and the other sparely populated mountain states that send water south and west to more arid, and more populous states downstream, said the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    The upper basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are obligated under the 1922 agreement governing the management of the river to deliver 75 million acres feet of water at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona every 10 years, or 7.5 million acre feet every year, on a rolling average. There is a distinction and it could be significant because of the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, Eric Kuhn said Monday at the Colorado Mesa University “Natural Resources of the West: Water and Drought” weekly seminar.

    The upper-basin states are at most risk because their uses of water would have to be curtailed to meet requirements of downstream states, Kuhn said. In the future, “We’re going to be stressing major reservoirs” as they are emptied to meet downstream needs, he said.

    Worse, the compact makes no provision for a simple lack of water, Kuhn said, leaving the upper basin on the hook to deliver, no matter whether there was enough runoff to meet the requirement. That’s because the framers of the original compact based the allocation of water on what had been a high-flow series of years, Kuhn said. That led to the optimistic plan to reconsider the compact in 1962, when the states would better know how to divide up the surplus water they anticipated would be better understood over the next four decades. That meeting never took place as it slowly became clear that the Colorado River historically carried less, not more, water than had been assumed.

    A study by the U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation to be released next month will make it clear that even under the 20th century understanding of hydrology, “The demands on the Colorado River exceed its supplies,” Kuhn said. The fact that the lower-basin states are using less water and upper-basin states using more will have political implications, he said.

    In the meantime, however, changing climate, receding waters in the Colorado and other changes could lead officials to re-evaluate some assumptions about the way the river should be managed, Kuhn said, noting that a 1944 agreement on the river introduced the phrase “extraordinary drought” without defining it. It might be that such a circumstance is more dire than even today’s conditions, Kuhn suggested. “If the future is going down (as in the level of the river) then is that a new drought?” he asked, “Or is that a new normal?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Colorado River Basin: ‘The water use for oil shale is quite modest’ — Jeremy Boak (School of Mines)


    Many eyes are on the Colorado River hoping that water in the basin won’t be developed past the carrying capacity of the river. Here’s an article about the concerns over oil shale exploration and production from Dennis Webb writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    The county that’s home to Las Vegas, Nev., is supporting a proposed downscaling of federal land available for possible oil shale leasing and calling for thorough analysis of potential water impacts of commercial oil shale and tar sands development. Clark County’s recent, unanimously passed resolution comes as several other elected officials in Nevada and Arizona also have been sending letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar regarding oil shale, expressing concerns about the need to protect Colorado River water quality and quantity. The officials also back a Bureau of Land Management proposal to sharply reduce acreage available for possible leasing in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

    “We believe that a comprehensive study of the cumulative impacts of oil shale development to the Colorado River basin should be conducted before the BLM considers commercial leasing of public lands,” says a letter signed by Nevada state lawmakers Peggy Pierce and Tick Segerblom, Arizona House Minority Whip Anna Tovar and Commissioner Paul Newman of the Arizona Corporate Commission, which oversees utility and transportation matters. The writers, all Democrats, also cited a Government Accountability Office estimate that industrial-scale oil shale development could require water equivalent to that used by 750,000 households.

    Arizona’s House Minority Leader, Democrat Chad Campbell, sent a similar letter, as did Democratic Nevada lawmaker Maggie Carlton, Democratic Nevada state Sen. Mark Manendo and Las Vegas City Council member Bob Coffin. The writers generally urge Salazar to take a balanced approach to oil shale development. In an archived video on Clark County’s website, commissioners there indicated they weren’t trying to tell Colorado what to do or interfere with its economy. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county simply wants to make sure that due diligence to protect water quality from any oil shale development occurs, to ensure “that what’s coming downstream is appropriate for the valley.”

    The Colorado River provides water to 2.5 million people in the county. The commissioners also indicated they were trying to adopt a resolution that wouldn’t interfere with sensitive, ongoing interstate negotiations over Colorado River water.

    Chris Treese, a spokesman for western Colorado’s Colorado River Water Conservation District, said if Clark County’s concerns are about water quality, that’s “curious.”

    “They’re not going to see any change in their water quality — none,” said Treese, citing the pollution-control regulations that would apply to the industry and amount of dilution that would occur by the time water reaches Las Vegas.

    Front Range water entities that rely on Colorado River water also have raised concerns about oil shale’s potential impacts on water quality and the resource’s future availability. The Front Range Water Council sent a letter to the BLM regarding its draft environmental impact statement analyzing a range of alternatives for how much land should be made available for possible leasing. The council said that study’s “analysis of impacts to water supply, water quality, and water development is inadequate, in part because it does not analyze the range of impacts associated with various technologies used by oil shale developers.” The council represents utilities for Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Aurora and other communities collectively meeting the water demands of about 80 percent of the state’s population.

    The council says increased population and energy use related to oil shale development would have water ramifications, and the BLM also needs to assess how such development would affect efforts to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River in Colorado. The BLM says the fish impacts would be analyzed for individual leasing authorizations.

    Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said some companies pursuing efforts to develop oil shale in place underground by means such as heating are working in geological zones isolated from groundwater, minimizing chances of contamination. Shell, which has been researching the use of a freeze-wall to protect surrounding groundwater, has shown the ability to use a steam process to clean groundwater within the freezewall before the wall is removed, he said.

    As for water consumption, Boak believes an oil shale industry might use 2 percent of Colorado’s water, compared to about 80 percent currently for agriculture. “The water use for oil shale is quite modest,” he said.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award


    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

    The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

    The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

    Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    CWC Summer Conference: ‘The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging’ — Carl Steidtmann


    From Steamboat Today (Frank Ameduri):

    “The real issue here with water is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” Carl Steidtmann said. “The problem is our government entities are deeply in debt.”

    Steidtmann, a Steamboat Springs resident who is chief economist for Deloitte, was the lunchtime speaker during the 2012 Summer Water and Energy Conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort on Wednesday. The three-day conference goes through Friday and is put on by the Colorado Water Congress. There are 240 people registered for the conference, and attendees include local politicians, state legislators and representatives from water conservancy districts, water departments and municipalities across the state.

    Steidtmann’s keynote Wednesday was titled “The Regional Impact of the National Economy: Letting Go of the Status Quo for Water and Energy.”[…]

    Steidtmann, who consults with Fortune 500 companies, said water is becoming an increasingly important issue for energy companies because of its increasing scarcity. To illustrate this point, he showed a map forecasting water availability in 2025. “The western part of the U.S. becomes one of those areas of critical water shortages,” Steidtmann said.

    In an era of a contracting government where more money is being spent to pay off debt, Steidtmann said infrastructure projects are the ones that are easy to delay. “The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging,” he said.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    “Environmentalism is a luxury good,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Services. “Richer countries are more environmentally conscious.” In his view, poorer nations are more focused on the need to survive, and have a greater impact on the environment as populations grow. It takes money to protect the environment, he said. Energy development has been the greatest factor in the divide between rich and poor nations, but in the future, the availability of food and water will also have economic consequences, he said.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    “We need to make sure the most water goes to the hottest fires,” said Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He was among state officials who discussed water project funding last week at the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. There is an estimated $5 billion backlog in about 1,000 community water projects across the state.

    Mineral severance or federal lease fund revenues are a major source of funds for Colorado water projects to provide drinking water or treat wastewater. Since 2008, the state has looked toward those cash funds to make up shortfalls in other budget areas, particularly health care, education and prisons.

    About $250 million over four years in funds that would have gone to local impact grants through DOLA have been diverted. That money would have leveraged three times as much in other grants or loans, Brown said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has seen $163 million of construction funds diverted during the same period, while making about $80 million in loans to water projects.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Steamboat Springs: Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference August 15 – 17


    Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s the description of the event (Meg Meyer):

    The 2012 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference will include water and energy interests once again as we combine forces and explore areas of common interest. The theme of the conference is The Balance of Power. We will spin the concept several different ways as we look at the balance of political power, the balance of governance, and the balance of energy and water sources.

    Immediately preceding the CWC Summer Conference, the Colorado Coal and Power Generation group will hold an all-day event at the Holiday Inn in Craig on Tuesday, August 14th which will include a golf tournament and evening barbeque.

    In addition, the Interim Water Resources Review Committee will meet in Steamboat, Tuesday afternoon, for their first substantive meeting to prepare for the 2013 legislative session.

    The CWC Summer Conference will be held August 15th through August17th at the Sheraton in Steamboat Springs.

    We will have three workshops on Wednesday morning covering topics of drought and current weather conditions, public trust, and endangered species. We will try something a little different this year with the conference kicking off with a luncheon on Wednesday. General Sessions will follow on Wednesday afternoon. An evening open public forum will held on Wednesday at 7:30 pm (attendance is optional for water and energy professionals).

    We will have networking breakfasts on Thursday or Friday – a light continental breakfast will be served, but no formal speaker. The hotel restaurant or other local venues are available for those that prefer a heartier breakfast. General Sessions will be held on Thursday from 9:00 to 12:00. On Thursday afternoon, we will offer a couple of tours or you may want to use this time to catch up on other business. The POND Committee is also planning outdoor activities. We will have a reception on Thursday evening at 5:00. The Friday morning format will be similar to Thursday and the conference will conclude with a box lunch.

    The Front Range Water Council has its eyes on water requirements for oil shale exploration and production


    Water supply planning requires forecasting demand decades into the future. The Front Range Water Council is wary of water requirements for oil shale — the “Next Big Thing” for over a hundred years now — since many of the water rights that oil companies have purchased are senior to most of the large transmountain diversion projects. Here’s a report from the Colorado News Service (Kathleen Ryan) via The Fowler Tribune. From the article:

    Jim Lochhead, president of the group and CEO of Denver Water, says half of the Denver water supply comes from the Colorado River, and he’s worried that oil shale production could overtax the river’s resources. “We’re concerned that the BLM and the United States not go too far too fast in their leasing program, before really understanding and quantifying these impacts on the river.”[…]

    According to a report from Western Resource Advocates, oil and gas companies hold some rights to Colorado River water which predate the rights held by cities for drinking water. The BLM is expected to have a new plan in place by the end of the year.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.

    ‘Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water’ — Alan Hamel


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    “We have to protect the water we have, as well as provide water for endangered species,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water, particularly for use in power generation.” Last month, the Pueblo water board and other members of the Front Range Water Council weighed in on the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands…

    The Front Range Water Council includes the major organizations that import water from the Colorado River: Denver Water, the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and the Pueblo water board. Collectively, they provide water to 4 million people, 82 percent of the population in Colorado.

    More Front Range Water Council coverage here and here.