Nearly a year after settling long-running legal battles over oil and gas drilling on the Roan Plateau in western Colorado, the federal government on Tuesday issued a draft plan for how to manage recreation and drilling in the area.
The federal Bureau of Land Management issued a new plan to implement the agreement and announced it would be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 20, which will kick off a 90-day public comment period.
The document is called the “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan Amendment.”
“For many years the Roan Plateau was a symbol of conflict in the American West,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze, in the BLM’s announcement.
Kornze credited local groups, state and industry representatives, as well and environmental and wildlife advocates for working to create a new future for the plateau.
“This draft document moves that vision forward and protects some of the state’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for oil and gas development in places where it makes sense,” Kornze said.
Last year’s agreement canceled 17 of the 19 existing oil and gas leases that allowed drilling on top of the plateau, and refunded about $47.6 million that Denver’s Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE: BBG) had paid for those leases.
The remaining two leases on the top of the plateau, as well as 12 leases around the base of the plateau, would remain in place.
Following the outline of last year’s agreement, the new plan bars drilling on top of the plateau, while retaining the others, the BLM said Tuesday.
The new draft plan also included two elements — “more robust” air quality analyses and an analysis of the request by nearby communities to require natural gas buried under the plateau to be accessed via wells started on private land or areas below the plateau. The second element was part of a 2012 order from federal district court…
Sportsmen’s groups said they were reviewing the draft EIS, but they hailed the BLM’s designation of last year’s settlement as its “preferred option” to manage the plateau’s resources.
“This keeps us moving toward a balanced, fair solution to protecting the Roan Plateau,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a statement.
“We’re hopeful that the final management plan will preserve last year’s settlement, which protects the Roan’s best hunting and fishing habitat while allowing careful, responsible development of its energy reserves. Done right, we can meet both goals,” Nickum said.
This plan can protect the roan for all Coloradans,”
Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement that the plan could protect the plateau “for all Coloradans.”
“We were very happy to reach a settlement last fall and seeing this plan move forward is a highly anticipated and encouraging next step to protect this amazing area,” Maysmith said.
The BLM said it plans to hold two public meetings in January 2016 to answer questions and accept written comments…
Public comments on the Draft SEIS need to be received by February 18, 2016.
Roan Plateau settlement map via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Drilling sites in a valley on the Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild
Drilling rig above waterfall Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heather McGregor):
Bill Nelson and Michelle Foster, members of the Battlement Mesa Metro District board, cut a bright yellow ribbon Thursday to celebrate the completion of a solar array that will power the district’s water treatment plant.
“I am pleased with the fact that we have clean energy involved here. Solar is a wonderful source of energy,” said Nelson.
The array of 1,422 panels, rated at 440 kilowatts, will power all of the water treatment plant’s electrical demand on a yearly basis. Battlement’s is the fourth water plant in Garfield County to be net-zero for electricity, along with plants in Rifle, Silt and Carbondale.
“Solar energy is good for Garfield County,” said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, noting that solar arrays create employment and pay for themselves with energy production.
“Renewable energy diversifies and builds the economy,” said Stuart McArthur, Parachute Town Administrator and chair of Garfield Clean Energy.
From the United States Geological Survey (Alex Demas):
The invisible hand of the market might seem a strange player for environmental science, but it’s an emerging force for regulators and land managers. It’s these markets that have inspired USGS scientists Emily Pindilli and Frank Casey to explore how earth science and economics can join forces to achieve meaningful impacts for decision-makers.
Their research falls under a concept known as environmental markets. These markets won’t be found in Wall Street, but rather out on the landscape, as the natural environment provides many amenities that aren’t included in traditional markets. For example, when bees pollinate farmers’ crops, they’re providing an ecosystem service that benefits the farmer and society with a higher crop yield.
The Economics of Earth Science
So how does earth science fit in with the idea of environmental markets? The answer is information. Markets function most efficiently when buyers and sellers have as much information as possible. In the realm of environmental markets, that takes the form of scientific information about ecosystems, habitats, animals and plants, and other ecological players that help the environment operate.
USGS, then, is perfectly situated to provide information along those lines to emerging environmental markets. From water levels, use, and quality data from thousands of streamgages across the country to bird surveys that have spanned decades, USGS can provide important materials for these markets to function as effectively as possible. Agencies like the USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets can then take USGS data and use it to help foster and coordinate environmental markets.
However, that then raises the question of what kind of markets are being implemented and how do they work? Pindilli and Casey decided to take that on, using the lens of biodiversity to frame their investigation.
In the Market for a Solution
Biodiversity is under increasing threat, both in the United States and all around the world. Species are going extinct at a rapid rate, which is an indication of the larger issue of biodiversity and habitat loss. Biodiversity and habitat provide important ecosystem functions and their loss represents a significant risk to the stability of these systems.
So how can environmental markets help protect biodiversity? A first, and significant, step is to understand the economic values associated with biodiversity. Even more important is to align those values with reasons to actually protect and restore biodiversity. Enter the concept of environmental markets. These markets are designed to allow environmental goods and services to be produced and traded similar to goods and services in traditional markets.
A good example of a created environmental market is the sulfur dioxide trading market. Here, a set number of sulfur dioxide credits are issued which caps sulfur dioxide emissions at a certain level each year. These credits can be traded between parties, with the idea being that some facilities can reduce emissions at a lower cost than others. Those facilities can then sell those credits to facilities who would otherwise have to pay even more money to reduce emissions. By making money from the sale of the credits, those facilities that could most cost-effectively reduce emissions have a good reason to do so. This is a win-win, whereby the environmental goal is attained and it is accomplished at the lowest cost.
In the United States, there are a number of other developing environmental markets and similar mechanisms that seek to leverage market forces to achieve environmental goals. There are emerging markets in water quality, carbon emissions, wetland preservation, and for species and habitat protection. Among these are a number of market-based or market-like approaches that can benefit biodiversity. The USGS has recently evaluated the status and potential of the following mechanisms:
Getting What You Pay For
The first approach is known as “Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Here, a “buyer” pays a “seller” for the ecosystem service of biodiversity. The “buyer” may be anyone, such as the Federal government, a State agency, a local community, a non-profit, or even a business, while the “seller” is the individual or business that will supply protections for species and their habitats. An example of this approach might be a conservation stewardship program that pays farmers to set some land aside for wildlife, or maintain the riverbanks with trees to shelter fish. The least like a traditional market, payments for ecosystem services are essentially contracts that provide incentives to potential biodiversity suppliers with payments that don’t necessarily reflect a market-value.
The next approach is explicitly market-based: regulations are set up that lay the foundations for a market that includes property rights to an environmental amenity and the ability to trade. One of the best examples for biodiversity is the Conservation Banking Program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservation banks are areas of habitat that are protected and managed to meet the needs of one or more threatened species in perpetuity. These banks must be approved by the FWS under stringent protocols. With this approval, the banks can sell ‘habitat’ or ‘species’ credits. Demand for credits comes from developers that are required to mitigate actions like building roads that may negatively affect threatened species and their habitats under the authority of the Endangered Species Act.
Beyond the Bank
Taking the concept of the conservation banks even further, there’s the idea of habitat exchanges. The concept of a habitat exchange is to extend the conservation banking approach to protect species or habitats that are not currently federally listed as threatened. Habitat exchanges also seek to streamline the conservation bank approval process by developing and implementing Habitat Quantification Tools. These tools are used to standardize the evaluation of the number of credits on a given plot of land and increase certainty and transparency for landowners. Habitat exchanges are an emerging concept and demonstration on the landscape has yet to be fully implemented.
It’s all in the Label
The last market-based approach evaluated goes in a different direction: the idea of eco-labeling, similar to the concepts of organic and fair-trade labeling currently seen in grocery stores. Farmers, ranchers, and others can take actions that help protect biodiversity, and in so doing receive an accreditation and label their products to signify that they are protecting biodiversity. People can then reward these businesses by selecting these ‘green products’ over comparable items, even if they cost a bit more. That extra cost compensates the farmers, ranchers, and others for implementing biodiversity protecting practices. Eco-labelling is the most like a traditional market.
From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):
The Estes Park Town Board approved on Tuesday night a professional services contract and a design-build contract to the FlyWater/Otak team for the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.
The Fall River channel and stream banks between the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary and downstream of the western-most Fish Hatchery Bridge (Project Reach) experienced significant damage as a result of the 2013 flood and now pose a public safety hazard.
This damage included the loss of fish habitat, damage to the channel, significant bank erosion, and areas of considerable deposition. Approximately 100 feet of the historic 30-inch iron penstock connecting the Cascade Dam and the Hydroplant was exposed due to stream bank erosion.
The proposed project work consists of approximately 3,250 linear feet of stream bank stabilization and channel restoration along a reach of Fall River. The project reach is defined by 2,700 feet from the Hydroplant Museum going west to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and 550 feet going east of the Hydroplant Museum defined as the Upper Fish Hatchery reach. These contract agreements include finalizing the remaining portion of the design and completing all construction work.
Estes Park Environmental Planner Tina Kurtz explained to the board that the $300,000 two-phase project will be funded in two ways.
Kurtz said a CDBG-DR grant for $150,000 is pending the Environmental Assessment which should be completed later this month. The funding request is expected to be granted in December. An additional grant for $150,000 from Colorado Senate Bill 14-179 requires a 1-to-1 match. The CDBG-DR grant would be considered that match…
Later on Tuesday night, the town board voted to reallocate $780,000 in the CDBG-DR grant from the Scott Ponds and put it toward the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff/Jennifer Ward):
Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment for a hydropower project at Drop 5 of the South Canal, part of the Uncompahgre Project in Montrose, Colorado.
The project, proposed by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, will be located approximately four miles downstream from the Drop 4 hydropower project on the South Canal. A Lease of Power Privilege will authorize the use of federal facilities and Uncompahgre Project water to construct, operate and maintain a 2.4 megawatt hydropower facility and associated interconnect power lines.
The hydropower plant will operate on irrigation water conveyed in the South Canal and no new diversions will occur as a result of the hydropower project. Construction activities and operation of the hydropower plant will not affect the delivery of irrigation water.
The draft environmental assessment is available and can be received by contacting Jennifer Ward by phone at 970-248-0651 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted by email to email@example.com or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, September 14, 2015.
The fossil-fuel industry—which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat—has started to take serious hits. At noon today [November 6, 2015], President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.
These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.
The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first—when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including http://350.org, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans.
The second, related, cause is the relentless spread of a new logic about the planet—that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn. While President Obama said today that Keystone was not “the express lane to climate disaster,” he also said that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” This reflects an idea I wrote about in Rolling Stone three years ago; back then, it was new and a little bit fringe. But, this fall, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking to members of the insurance industry at Lloyds of London, used precisely the same language to tell them that they faced a “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets.” No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.
Which brings us to the third cause. There is, now, an elsewhere to head. In the past six years, the price of a solar panel has fallen by eighty per cent. [ed. emphasis mine] For years, the fossil-fuel industry has labored to sell the idea that a transition to renewable energy would necessarily be painfully slow—that it would take decades before anything fundamental started to shift. Inevitability was their shield, but no longer. If we wanted to transform our energy supply, we clearly could, though it would require an enormous global effort.
Don’t you just love renewable energy capital markets moving the polluters out of the picture?
Here’s a report about the impending bankruptcy of Arch Coal from Elizabeth Shogren writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:
There’s no question that the president’s Clean Power Plan and his other air pollution regulations cloud the future of the industry. But coal’s bleak present has much more to do with other factors; chief among them the low price of natural gas and bad business decisions that the country’s biggest coal companies made in recent years. “These are undoubtedly difficult, if not unprecedented, times for the coal sector,” Glenn Kellow, chief executive officer of Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, reportedly said on the company’s recent earnings call.
Both Arch Coal and Peabody Energy paid billions of dollars to acquire metallurgical coal mines when prices of this type of coal, which is used to make steel and other metals, were soaring. The price has since collapsed, leaving the companies swamped in debt and their stock prices a small fraction of what they used to be. In Arch’s case, it spent $3.4 billion in 2011 to buy International Coal Group, Inc., acquiring 13 mines in the eastern United States. At the time, the only company more invested in metallurgical coal was Alpha National Resources, (remember that name), which was buying Massie Energy for $7.1 billion. That same year, Peabody shelled out $5.2 billion for metallurgical coal mines in Australia.
The companies borrowed to buy these metallurgical coal mines, with the expectation that Asia, especially China, would gobble up all the metallurgical coal they could produce. What they didn’t count on was the price of metallurgical coal spiraling downward due in part to increased supplies of metallurgical coal from other countries and slower growth in China. Now U.S. metallurgical coal sells for less than half what it did in 2011.
Arch’s debt comes due next year. Scrambling to avoid bankruptcy, Arch tried to get creditors to renegotiate its debt, but the effort collapsed at the end of last month. Peabody has until 2018, and yet its stock has fallen from more than $1,000 in 2011 to less than $13 this fall.
The West is largely a bystander to this high drama, except that the companies that produce the most coal in the West are caught in the middle of it. Profitable mines owned by these companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin likely still will operate under whatever slimmed-down companies emerge from bankruptcy or under new ownership. But underground mines, where it costs more to extract the coal, may be less lucky. Peabody’s Twentymile mine in northwestern Colorado reportedly already has experienced significant reductions in production.
Mines in the West are not immune from the other main factor vexing the coal industry: low natural gas prices. Coal’s share in electricity production dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2014, and natural gas overtook coal as the biggest electricity producer for two months this year. The Energy Information Agency expects an 8 percent decrease in total coal consumption in 2015 compared to 2014, mainly driven by electric companies shifting to low-cost natural gas. Retirement of coal-fired power plants due to the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards contributed, but to a lesser degree, according to the Energy Information Agency. “The big story here is gas and how cheap it is,” says Robert Godby, associate economics professor at the University of Wyoming who focuses on coal.
For the historical moment, it appears, there will be no continent-spanning death funnel bringing the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from the environmental hellspout of northern Alberta down through the most arable farmland in the world to the refineries of the Gulf Coast, thence to the world. The president has decided this will not be the case…
You could see it coming over the last month—when Canadian elections went against the death funnel’s primary political supporters, both nationally and in Alberta. You could see it when TransCanada, the multinational corporation seeking to build the death funnel, begged the State Department for a reprieve that would have pushed the decision to approve the tunnel past the end of the current president’s term. You could see it this week, when the State Department refused to honor that request. But the real story of what happened on Friday begins years ago, and it begins with ordinary people, and it is a remarkable story of actual populism in action.