#ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell tied at the turbines to ski lifts — The Mountain Town News

How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.
How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Just how much more water can be drawn from the rivers that originate near Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Aspen, as well as Crested Butte, Telluride, and Durango, before the electrical supply powering the ski lifts gets wobbly?

That sounds a bit like a zen koan, but in fact, it’s at the heart of a discussion now underway in Colorado. The Colorado River that originates in those mountain towns is already heavily tapped by local farms. Then there’s the matter of the giant straws that convey 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet per year to Denver, Colorado Springs, and other cities at the base of the Rocky Mountains as well as other farms on the Great Plains.

There’s only so much water in the Colorado River, and its use is strictly governed by interstate compacts: a 1948 compact apportioning use among the headwaters states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. More importantly, those four upper-basin states are obligated to allow roughly half the water in the Colorado River to flow downstream from Lake Powell and through the Grand Canyon, to the lower-basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, as well as to Mexico.

Just how much water remains to be developed in Colorado, whether for ski areas, cannabis farms, or Front Range cities? Nobody really knows.

But an upcoming $50,000 study funded by several organizations from the Western Slope of Colorado aims to get a better answer. Aspen Journalism reports that water organizations on Colorado’s Eastern Slope also want to get involved.

Chris Treese, the external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, recently explained the dynamics. If Lake Powell drops so low it can’t produce hydropower, he said, it also means the dam will not be able to release enough water to meet its rolling 10-year obligation under the 1922 Colorado River Water Compact.

“The earlier crisis point—and I don’t think that’s overstating it – is when Lake Powell falls to a level that is below the point where power can be produced through the dam,” Treese explained. That, in turn, means there’s too little water in Lake Powell to release the 8.23 million acre-feet required to meet the compact obligations.

Aspen Journalism explains that this call for a more definitive study has been spurred by a disagreement among river basins on Colorado’s Western Slope. The Yampa-White River Basin (includes Steamboat Springs) wants to reserve the right to dam and divert more water. The Gunnison Basin (includes Crested Butte) is concerned it will hasten what is called a “compact call,” or reduced water use in all basins.

And about that electricity? The turbines at Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, produce massive amounts of electricity, along with those at other dams in the West. This low-cost (and non-carbon) electricity is then distributed to utilities that serve many of the ski towns in Colorado and other states, too.

Mineral owners assert property rights #keepitintheground

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation
Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

At a contentious meeting in Adams County in January that carried on until the early-morning hours, several mineral rights owners stood up before the commissioners and lambasted a proposed 10-month drilling moratorium as an abrogation of their property rights.

In late February, a group of mineral owners appeared before a state House committee to support HB-1181, a bill that would require communities that ban drilling to compensate mineral owners for lost royalties.

And on Tuesday, those who own minerals are being encouraged to attend a Greeley City Council special meeting in which the council will consider an appeal from Extraction Oil & Gas to drill up to 22 wells on the city’s west side. The plan was turned down by the city’s planning commission earlier this year in the wake of strong public resistance.

“It’s all about protecting the economic foundation of our country, which is private property rights,” Smith said. “The issue is this is my property, and I have every right to realize the benefit of that property right.”

That right, she said, is enshrined in the very fabric of the state constitution and reflected in Colorado’s long history of mining.

No simple line

But Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, said the issue is not that cut and dried. Where one person’s property right ends, he said, another’s begins.

Foote was one of five Democratic legislators on the State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee to vote to kill HB-1181 on Feb. 24.

“It can’t just be that someone has mineral rights and they say they can exploit those rights any way that they see fit,” he said. “You have surface property owners who are losing value in their homes when drilling is done right next door.”

Foote characterizes the clash of property rights revolving around oil and gas activity as a “big issue” playing out across the state. It has even reached the Colorado Supreme Court, where the high court is set to decide in the coming weeks on how far a local community can go in limiting oil and gas development.

Emily Hornback, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, has spent the past few years advocating for residents of Battlement Mesa. They worry about the impacts of a plan by Ursa Resources to drill 53 natural gas wells in the neighborhood.

In December, the company got special use permits from Garfield County but still must get approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before moving forward.

Hornback said residents of the 5,500-person community, many of whom are retirees, fear for their property values in the face of heavily industrialized activity on their doorstep.

But they don’t have the political power as an unincorporated community to do much to mitigate the impacts, she said.

“For the adjacent landowner, the world appears against them and they don’t have much legal recourse,” Hornback said. “Whose property right is winning and whose property right is losing?”

Doug Saxton, a retiree who has lived in Battlement Mesa for 11 years, said his wife has asthma that is exacerbated by emissions from oil and gas activity.

Saxton said with the dramatic advances in horizontal drilling technology in the last few years, Ursa should be able to get to the natural gas deposits under Battlement Mesa — and in turn pay the mineral rights owners for their assets — from a much farther distance.

“They have tremendous technology they like to brag about,” he said, “and they ought to be using it when they’re going to impact this many people.”

Key issue

Lance Astrella, a Denver-based attorney who has represented landowners and mineral owners alike, said providing “reasonable” access to minerals beneath the surface is the key issue under Colorado law.

That’s because the state operates under a “split estates” rubric, in which the surface rights and the subsurface rights are often owned by different parties.

Under state law, the mineral estate is considered the dominant estate and operators cannot be prevented from “entering upon and using that amount of the surface as is reasonable and necessary to explore for, develop and produce oil and gas.”

But that dominance isn’t unbridled.

Astrella helped draft a 2007 state statute that introduced the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for a surface owner affected by nearby drilling activity. The law states that an operator shall conduct its operations in a manner that minimizes “intrusion upon and damage to the surface of the land.”

The industry insists that it has made numerous accommodations to surface owners and communities over the years, buffering noise with berms and walls and reducing pad size through the use of directional drilling.

In some communities, oil and gas operators have agreed to abide by memorandums of understanding, which are specific agreements between companies and local governments spelling out stricter standards of operation than what the state mandates.

But Astrella said the people who own the oil and gas deposits that the companies are trying to extract find it hard to prevail in the court of public opinion.

“The ones who have the intrusion and negative effects of oil and gas drilling — their situation is obvious and they have the public’s attention,” he said. “The mineral owners are less likely to have that benefit.”

Smith, with the National Association of Royalty Owners, said that’s because the conflict is between a property you can see — a home — and one you can’t — a pocket of natural gas.

“We don’t have the same voice because the legislature will take care of the property right on the surface rather than the property in the mineral estate,” she said. “It’s out of sight and out of mind. However, it’s a property right you can buy and sell like any other property right.”

Paying the bills

Minerals rights can also be inherited. That’s how Mike Paulsen, a wine and spirits deliveryman in Denver, obtained his minerals in Weld County. He said he used to get $200 a month from his holdings, but the industry’s recent price and production drop means he now gets a $50 check every few months.

It’s harder for him to keep up on his bills and pay off his debts.

“I not only used it to pay my bills but to have something to pass on to my kids,” said Paulsen, 53. “There’s not going to be anything left by the time I get my bills paid.”

He worries about the rising movement to limit oil and gas operations spreading to where his minerals are and impinging on his property rights.

“It really bothers me,” Paulsen said.

The total amount of royalty income in Colorado is hard to determine, Smith said, because agreements between oil and gas companies and mineral owners are privately negotiated. But based on the $475 million in royalties paid out in 2014 on state and federal lands, Smith extrapolates that total payouts statewide were around $1.1 billion.

Jon Isaacs of Adams County showed off a measley $102 check from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. The money represents a year’s worth of royalty payments off a 30-year-old oil and gas well on Isaacs’ property.

It’s not much, he concedes, but the real value under his 40-acre spread located just 4 miles north of Denver International Airport lies in the future. He smooths out a spreadsheet in his basement office that shows estimated royalty collections should a firm using the latest highly productive extraction methods drill new wells on his land.

At $31 per barrel, Isaacs says he’d get $19,000 in royalties a year. That rises to $37,000 annually by 2021, assuming a rebound in prices to $75 per barrel.

It’s his retirement fund, he said. No different than someone who invests in stocks, bonds or cattle futures.

“It’s so I can stay here at this house that I’ve improved and plant crops on my land and stay in Adams County into retirement,” said the 58-year-old, who bought this windswept parcel only because it came with mineral rights. “I bought this land as an investment.”

Roni Sylvester of La Salle is also looking to the future, which she now deems “uncertain” given recent anti-oil and gas efforts in the state. Her husband was planning to donate a ranch he owns in Wyoming to Colorado State University’s agricultural college.

That plan is now on hold because the couple can’t be certain their royalty income stream will remain intact.

“There’s no way you can plan,” Sylvester said. “It knocks the foundation out from underneath you. You have to plan for the absolute worst-case scenario.”

New Interior rule to protect streams in coal-mining areas draws criticism #keepitintheground

Mountain top removal for coal mining
Mountain top removal for coal mining

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A federal proposal to better protect streams from impacts of coal mining is coming under scrutiny regarding its level of necessity, particularly out West, and what benefits it would provide.

The National Mining Association is criticizing the proposal by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, saying it applies a nationwide approach to dealing with issues arising with so-called mountaintop removal surface mining in Appalachia.

“Obviously we’re very concerned about this (proposal), for the impact it will have on production,” said Luke Popovich, an NMA spokesman.

The Interior Department released the proposal last July, saying it would protect some 6,500 miles of streams over 20 years. It would replace regulations adopted in 1983, incorporating updated science and benefiting surface and groundwater, fish and wildlife, Interior said.

Companies would have to monitor stream conditions before, during and after operations, and the rule also addresses post-mining stream restoration. [ed. emphasis mine]

A rule adopted during the Bush administration in 2008 was challenged by environmental groups, who said it would weaken existing stream protections. That rule was vacated in a court ruling in 2014 and remanded for further action.

Adam Eckman, associate general counsel with the National Mining Association, said the Obama administration instead decided to develop a rule that “bears no resemblance” to the 2008 rule, which was narrowly aimed at a small set of issues in Appalachia.

“It really is confusing why this is being expanded out West to Colorado when Colorado has a nearly perfect reclamation record (by mines) and when no science related to impacts in the West has been cited at all” in support of the proposal, he said.

The NMA sees the rule, and other Obama administration moves including its court-challenged Clean Power Plan and its current moratorium on new federal coal leasing, as being part of an administration effort to eliminate coal-burning altogether.

Jeremy Nichols of the conservation group WildEarth Guardians said the proposal would impact Colorado’s underground mines only to the limited degree they have surface impacts, while having larger implications for surface mines like Colowyo and Trapper in northwest Colorado.

But he said a minimum level of such protections should apply nationally.

“Our clean water is just as deserving of protection as Appalachia’s clean water,” he said.

A study done for NMA estimates the new rule could cost up to 77,520 mining jobs, including potentially more than 10,000 in the West.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement says it could cost an average of 260 jobs related to coal production a year, which would be offset by an average increase of 250 jobs a year related to complying with the rule.

It estimates the compliance cost at $52 million a year, including $2.5 million for Colorado Plateau surface mines and $200,000 for underground mines on the plateau.

The NMA study estimates the rule could result in a 27 to 64 percent decrease in access to recoverable coal reserves, and up to $6.4 billion annually in lost federal and state revenue.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has sent the Reclamation and Enforcement office a letter supporting certain details of the proposal, but listing a number of concerns about it.

It says the rules would require extensive permit coordination between Reclamation and Enforcement, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and states, which could delay permitting.

“The proposed rules do not account for regional differences in hydrology, climate, and mining methods/practices,” the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety added.

#ColoradoRiver: Happy 80th Hoover (Boulder) Dam #COriver

U.S. added 7,200 megawatts of solar power in 2015

Summit County Citizens Voice

Residential installations lead the way

New initiative to boost several solar projects with $27 million. Solar outpaced natural gas capacity additions in 2015.

Staff Report

The U.S. solar power market grew by 17 percent in 2015, adding more than 7,200 megawatts of photovoltaics and outpacing the growth of the natural gas capacity additions for the first time ever. In all, solar supplied 29.5 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2015.

The solar sector grew fastest in California, North Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts and New York, but the market continues to diversify geographically, with 13 states installing more than 100 megawatts of capacity in 2015.

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“We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in [on oil and gas exploration]” — Nada Culver

Montezuma Valley
Montezuma Valley

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A Master Leasing Plan doesn’t sound provocative, but bitter lines have been drawn as a result of the Bureau of Land Management planning the future use of its federal land in Southwest Colorado, 92 percent of which is open to gas and oil development.

Debate now lingers over whether the BLM should engage in such a plan to further analyze when and where new wells should be drilled.

Conservationists and recreationists in support of a master plan say the study will give natural resources and recreational uses the same level of priority as gas and oil development, which the BLM has historically favored.

Energy companies and those dependent on the industry argue the BLM already has protections in place, and the call for additional review is a cheap attempt by those who wish to see fuels remain in the ground.

The BLM falls somewhere vaguely in between.

Leveling the playing field

Around 2010, the Tres Rios BLM office estimated up to 3,000 new wells would be drilled over the next 20 years for federally controlled minerals in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County.

And within the 820,000-acre area of minerals, only 62,000 acres would be closed to drilling.

The plan caught the ire of some community members who felt the boundaries come too close and adversely impact naturally valued lands, including the corridors into Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, around the mountain biking destination Phil’s World and on the edge of two wilderness study areas.

In February 2015, the BLM released an updated Resource Management Plan, outlining guidelines for land use, including future exploration and development of new well pads in the region.

But environmentalists say the resource plan fell short of keeping oil and gas in check, leaving too many areas of discretion and loopholes for over-development.

Concerned with effects on wildlife migration, cultural resources, water quality and air quality, the groups pressured the BLM to consider a master plan, which could tighten restrictions in the two-county area.

“We’re not going to make the entire area on the map a park,” said Nada Culver, director and senior counsel for the Wilderness Society. “The idea is to get more balanced with oil and gas. (A master leasing plan) takes resources like wildlife, recreation, agriculture – and evens the playing field.”

Bringing together interests from across the board, the BLM set up and assigned an advisory committee to draft a recommendation on whether a master leasing plan is warranted. A sub-group of that committee is holding public hearings in Durango and Mancos on Thursday.

Delay tactics?

But not all are in favor of a second look at resources and interests on BLM lands.

“This is being done for political reasons,” said Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, which is representing the energy industry on the sub-committee…

BLM has final say

BLM officials pointed to the $247 million the state of Colorado received in 2015 from royalties for all federal minerals, including oil and gas, as well as the more than 22,900 jobs tied to the industry’s operations on public land.

The BLM Tres Rios Field Office will receive the advisory committee’s recommendation in August, but ultimately, the federal agency has the final say whether it will undertake a master leasing plan project.

“We haven’t taken a stance one way or the other,” said Justin Abernathy, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios office. “We’re a multiple-use agency, and in my experience with BLM – the people, the employees really try to balance their approach on how we manage public lands we’re responsible for.”

The BLM ceased all gas and oil leasing on the area in question until the matter of a master leasing plan is resolved. Still, the federal agency has 35 previously authorized leases covering about 13,500 acres within the master plan’s boundaries.

Between the 3,740-square-mile area that covers La Plata and Montezuma counties, the most recent data show nearly 6,000 gas wells dot the countryside.

Throughout the mineral-rich San Juan Basin, the total number of drilling operations are hard to pin down, yet some reports reach into the tens of thousands.

And numbers like those make the battle for the landscape of the West worth fighting for, the Wilderness Society’s Nada said.

“This is a new culture,” Nada said. “The BLM has historically left it up to the oil and gas industry to decide when and where they drill.

“We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in.”

#ColoradoRiver: Many eyes are on the Shoshone Hydroelectric water right

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado River District is asking Western Slope governments and water entities for more funding for continued study into ways to ensure the permanent preservation of a large, priority water right on the Colorado River.

The district and other contributors already have spent more than $200,000 looking into options to preserve the rights associated with the Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs.

The district is now seeking to spend another $200,000 for the effort. It is shouldering half of the cost of the study.

The Shoshone plant has water rights dating to shortly after 1900. Its right to 1,250 cubic feet per second is senior to rights including those of Front Range municipal transmountain diverters.

As a result, the right ensures at least that level of flow both above and below the dam that serves the plant.

“The importance of that in the recreation and rafting industry frankly can’t be overstated. It’s huge,” Lee Leavenworth, an attorney advising Garfield County commissioners, told them Monday.

The small, 15-megawatt plant is owned by Xcel Energy. Western Slope interests long have feared that Xcel might sell the plant to a Front Range entity interested in buying and retiring the water right to allow more diversions under junior rights.

Xcel has said the plant’s not for sale and is important to Xcel’s power system reliability and stability.

But the Western Slope organizations aren’t taking chances, with the study exploring options including Western Slope acquisition of the plant and its water right should the plant go up for sale.

A 2013 agreement between Denver Water and 17 Western Slope water providers and governments included formalization of a protocol for generally continuing flows required by the plant even when there are plant outages. Denver Water also agreed to support possible Western Slope purchase of the plant.

Garfield commissioners on Monday agreed to commit up to $4,300 to the continuation of the study as part of a cost-sharing arrangement that would include entities from the Colorado River headwaters to the Utah state line.

“If that power plant is for sale we need to be first in line, the Western Slope,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday.

He also voiced confidence in the ability of Western Slope entities to come up with what would be needed to buy the plant if that possibility arises.

“I think you would find that the money is there if we need to buy that,” he said.