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Environment: Tuesday roundup

Independent journalism in western Colorado

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Big issues at the climate talks in Lima, Peru.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — If you primarily read this Summit Voice feed, which has been climate focused recently, you may have missed a few other recent stories I’ve done for the Colorado Independent. The past couple of weeks I’ve  covered issues in western Colorado, including fossil fuel development, public lands protection and even the ski industry from time to time, including this week’s story about a Colorado Supreme Court case. Continue reading

More methane woes – study tracks abandoned well emissions

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Concentrations of heat-trapping methane are increasing steadily in the Earth’s atmosphere.

‘What surprised me was that every well we measured had some methane coming out …’

FRISCO — Fixing leaky pipes and other equipment at operational oil and gas wells would go a long way toward cutting emissions of heat-trapping methane pollution, but wells that were abandoned decades ago could be another big source of the potent greenhouse gas.

Princeton University researchers recently tested several abandoned oil and natural gas wells in northwestern Pennsylvania, finding that many of the old wells leaked substantial quantities of methane. By some estimates, there are as many as 3 million abandoned wells across the U.S. Continue reading

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White River National Forest updates oil and gas plan

74,000 acres in roadless areas still open to fossil fuel development with a no surface occupation stipulation

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Most oil and gas development on the White River National Forest is limited to the far western zones in areas where drilling is already common.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The White River National Forest wants to open up nearly 200,000 acres for oil and gas drilling leases, including 74,000 acres in designated roadless areas where there would be restrictions on surface activities.

The long-awaited update to the forest’s oil and gas leasing map were released this week by the agency in a final environmental impact study and a draft record of decision, subject to a 60-day objection period. The final EIS is online here.

WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said he chose a “conservation-minded” option that prioritizes recreational and natural resources values over energy development across most of the forest. Most of the lands open for leasing follow the pattern of recent energy development in areas with high potential for fossil fuel development.

“Over one million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production, and another 800,000 acres are legally withdrawn. In addition, I have decided to close 213,000 acres of the White River National Forest to leasing in order to protect and maintain the natural character of these areas and protect important wildlife habitat,” Fitzwilliams said. Continue reading

Colorado fracking task force set to meet in Rifle

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Roads and fracking pads spiderweb across the wild landscapes of western Colorado and eastern Utah, as seem from a commercial airliner. bberwyn photo.

Audio from meeting to stream live on the web

Staff Report

FRISCO — A 21-member Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force meets again in Rifle this week, with the agenda including a discussion of health impacts to people in gas patch communities.

Questions about health impacts surfaced again last week as a major new review of scientific studies spurred leading experts to say there are reasons for concern. Many of the toxic chemicals used in the fossil fuel industry are known to disrupt basic body chemistry. Continue reading

Greater sage-grouse need more buffer zones

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Greater sage-grouse need buffer zones to reduce impacts from human activities. Photo via USGS.

New USGS report details conservation needs of dwindling western birds

Staff Report

FRISCO — It may seem like there are a lot of wide open spaces remaining in the interior West, but when you add up impacts from roads, highways and pipelines; oil, gas, wind and solar energy development; tall structures such as electrical, communication and meteorological towers, it’s just too much for sage grouse.

The birds — at the heart of a classic endangered species political battle, need quiet areas to breed and fledge their chicks. In most cases, they seem to need at least a three-mile buffer from the most impactful activities, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded in a new report. Continue reading

Lawsuit aims to protect walruses from oil drilling

A Pacific walrus. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Can walruses survive global warming and Arctic oil drilling? Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation groups challenge federal rules on ‘incidental take’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Conservation groups this week opened another front in their ongoing battle to block irresponsible fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic. Represented by Earthjustice, wildlife advocates and Native Americans went to court to block a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that would allow oil companies to harm Pacific walruses.

According to the lawsuit, the rule puts the at-risk mammals under more environmental pressure by allowing drilling in key walrus foraging areas in the Chukchi Sea, where walruses depend on the ice for resting, raising their young, feeding, and avoiding predators. Continue reading

Energy: BLM finalizes northern Alaska drilling plan

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New oil and gas drilling set to start in National Petroleum Reserve. Map courtesy BLM.

Conservation groups say new road will hammer wetlands, tundra and wildlife

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new Bureau of Land Management plan for fossil fuel exploitation in Alaska has spurred criticism from environment groups, who say that a road included in the proposal will permanently damage the Western Arctic’s sensitive wetlands and tundra, with impacts to wildlife and subsistence values.

The BLM plan covers the Greater Mooses Tooth Unit 1 project in the 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, also known as the Western Arctic Reserve, more than half of which is potentially open to oil and gas leasing. Conservation advocates are calling for more careful study of drilling impacts to ensure that the wildlife, subsistence and wilderness character of our nation’s largest parcel of public land are balanced with energy development. Continue reading

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