BLM to lease solar energy parcels in Colorado

Large-scale solar could add to the state’s renewable energy mix

Solar energy development zones in western U.S.

Solar energy zones around the southwestern U.S. would yield thousands of megawatts of electricity if fully developed. Click on the map to visit a BLM website with links to detailed maps of the specific areas.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After years of planning, the Bureau of Land Management is holding the first competitive auction for development of solar energy on public lands in Colorado.

Under Ken Salazar‘s leadership, the U.S. Department of Interior established a regulatory framework for solar development with a programmatic study that resulted in the designation of solar energy zones.

The Oct. 23 auction will award preference rights to submit a right-of-way application and a plan of development for commercial solar energy projects on three parcels of BLM-administered land, totaling 3,705 acres, in Conejos and Saguache counties in South Central Colorado.  Continue reading

Biodiversity: BLM releases draft version of greater sage-grouse conservation plan for northwestern Colorado

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

 

FRISCO — These days, the vast sagebrush ocean of the Intermountain West is under siege by drilling rigs, sprawling exurban development and, in some cases, poor grazing practices on public lands.

Altogether, those pressures have degraded habitat across big swaths of the landscape. The damage is reflected by the sharp decline in greater sage-grouse populations. The birds have disappeared from half of their former range and are a candidate for the endangered species list, likely to be designated as threatened or endangered.

The listing could come as soon as 2015 — unless federal land managers and local governments can agree on a conservation plan with enough safeguards to satisfy the biologists who will consider the listing.

The Bureau of Land Management, which administers much of the territory with key sage-grouse habitat, is working toward that goal in the west-wide National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Effort, and last week released a draft environmental study for northwestern Colorado for a 90-day comment period. Continue reading

Colorado: BLM to auction leases for solar power plants

Up-front analysis of solar energy zones could accelerate projects

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Utility scale solar energy could help reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Colorado has long been a leader in developing distributed solar energy resources, and the state may soon have it first commercial utility-scale solar energy projects.

Later this year (Oct. 24) the Bureau of Land Management will hold the first competitive auction for public lands in two solar energy zones in Colorado.

The sealed and oral bid auction will select a preferred applicant to submit a right-of-way application and plan of development for utility-scale solar energy projects on 3,705 acres in the De Tilla Gulch and Los Mogotes East Solar Energy Zones in Conejos and Saguache counties. Continue reading

Energy: BLM to study California fracking impacts

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Widespread deposits of valuable natural gas and oil in shale formations has spurred the fracking boom.

Some leasing likely to be on hold for at least a year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Following a legal challenge, federal officials said last week they will re-evaluate the potential impacts of fracking to public lands in California. The federal environmental study will be accompanied by a statewide independent scientific assessment of fracking in central California.

The new studies were announced after a federal court upheld a legal challenge of the  BLM’s decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club. Continue reading

Colorado: Fire danger creeps up in the high country

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The fire danger is currently rated as high in most of Colorado’s north-central mountains.

BLM lands in NW Colorado already under Stage 1 fire restrictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a bone-dry June, some public land managers in Colorado are starting to enact fire restrictions to lessen the chances of a human-caused wildfire start.

Summit County only picked up about 15 percent of the long-term average precipitation in June, for example with .19 inches at the official National Weather Service site in Dillon, compared to the average 1.14 inches. High temperatures for the month were about 4 degrees above average.

The White River National Forest (Eagle and Summit counties) hasn’t issued any restrictions yet, but lands administered by Bureau of Land Management in  parts of northwest Colorado have been under Stage 1 restrictions since June 27. Continue reading

Threats, attacks on federal workers increase in 2012

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A National Park ranger was killed in the line of duty in 2012, the first such incident since 2002.

Watchdog group tracks federal data to identify year-to-year trends

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Attacks and threats against federal workers on public lands increased in 2012, with violence against U.S. Park Police officers reaching a record level, according to figures compiled by federal agencies and analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

According to the figures, reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in wildlife refuges and in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks.

The year began with the shooting death of Mount Rainier National Park law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1. Anderson was only was the ninth ranger killed in the line of duty since the National Park Service was founded in 1916.  A park ranger was last killed in 2002, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, while chasing drug traffickers. Continue reading

Energy: BLM eyes new rules for fracking on public lands

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BLM wants to update 30-year-old fracking regs.

Common sense steps address some environmental and health concerns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An updated set of draft rules for fracking on public and Indian lands includes several common-sense safeguards that will help protect the human health and safety, as well as the environment. For starters, the rule requires disclosure of the chemicals used for fracking, a key measure that ensures transparency and gives the public some assurance.

The proposed rule beefs up standards meant to insure well bore-integrity, which will help verify that fluids used during fracturing operations are not contaminating groundwater. Operators must also have a plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.

About 90 percent of wells drilled on Federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing, but the Bureau of Land Management’s current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and were not written to address modern hydraulic fracturing activities. Continue reading

Colorado: Roan Plateau drilling plan back in federal court

Fossil fuel industry frustrated by federal delays

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The BLM, conservation groups and the fossil fuel industry are grappling with a development plan for the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The fossil fuel industry continues to battle over energy development in court, most recently by asking a federal appeals court to overturn a previous lower court ruling that spurred the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider its plan for northwest Colorado’s Roan Plateau.

Conservation groups joined the battle in late April, filing their response to the latest legal challenge, which would “turn back the clock” to Bush-era energy development policies, according to Earthjustice, which is representing community and environmental groups in the case.

At issue is how many wells will be drilled atop the plateau, which is billed by conservation advocates to have high natural resource values. The fight dates back to a development plan approved by the BLM under the Bush administration. Continue reading

New group aims to protect national parks from drilling

Retired park rangers call on the BLM to fully adopt national leasing reforms

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Mesa Verde National Park could be at risk from oil and gas drilling. NPS photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As oil and gas drilling rigs creep closer and closer to the borders of popular national parks around the country, a passel of retired park rangers has formed a new organization to try and protect cherished resources, including view sheds, air quality and wildlife habitat.

The idea is not to stop drilling. The ex-rangers acknowledge that energy development is needed. Rather, the group wants to hold other federal agencies — primarily the BLM — accountable to national guidance that requires smart, up-front planning when it comes to drilling around parks.

“We’re really concerned about the impacts if the drilling isn’t properly planned,” said Ellis Richard, a National Park Service veteran who ended his career as acting superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, one of the park units potentially threatened by drilling. Continue reading

Colorado: Conservation group challenges BLM decision to ‘suspend’ Thompson Divide oil and gas leases

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Wrangling continues over oil and gas leasing in Colorado.

Appeal asks state BLM director to let leases expire

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates are challenging a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to extend the life of several oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado’s White River National Forest.

The leases have been unused for 10 years and were illegally sold to begin with, according to Earthjustice, which is filing the administrative appeal on behalf of Wilderness Workshop.

“Sometimes BLM needs to just say no to the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “If we can’t keep energy development out of a place like the Thompson Divide, what part of Colorado is safe? We can meet our energy needs in responsible fashion without destroying our most important public lands,” Freeman said. Continue reading

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