BLM updates oil and gas drilling plan for Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado

Master leasing plan aims to protect Dinosaur National Monument

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Can a master leasing protect cherished public resources around Dinosaur National Monument?

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An aerial view of the Dinosaur National Monument entrance road. Photo courtesy EcoFlight.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A new master leasing plan proposed by the Bureau of Land Management for public lands surrounding northwestern Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument aims to reduce oil and gas drilling impacts to wildlife, archaeological treasures and other resources in the region.

The plan could work if it’s implemented effectively, according to some public land watchdog groups, but doesn’t do much to address the larger issue of trying to move away from fossil fuels.

In fact, the agency expects oil and gas drilling to increase in the area, so the study that forms the basis for the plan evaluated impacts associated with the potential development of more than 15,000 oil and gas wells drilled on 1,100 well pads over the next 20 years. Continue reading

Fracking: New aerial research to track pollutants above western fossil fuel development zones

Sensitive instruments to track methane, VOCs and other airborne toxins from New Mexico to North Dakota

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A recent study of satellite data showing a hotspot of potent heat-trapping methane pollution over the Four Corners region makes it clear that we’re digging an ever-deeper global warming hole by fracking every last corner of the country.

As NOAA put it, “Vast regions west of the Mississippi River are under development for oil and gas extraction … but while one focus is on what comes out of the ground, NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences researchers and their colleagues are studying what escapes to the air—and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate.

Scientists hope to learn much more about the massive quantities of pollution escaping from fossil fuel development areas in the next few months as they launch this year’s  Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus (SONGNEX 2015) field campaign, using airborne instruments to measure greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions.

Continue reading

Feds propose new rules for public lands fracking

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A fracking rig in western Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Better wells and disclosure, but not enough protection for special areas

Staff Report

*More on public lands fracking in these Summit Voice stories

FRISCO — New fracking rules for federally managed public lands include tighter standards for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and disclosure of chemicals, but don’t go far enough to fully protect public health and the environment, according to activist groups, who wanted the Bureau of Land Management to adopt more stringent regulations. Continue reading

Dirty little secret: West’s ozone problem is growing

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

Proposed EPA standards would help bring relief to residents of fossil fuel development zones

Staff Report

FRISCO — The mythology of the American West includes standard notions of pristine vistas and clean air, but the reality is far different. Some parts of the region have a dirty little secret — air quality that, at times, is worse than places like L.A.

And for now, the problem is getting worse. Expanded drilling on public lands is resulting in emissions of more volatile organic compounds that form the chemical basis for ozone. Global warming won’t help either. By mid-century, ozone pollution will become much more widespread as temperatures rise, potentially leading to widespread plant damage, according to one recent study.

Proposed new EPA ozone standards could help, but only if there’s an active year-round monitoring regime in the region, a coalition of environmental groups said in their formal public comments on the proposed new standards. Continue reading

USGS study points out huge fracking data gaps

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Fracking in western Colorado. bberwyn photo.

No way to assess water quality impacts on a regional or national level

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil and gas companies like to present fracking as benign, and, for the most part, government regulators play along. For example, a recent oil and gas task force in Colorado barely touched on the subject of groundwater impacts from fracking. Continue reading

Conservation groups launch legal challenge to fracking in the Chaco Canyon region

Lawsuit also says feds ignored climate impacts of new oil and gas development

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Cultural and historic resources in the Chaco Canyon region are at risk from fracking. Photo via NPS.

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Conservation and community groups say new oil and gas drilling in the San Juan Basin threatens cultural resources in the greater Chaco Canyon region. Photo courtesy WildEarth Guardians.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Community and environmental activists are waging an all-out battle to keep oil and gas drilling at bay in the Chaco Canyon region of northwestern New Mexico, an area with cultural and historic values of global importance, under UNESCO’s World Heritage designation.

Fracking rigs have crept to within 20 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and some outlier sites are at risk, according to WildEarth Guardians. Just a couple of years ago, the Bureau of Land Management proposed leases within 2 miles of Chaco Canyon. Those proposed leases were deferred, but concerns remain that they could be offered again. Continue reading

Proposed new oil and gas leases in Wyoming cut into the heart of important greater sage-grouse habitat

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Sage grouse don’t much like these drilling rigs.

Wyoming greater sage-grouse populations down 60 percent in last few years

Staff Report

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say proposed new oil and gas leases on 89,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming would devastate greater sage-grouse in the region by permitting industrial operations in some of the birds’ most important nesting and rearing habitat.

In a comment letter to the federal government, the  Center for Biological Diversity wrote that, even sage grouse have declined 60 percent over six years in Wyoming, the plan repeatedly ignores federal scientists’ recommendations for protecting these prairie birds from fossil fuel development. Continue reading

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