Category: Colorado

Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality

New study tracks increase in summertime haze in Colorado wilderness

Summit County firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012.
Summit County, Colorado, firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012. A new University of Utah study suggests that more drought and wildfires will worsen air pollution in the high country of the West, even spreading to pristine wilderness areas. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Longer and hotter droughts and wildfires are polluting the once clear blue skies of the high country in the West, according to new research from the University of Utah.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found a link between the severity of drought in the Intermountain West and summertime air quality. Climate projections suggest that drought and wildfire risk will continue to increase in coming decades.

“If you take that into the future, we’re going to see significant hazing of the West,” said University of Utah atmospheric scientist Gannet Hallar. Continue reading “Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality”

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Morning photo: Year in review

Winter scenes

I covered some ground this year with Summit Voice and all around the web, with diverse reporting and photojournalism from two continents, and I’ll post links to some of the top stories of 2016 in the next few days, but we also wanted to take a look back at the past year in photos, starting with a few favorites from early last winter. My favorite shot of the year is the shadow silhouette at Red Rocks, taken at dawn, Christmas morning. If you have sharp eyes, you’ll be able to pick out some of Colorado’s best ski areas in the monochrome shot taken from a commercial airliner headed west from Denver. Out weekly photo sets are here, and you can also check out our online gallery here. We also closed out the year with a fine environmental photo essay of the cryosphere for Pacific Standard.

 

Opinion: Colorado, you are so fracked …

It’s all about the Mancos shale gas

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.
Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level across western Colorado and eastern Utah from 35,000 feet in the air. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

If you think Colorado is getting fracked now, just wait a few more months. The state’s oil and gas producers are lining up with the rest of the fossil fuel industry to cash in on the incoming administration’s dark vision of carbon unleashed. In a press release issued this week, the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association says it’s already planning a trip to Washington, D.C. to expedite approval of a natural gas pipeline across the western USA, leading to an export terminal at Coos Bay, Oregon.

The Canadian company proposing development of the project announced today it will reapply for a permit for the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the next few months.

But a pipeline won’t do any good if there is no place to load the gas aboard ships, and West Coast cities are determined to block new fossil fuel infrastructure, according to InsideClimate News, which reports that Portland is one of the latest cities to use local zoning powers to prevent construction of new major fossil fuel terminals and expansion of any existing facilities.

And according to the watchdog group Citizens Against LNG, the Jordan Cove Energy Project, L.P. also formally requested that its application for a Site Certificate for their South Dunes Power Plant be withdrawn from further consideration by the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council and the Oregon Department of Energy. Without that power plant, there won’t any terminal at Coos Bay, activists say.

The idea, according to WSCOGA, is to develop Western Colorado’s vast Mancos Shale gas potential — an energy reserve among the largest natural gas resources in North America. According to the press release, natural gas producers in the Piceance Basin “have applauded Jordan Cove LNG’s decisive and speedy decision to pursue reapplication and approval of the most important energy infrastructure project in the Western United States.” Continue reading “Opinion: Colorado, you are so fracked …”

Autumn was exceptionally warm across the U.S.

Record and near-record readings from coast to coast

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All 48 contiguous states reported above average temperatures for the fall of 2016.

Staff Report

November 2016’s average temperature across the U.S. was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making it the second-warmest on record, behind 1999. According to the latest monthly update from the National Centers for Environmental Information, November is warming at a rate of 6.6 degrees Fahrenheit per century. Only January has been warming faster, at a rate of 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit per century.

Idaho, North Dakota and Washington were record warm in November. Every state in the Lower 48 experienced an average temperature that above average. North Dakota’s average temperature was 12.8 degrees above normal, nearly 2 degrees above the previous record set in 1999. In the West, 15 states reported their second or third warmest November reading on record. Continue reading “Autumn was exceptionally warm across the U.S.”

Sunday set: Winter, from the vault

The colder the better!

A quick flashback set featuring winter scenes from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It’s not always that easy to get motivated for a photo session when it’s below freezing outside, but it’s always worth it when you do, because, well, there are some things that you can only see in winter — delicate ice filaments forming on the surface of a creek that somehow manages to keep flowing through sub-zero air, or a winter storm clearing just in time to give way to the warm orange glow of sunrise. And it’s always fun to take a look at the structure of ice. So don’t put away your camera when the weather gets chilly. Just make sure your batteries are fully charged

Can we #keepitintheground please?

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Roads and drill pads in the remote backcountry of eastern Utah. @bberwyn photo.

Conservation groups challenge planned fossil fuel leases on public lands in Colorado

Staff Report

Conservation groups are challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction fossil fuel leases on 20,000 acres of public land in Colorado based on concerns about air and water pollution, and potential harm to imperiled species ­— including threatened Colorado River fish such as the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker, and plant species such as the parachute beardtongue.

The administrative protest also says the BLM failed to consider climate impacts. If the leases are developed, it could result in 31. million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading “Can we #keepitintheground please?”

Legal wrangling continues over rare oil patch plants

The rare Graham's penstemon grows primarily in the oil and gas patches of western Colorado and Utah. Photo courtesy Susan Meyer.
The rare Graham’s penstemon grows primarily in the oil and gas patches of western Colorado and Utah. Photo courtesy Susan Meyer.

Federal court says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must take another look at listing decision

Staff Report

There’s a new legal twist in the long-running battle over rare wildflowers in northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. This week, a federal court, restored Endangered Species Act protection for two species of penstemon that grow only in oil shale formations in the region.

Conservation activists won protection for the plants in 2013, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 91 percent of Graham’s beardtongue populations and 100 percent of White River beardtongues were threatened by the impacts of oil and gas development. But a year later, the agency reversed course, claiming that a voluntary conservation agreement would mitigate those threats. Continue reading “Legal wrangling continues over rare oil patch plants”