Promoting Clean Energy
Energy warms and cools our homes, powers our businesses, fuels our transportation, and is a key component of our state’s economy. Colorado is in a unique energy position, as our state provides vast amounts of fossil fuel energy resources to the rest of the country. Our state also has some of the greatest potential for developing a clean energy economy, with some of the best opportunities for successful solar, wind and bio-fuels projects in the nation.
Currently, Colorado is bearing a large portion of the burden of providing fossil fuel resources such as coal and natural gas to the rest of the country. Some of the areas of our state being developed for their energy resources are among the last pristine landscapes in the region, home to spectacular scenery, unparalleled recreational opportunities, and important wildlife habitat. While energy exploration continues at an unprecedented rate, it is becoming ever more critical to find ways to balance our energy needs with the importance of protecting our land, air, water, wildlife and local communities.
Colorado is poised to become a national leader in promoting and investing in clean energy technology, putting our natural advantages and technological expertise to work in helping create a new energy future. Fouling our air and water, harming our lands and wildlife, and spoiling recreational opportunities is a needless sacrifice. Instead, we seek to encourage the development of clean energy technologies and promote the use of conservation and efficiency measures. By investing in clean, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and bio-fuels, and by promoting energy efficiency measures, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reinvigorate our economy, create good new jobs, protect consumers, and safeguard our dwindling natural resources.
Oil & Gas
Colorado's public lands provide important habitat for wildlife -- both at-risk species that depend on large tracts of unbroken habitat and the big game animals like elk and deer so important to Colorado's traditional sporting lifestyle. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service roadless areas provide world-class recreational opportunities for hikers, backpackers, hunters, and other non-motorized recreationists. Our public lands also contain many important watersheds, ensuring water quality by acting as natural filters for both organic pollutants (like dust and silt caused by road building and erosion) and industrial contaminants (such as oil, gasoline, and exhaust caused by heavy traffic). These unique landscapes also provide important revenue to support Colorado's hunting, fishing, recreation and tourism economies.
But these last pristine refuges are under increase threat from the growing presence of oil and gas development. While this development does help meet our growing energy demands, oil and gas drilling also adversely impacts a range of important resources like wildlife, air quality and water, as well as other values we cherish such as open spaces, recreational opportunities and our recreation-based economy.
Colorado has over 35,000 operating oil and gas wells, and companies are drilling thousands of new ones each year. Our state’s irreplaceable wildlife, economy, scenic landscapes, and recreational opportunities should not have to suffer the damages resulting from corporations trying to drill too quickly or without using best management practices. Energy companies in Colorado are enjoying record profits, and can afford to do this development right. When it comes to permitting this industrial development across our region, adhering to careful guidelines, using new, less impacting technologies and practices, and adopting a go-slow approach is sound policy for Colorado's scenic landscapes, wildlife and energy future.
We are at a critical junction, and it is imperative that we work to ensure the preservation of the last relatively unspoiled regions of our state so that our incredible natural heritage can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Energy Leasing & Drilling
In Colorado, over 90% of the lands managed by the BLM are open to potential oil and gas leasing, and drilling permits are being issued at a record pace. More than 6,000 wells were drilled in the region in 2006, and over 50,000 are projected over the next decade with additional acres of split estate lands lost every week.
Drilling in Garfield County alone is occurring at a record pace, making it even more critical that we secure protections for special places like the Roan Plateau in Garfield County is approving drilling permits faster than any other Colorado county, and is on pace to reach over 1,500 permits this year. Over 15,000 new wells are likely to be drilled in Garfield County over the next decade. Approximately 85% of BLM lands in the White River area, just north of the Roan Plateau, have already been leased for natural gas, and more than 22,000 wells are expected to be drilled on these lands over the next 15 years.
In Colorado, over 70% of the federal acres already leased for gas development are not in production. With such surpluses in place, the push by the administration and by Congress to accelerate gas leasing is both unnecessary and irresponsible. We should not be committing federal lands to a single use long before those lands area needed for production and, in many cases, before adequate environmental analysis of leasing decisions have been completed. [Link to TWS myths and truths fact sheet on O&G;]
Some guidelines to help minimize drilling impacts are:
- Best available technologies should be utilized for all energy development.
- Road construction in development areas must be limited. If roads are created for the extraction of minerals, they should be immediately reclaimed post-development and not added to any travel management system.
- Surface disturbing activities must be limited in their scope and reclaimed on a rolling basis.
- Full-field development must be phased to protect wildlife habitat and guard against economic busts.
- In areas that are sensitive to wildlife, remnant plant communities, cultural resources, and visual resources should not be leased or drilled. If leasing or development does occur, it must occur without disturbing the surface.
- Implement a reclamation guarantee system that follows the well regardless of ownership to ensure that sufficient funding is available for reclamation.
- Wildlife science verifies how great the risk is to wildlife. A growing body of scientific evidence is confirming how serious and immediate this threat is.
The social infrastructure of the cities and counties affected by oil and gas exploration has not been able to keep pace with the breakneck speed of development. The rapid growth in the oil and gas industry has dramatically increased demands on law enforcement, emergency response, community services and road, housing, and bridge maintenance. This imbalance has created a logistical and financial burden on local governments attempting to maintain standard levels of service within communities, while at the same time being placed under increasing pressure to provide additional services in ever more remote locations such as the Piceance Basin.
Colorado is home to North America’s largest elk herd and its largest migratory deer herd, and also has outstanding populations of pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and other big game species. Wildlife is an important part of our state’s heritage, and our economy benefits from the over $2 billion that wildlife-related activities pump into the economy each year, providing over 20,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, Colorado has also become "ground zero" in the Rocky Mountain energy boom, with over 35,000 operating oil and gas wells and thousands of new ones being drilled each year.CEC has taken a leadership role in trying to find balance between wildlife protection and energy production through participation in a broad coalition of over 60 Colorado organizations, led by the Colorado Wildlife Federation and Colorado Mule Deer Association. This unique coalition represents a diverse groups of sportsmen, recreation groups, conservationists and local communities which have joined together to support a set of guidelines to protect wildlife migration routes, calving and fawning areas, winter range and riparian habitat during and after an area is developed for oil or gas. We believe that energy development shouldn’t occur at the expense of Colorado’s wildlife, and that it’s reasonable to ask industry to adopt best management practices to reduce harm to wildlife where oil and gas extraction to takes place. This coalition was successful in advocating for the passage of House Bill 1298, sponsored by Rep. Dan Gibbs and Sen. Lois Tochtrop. This legislation makes protecting wildlife resources part of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission, ensures that the Division of Wildlife is consulted regarding wildlife impacts, and initiates a rulemaking process to minimize oil and gas development effects on wildlife.
The Dolores River Basin is home to ten proposed wilderness areas and a diversity of habitat that supports black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcons and river otter. Stunning and remote, the very essence of this basin is a sensitive balance of nature. Red rock canyons meander between the forests of the La Sal Mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau, and ponderosa pines stand sentinel on cliffs overlooking the river. The human history of the Dolores River Basin is also diverse. Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites are relics of an intriguing past, and remains of modern civilization indicate a troubled history. Today, communities struggle for a sustainable future in the midst of increasing natural resource extraction.
The Dolores River Basin is experiencing a resource rush -- one that has already left alarming impacts on human health and the environment, and that could further jeopardize the future of wild places and sustainable communities. Without a modern day solution to waste and storage, and in spite of the devastating impacts that uranium has had on communities, lives, and the environment, uranium mining is once again courting the Dolores River Basin.
In the Dolores River Basin, the uranium booms of the 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s resulted in a plethora of unreclaimed mines, unexplained health conditions, and a Superfund site called Uravan. In the 1990s, the town of Uravan (which was also the location of the region’s uranium mill) was leveled and trucked away -- the community's school, swimming pool, post office, businesses, and houses are now only a memory to the former residents of the area. (See www.uravan.com for more info and photos). Since the last boom, in the 1970s, most of the mines have been closed, and the sites have had little attention for over 30 years.
Nonetheless, the Department of Energy (DOE) is currently evaluating its Uranium Leasing Program in the Dolores Basin, which could affect 17 communities and 11 counties in western Colorado and Southeastern Utah. Thirty-eight DOE lease parcels are being considered, and thousands of claims have been staked on BLM land. The proposed leasing of public lands in the Dolores and San Miguel River watersheds includes lands directly adjacent to these extraordinary rivers, lands currently proposed for permanent protection as wilderness, and even lands already reclaimed at significant expense after being contaminated by previous uranium mining activities.
In the meantime, recreational uses and visitation based on the area’s scenic values are drawing substantial attention and dollars to the region. The river is a valuable asset which plays an important role in the ongoing economics of the region, by feeding working farms and ranches, and attracting professional outfitters, anglers, river runners and hikers.
The Dolores River Basin is a landscape that deserves protection. Preserving its remarkable natural values will provide sustainable economies for the local communities, and will offer enjoyment for generations to come.
Uranium Mining Impacts Human Health
Impacts of uranium mining reveal a significant impact on human health. Uranium dust from mine sites and milling facilities has been cited as one of the largest human health concerns associated with uranium mining. Cancer-causing uranium dust, known as “radioparticulates,” can enter the lungs of uranium workers and citizens living near uranium operations. The largest potential for inhalation of radiation comes from radon, also associated with uranium mining.
A renewal of uranium mining, and the vast network of haulage routes, raises concerns for:
- public health
- water quality (including where trucks use routes along Colorado rivers and streams)
- safety of truck drivers and the potential for accidents and overturns
- noise levels
- visual aesthetics
- downwind contamination due to dust created at the uranium mine and during transportation
- truck accidents
Uranium Mining Poses Environment Threats
Uranium mining threatens water, fish, wildlife, and the general condition of public lands. Apart from the specific impacts associated with the hauling and milling, significant environmental degradation can result from increased surface disturbance for uranium mining.
Major environmental threats to public lands posed by the uranium mines include:
- long-term contamination due to a lack of permanent disposal options
- impacts from waste rock piles
- impacts to water quality
- impacts to vegetation, cryptobiotic soils, and wildlife habitat as well as soil erosion concerns.
Recent State of Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology (DMG) leach tests conducted on active uranium mines operated by Cotter Corporation confirmed toxic releases at the mine sites. DMG found waste-rock dumps and ore stockpiles with the potential to leach each of the following chemicals in concentrations that exceeded either chronic aquatic life standards, agricultural standards, or both: aluminum, lead, selenium, arsenic, uranium, and zinc. Several lease tracts are located within close proximity to the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers.
The current market price for uranium is uncharacteristically high, the quality of ore in the leasing area is low-grade, the mill availability is unclear, and the uranium market is unpredictable. The last uranium program in the Dolores Basin resulted in a $120 million Superfund project. We need to ask ourselves if the short-term economic gain is worth the long-term costs.