Brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who made their fortune in the oil well services business, have been buying up land all over the West and closing off access. In southern Idaho, hunters recently learned that 172,000 acres of timberland and a vast road system in Adams, Valley and Boise counties will no longer be open to hunting.
The story about the Wilkes’ purchase has taken on a life of its own. Opponents to the transfer or sale of public lands are using the closures as Exhibit A of what can happen if lands that are traditionally open to the public go into private hands.
But it’s the way the story affects snowmobilers, four-wheelers, loggers and hunters such as Wolfinger that has given this story legs, as well as the Wilkses’ unwillingness to talk to anyone about their actions or their plans
Part 4 of The Denver Post’s four-part special report “Drilling Through Danger.”
Colorado oil and gas regulators receive dozens of reports about workplace accidents every year. But the regulators, lacking legislative authority, don’t punish companies with repeated worker safety problems or share the reports with federal safety officials. And the majority of deaths in the industry go undocumented by the regulators, The Denver Post has found.
USGS research ecologist Collin Eagles-Smith recently published a study of mercury contamination in the West and found it to be “widespread, at various levels across western North America in air, soil, sediment, plants, fish and wildlife.”
According to the study, mercury can come from a number of different natural and manmade sources. In Idaho, historic gold and silver mining is one source — as the element gets released into the environment, flowing into downstream watersheds. But Collin Eagles-Smith says that’s not the only way mercury is released. The scientist says western wildfires burn vegetation that’s a natural holder of mercury.
“So depending on where you have a burn, you could have hundreds of years of accumulated mercury released into the atmosphere in one pulse.”
In the following video, Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson and The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier examine the problem of coal mine reclamation, from Pennsylvania to Wyoming.
Tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada, concerned about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the grizzly bear from the federal endangered species list, plan to sign a joint treaty today aimed at blocking the proposed hunting of grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“There should be no doubt that delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly bear on ancestral tribal and treaty lands threatens irreparable harm to tribal rights if it is not challenged,” said Stanley Grier, chief of the Piikani Nation in Brocket, Alberta.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled against the $5.3 billion project in the spring, but several western Colorado officials will travel to Coos Bay, Oregon, next week in hopes of persuading FERC to reconsider. The pipeline would carry natural gas from Colorado’s Piceance Basin to an export terminal at Jordan Cove on Coos Bay.
Canada’s approval of a similar project, which would compete with Jordan Cove for customers in China, Korea, Japan and other Pacific Rim nations, illustrates the need to move quickly, [Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn] Bolton said.
“It just floors me,” Bolton said. “They’re going to beat us to the market, which is completely asinine for this country to let that happen.”
The acreage consumed by wildfires every year in Canada is expected to at least double by the end of the century, according to a new report by Natural Resources Canada.
The annual report, The State of Canada’s Forests, noted that even if the world manages to limit global warming to an average 2 degrees Celsius, Canada could still experience a temperature rise of 4 degrees C by 2100. The report said such warmer conditions will change the species composition, size, and age distribution of Canada’s forests, a natural resource that generated more than $22 billion in gross domestic product for the country in 2015.
As High Country News has reported:
The ancient, stunted boreal forests that ring the Arctic Circle contain 30 percent of the world’s land-based carbon, and when they burn, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
But most emissions from boreal fires don’t come from the trees at all — they’re released from the tundra-like peat that makes up the forest floor. The ground literally burns.
Is Yellowstone National Park a refuge from ringing cellphones? Not anymore.
Signal coverage maps for two of Yellowstone’s five cellphone towers show calls can now be received in large swaths of Yellowstone’s interior, such as the picturesque Lamar Valley and other areas until just recently out of reach.
The maps were obtained by a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which has for years fought against new telecommunications infrastructure in the first national park in the U.S.
“The ability to disconnect, the serenity value of that, is a park resource that they’ve given away without a thought,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director. “They have ceded the telecommunications programs to the companies.”
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries promised its first production cut in eight years, seemingly ending an effort led by Saudi Arabia to flood the global crude market and push higher-cost shale companies out of business. It worked: More than 60 oil companies declared bankruptcy over the last 30 months.
Total production from the three biggest U.S. shale oil plays — the Permian and Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota — may rise by 30,000 barrels a day next year if explorers can set their budgets with $50 crude. If crude trades between $55 and $65 next year, the three plays may add an additional 700,000 barrels in 2018, the [Bloomberg Intelligence] analysts said.
After almost two months after its arrival in Montana, Uber, the ride-hailing service, is proving popular among drivers and riders alike.
“My experience has been really good,” [Sarah] Martinez said. “There is not any other job where I could drop my kids off, work three hours, and then pick my kids up from school.”
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): How will you deal with a provocative opportunity to reinvent and reinvigorate your approach to work? My guess is that if you ignore this challenge, it will devolve into an obstruction. If you embrace it, on the other hand, you will be led to unforeseen improvements in the way you earn money and structure your daily routine. Here's the paradox: Being open to seemingly impractical considerations will ultimately turn out to be quite practical.
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Is it possible that you're on the verge of reclaiming some of the innocent wisdom you had as a child? Judging from the current astrological omens,
suspect it is. If all goes well, you will soon be gifted with a long glimpse of your true destiny – a close replica of the vision that bloomed in you at a tender age. And this will, in turn, enable you to actually see magic unicorns and play with mischievous fairies and eat clouds that dip down close to the earth. And not only that: Having a holy vision of your original self will make you even smarter than you already are. For example, you could get insights about how to express previously inexpressible parts of yourself. You might discover secrets about how to attract more of the love you have always felt deprived of.
CANCER (June 21-July 22): I'm not asking you to tell me about the places and situations where you feel safe and fragile and timid. I want to know about where you feel safe and strong and bold. Are there sanctuaries that nurture your audacious wisdom? Are there natural sites that tease out your primal willpower and help you clarify your goals? Go to those power spots. Allow them to exalt you with their transformative blessings. Pray and sing and dance there. And maybe find a new oasis to excite and incite you, as well. Your creative savvy will bloom in November if you nurture yourself now with this magic.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): One of your old reliable formulas may temporarily be useless or even deceptive. An ally could be withholding an important detail from you. Your favorite psychological crutch is in disrepair, and your go-to excuse is no longer viable. And yet I think you're going to be just fine, Leo. Plan B will probably work better than Plan A. Secondary sources and substitutes should provide you with all the leverage you need. And I
bet you will finally capitalize on an advantage that you have previously neglected. For best results, be vigilant for unexpected help.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Attention! Warning! One of your signature fears is losing its chokehold on your imagination. If this trend continues, its power to scare you may diminish more than 70 percent by November 1. And then what will you do? How can you continue to plug away at your goals if you don't have worry and angst and dread to motivate you? I suppose you could shop around for a replacement fear – a new prod to keep you on the true and righteous path. But you might also want to consider an alternative: the possibility of drawing more of the energy you need by feeding your lust for life.
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Thank you for all the entertainment you've provided in the past 12 months, Libra. Since shortly before your birthday in 2015, you have taken lively and gallant actions to rewrite history. You have banished a pesky demon and repaired a hole in your soul. You've educated the most immature part of yourself and nurtured the most neglected part of yourself. To my joyful shock, you have even worked to transform a dysfunctional romantic habit that in previous years had subtly undermined your ability to get the kind of intimacy you seek. What's next? Here's my guess: an unprecedented exemption from the demands of the past.
In Missoula City Council’s boldest move since, well, wrestling the city’s water utility from a global equity firm, Monday night it approved the state’s first ordinance requiring background checks for private firearms sales.
City council member Bryan von Lossberg drafted the proposed legislation. He says the ordinance is all about saving lives and reducing suicides and domestic violence. He also says the goal is to decrease the number of guns in the hands of those not allowed to legally possess firearms. That includes but is not limited to convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens or minors.
“First and foremost it’s just a responsible action to do. Nobody is under any illusion, especially myself, that this solves all issues. It doesn’t. It’s one tool in a whole suite of tools and actions and programs, but I’m convinced by the data that it saves lives,” von Lossberg added.
For context, read the Missoula Independent’s recent feature story on Councilman von Lossberg’s controversial ordinance:
Part 2 of The Denver Post’s four-part special report “Drilling Through Danger.”
The Denver Post found documentation for 38 deaths in the state’s oil and gas industry between 2003 and 2014 — and the large majority of those, 34, involved workers for subcontractors. Details of another 13 deaths that the Bureau of Labor Statistics said occurred in that time span were not available.
“Oil and gas has been a poster child for the ways in which contracting out a lot of very hazardous work can be a fatal mistake and cause a lot of really serious problems,” said Peter Dooley, a safety and health project consultant with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.
Federal investigators are visiting Yellowstone National Park today to look into an employee’s claims of sexual exploitation of female workers and financial misconduct.
In Yellowstone, the sexual exploitation of female employees has been rife in the park’s special projects division, which does construction and maintenance, equipment operator Robert Hester said in a statement submitted last week to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In one case, a supervisor kept a young female worker drunk and she was in effect paid to have sex, a situation that was common knowledge in the park, Hester said.
“Living off the grid in Colorado’s vast San Luis Valley, Chuck and Barbara Tidd needed to find a source of energy to supplement their solar panels. Their solution, to use a creek on their property to generate power, led to a legal battle that went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court — where they won. That decision worries some who say their new right could upend water law that goes back 150 years.”
A Casper businessman wants the state to trade him land in the Laramie Range in southeast Wyoming for another parcel somewhere else, saying it will make it easier to manage his ranch. But sportsmen argue losing the state parcel would lock them out of more than 4,000 acres of public land used for hunting and recreation.
“That is the №1 spot. It’s the best elk hunting experience I’ve had on public land in Wyoming,” said Guy Litt, a Laramie hunter. “The layout of the proposed exchange would isolate so much BLM and Forest Service land so it would no longer be accessible by foot.”
As legal arguments commence over the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan—the country’s most ambitious attempt yet to fight climate change—let’s pause and ask: How big of a deal is the Clean Power Plan, and what will it actually change for you?
…when word of the Jackson climber’s death in a car crash in Idaho spread through the climbing world last week, it stirred emotions. Life was pain for Schmitz. But death, especially in a car wreck, seemed a cruel and banal ending to a heroic life. A California native who grew up in Oregon, he was as tough as they come but his armored shell shielded a gentle soul.
Wildlife managers are struggling to find and kill the remaining wolves in northeast Washington’s Profanity Peak pack after officials confirmed at least eight cattle were injured or killed by the wolves this summer.
In the first three weeks of August, wildlife managers shot and killed five adults and one pup from the pack. The department says they are still hunting six wolves, including four pups, in rugged forested terrain. The hunt has garnered national media attention and has been denounced by some environmental and animal rights groups.
More on Washington’s wolf packs:
Exxon’s paying $12 million to settle damages caused by a burst pipeline that sullied 85 miles of the Yellowstone River and its banks in 2011. That’s not much money.
“There’s an exhaustive list for specific projects, but how we get that winnowed down … into a project to put money into is what this next month is about,” said Bob Gibson, Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman in Billings.
The cost of the Idaho’s Pioneer Fire, the largest in the nation, exceeded $93 million by Thursday, and with 430 firefighters still on the ground, the cost is certain to exceed $100 million before it is done.
Ralph Rau, the chief of fire management for the Agency’s Northern Region in Missoula, Mont., told a Western Governors’ Association workshop on Sept. 20 that the agency still has flexibility to use fire people in other roles. But like a bipartisan coalition of senators, conservation groups and timber companies, he says Congress needs to address what it calls a fire-borrowing problem.
When the Forest Service exceeds its wildfire suppression budget, it borrows from other funds that pay for fuels management, trail work, wildlife habitat improvement and other duties. That makes it stop efforts to reduce fuels and carry on other tasks.
Part 1 of The Denver Post’s four-part special report “Drilling Through Danger.”
In a 12-year span, an oil and gas worker died once every three months on average in Colorado, victims of a system focused more on protecting the industry than its employees.
There are no uniform rules, and companies have special immunity from lawsuits. The Denver Post spent a year investigating safety in the petroleum extraction industry.
Congress again grills the National Park Service over the lack of action.
During the opening statements, [Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah] quoted the Yosemite investigator, also a Park Service employee: “The number of employees interviewed about the horrific working conditions lead us to believe that the environment is toxic, hostile, repressive, and harassing.”
Anyone born in Utah, or who has been treated for a health issue while living there, or has had common interactions with state government, such as voting or registering a marriage, is likely included in the Utah Population Database. It’s used for biomedical and health-related research, which has contributed to the discovery of genes that cause breast and colon cancers, for example, as well as genes for cardiac arrhythmia.
Researchers’ ability to fill in family histories — and hopefully discover new genes that cause diseases — is about to get even better.
Database staff members are currently inputting an additional 90 million genealogical records for individuals who have some kind of connection to Utah, which will make it more of a worldwide database — making it unlike any other in the world, said Ken Smith, database director.
Old data will have renewed relevance as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tries to understand exactly what happened on the river in August.
“What constitutes real, meaningful consultation has become central to the fight, both on the ground and in court, over the Dakota Access pipeline.”
…why do these two parties have such vastly different views on the same process?
“Sometimes what the agencies think of as adequate and with all good intentions do not feel adequate from the tribal side. Either because the process isn’t meaningful to them, it doesn’t accord with their timeframe or decision frame. And frankly with their staffing abilities,” [Sarah Krakoff, a professor at University of Colorado specializing in American Indian Law and Natural Resources Law, said.”
The slowdown in oil, gas and coal is being felt all through Casper’s support services industry, where machinists, welders and construction workers make a living serving exploration and production industries.
Business owners like [Mark] Tews wonder how long they can hold out. Some have shuttered their windows and locked their doors for the last time. Others have cut workers and reduced overhead, hunkering down until the economy recovers.
In Wyoming, the number of service-sector workers exceeds those employed directly in oil, gas and coal. In Casper, that component of the workforce has dwindled since the bust.
Meanwhile, in regards to Casper’s housing market…
Inside Energy and The Allegheny Front look at the collapse of coal in America in the following video documentary.
Commodities, Western said last week, will always force a roller coaster of booms and busts, so industries like coal and other commodities should be the icing on the cake, not the batter. “We need not just diverse communities, but resilient communities,” he said.
“I’m worried that our political and cultural narrative is on a collision course with our economic narrative,” Western said Monday.
He added that Wyoming residents and leaders have gotten a “hall pass” for years to avoid difficult conversations about the future of Wyoming’s economy. While Wyoming clings to the energy industry — primarily coal — Western said, the rest of the world is working to reduce the amount of carbon-based fuels it uses.
The EPA has panned the BLM’s analysis of a utility corridor proposed by would-be oil shale developers, and accuses the company seeking a right-of-way across public lands, Enefit American Oil, of withholding information as it looks to access a 9,000-acre mining and processing operation in the eastern Uinta Basin.
“Despite the fact this is a very large project, involving surface mining, processing, retorting and upgrading oil shale, the Draft EIS contains very little to no quantitative analysis of the expected impacts. That omission is even more striking given the available information suggests that the South Project would have potentially very serious implications for climate change, and has the potential to exacerbate existing impaired water and air quality conditions,” EPA regional administrator Shaun McGrath wrote in a July 15 letter.
How has the 2 degrees of warming since 1900 affected the Greater Yellowstone region?
The tough questions about coping with climate change remain unanswered, however. What will be the social and economic costs of adapting to future dramatic warming? Will climate change exceed thresholds whereby Greater Yellowstone shifts to a dessert shrub ecosystem and people are required to make fundamental changes in agriculture, development patterns, employment, and lifestyle?
In answering these questions, we should factor in the constraints imposed by our rapidly-growing population. For wildlife it will come down to habitat. Nearly 4000 homes are added to the 20 counties of Greater Yellowstone each year and natural habitats have been lost to development at a rate of about 60,000 acres (2.2 percent) per year since 1970. Thus demand for land and resources are increasing while the habitats that allow fish and wildlife to cope with climate change are decreasing.
The 2011 pipeline break upstream of Billings left oil along an 85-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a months-long cleanup.
A victim of the spill recently reflected on it:
In the end, over 63,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River from what I learned later was a “guillotine cut” in the Exxon Silvertip pipeline that lay in a trench around five feet beneath the Yellowstone River. During heavy flooding, the river bottom was scoured away and the pipe became exposed. All it took was a heavy object being tossed down the river to break the pipe in half. After spending $135 million dollars on the cleanup, Exxon recovered less than 1 percent of the oil spilled.
Find the draft restoration plan here.
“I have listened to the voice of the mountain for most of my life,” said John Craighead upon receiving The Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in 1998. The mountains lost one of their most avid listeners Sunday morning when Craighead died in his sleep at his home in Missoula.
John and Frank Craighead wrote much of the text for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that was passed by Congress in 1968, even as they conducted a 12-year study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone. The study is credited with helping save the bears from extinction.
Credit rating agency Moody’s said in a recent report that Colorado’s “fairly insulated” from the depressed energy sector because severance taxes make up a small part of the state’s total tax revenue. Still, a slew of factors have lawmakers eyeing spending cuts to avert a general fund shortfall next fiscal year.
The price-driven downturn in Colorado’s energy sector has leveled off, meaning lost jobs and stalled investment won’t be more of a drag on an economy whose growth is being led by consumer spending, analysts told the Joint Budget Committee.
That spending, however, has been dampened by high housing costs in the Denver metropolitan area, said Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist. Uncertainty surrounding future U.S. interest rates, export demand and the November elections could curb corporate investment in Colorado, Mullis said.
That, coupled with new obligations such as nearly $100 million in the severance tax rebates, could produce an estimated $63 million shortfall in funding for education, prisons and other obligations, she said.
“Has the Powder River Basin ever had a real bust? Not really,” said Matt Preston, a research director at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “This year is a total collapse.”
A flurry of multibillion-dollar mergers has some farm groups in Alberta and Saskatchewan voicing concern about further consolidation among seed companies.
Terry Boehm, who farms southeast of Saskatoon and serves on the executive of the National Farmers Union, … said he believes farmers are losing their independence and autonomy as a result of consolidation in the agribusiness sector.
“You become dependent on a couple of mega-corporations for all your input supplies on one side, and then you have to market to the mega-corporations who control the grain trade and they all have close relationships with the suppliers,” Boehm said. “As a farmer, you basically end up working for the company store.”
A draft state water strategy, which calls for the construction of the Lake Powell Pipeline and other controversial measures, has been released to the public. Read the draft and comment here by Oct. 24.
Taxpayers can expect to pay up to 72 percent of the Lake Powell Pipeline’s costs, according to University of Utah economists.
Residents who buy their health insurance through the state exchange will pay 20 percent more on average in 2017. In some parts of rural Colorado, premium increases will top 40 percent.
…Colorado’s increases in 2017 could be worse than those nationally. An analysis done this summer by the Kaiser Family Foundation looked at potential rate increases in 16 major cities, including Denver, and projected that the average increase of plans in the most popular tier of the Obamacare exchanges would be 9 percent in those cities.
Meanwhile, in Montana, the hike in average rates may be even higher than Colorado’s.
In Wyoming, rates are set to climb an average of 7 percent.
Two years ago a federal judge rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan because of the state’s “nonbinding promises” to maintain a particular number of wolves. On Friday, state lawyers go before a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to override the 2014 ruling.
For two years before [U.S. District Judge Amy Berman] Jackson’s ruling, Wyoming had managed its own wolf population, declaring them unprotected predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state and classifying them as trophy game animals subject to regulated hunting around the borders of Yellowstone National Park.
At least $211 million is intended to further spur states, landowners and developers to save the imperiled greater sage grouse voluntarily across a sagebrush steppe area spanning 11 western states.
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