Energy Rich, the County Faces New Challengers to the Tourist Economy
Oct 06, 2008 | 607 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

URANIUM BOOM BOOMING … The folks in Paradox Valley formed a Sustainability Association and last weekend they hosted psychotherapist Sharyn Cunningham at the Red Church (Paradox Community Center) talking on the physical, psychological and social effects of living near the uranium mill being planned for Piñon Ridge up the valley, past Bedrock … Earlier Montrose County had hosted a briefing for its staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at the Montrose Pavilion to explain the current uranium regulatory framework in the state. CDPHE Team Leader Steve Tarlton told how Colorado “had a deal” with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license uranium mills in the state. CDPHE had long experience with the uranium industry and had learned from previous mistakes. “Everything we’ve done we’ve learned from,” said Tarlton. “Our job is not just to regulate, but to protect and learn.” The emphasis on the environment, “That’s something new,” he said. “Now we are very focused on the environment.” He referenced new regulations that had dropped exposure levels for those living near mill sites several times, and was proud that his agency had a much stricter evaluation of potential sites than in the past (when they built them beside rivers like at Uravan, Naturita, Durango, and Moab) … Phil Egidi, health scientist for the agency, noted that CDPHE was bonding for reclamation upfront in the regulatory process, having had lots of bankrupt companies that never cleaned up and left the state holding the reclamation bill. So, mill decommissioning would be planned and surety set aside before operation under current regs … Of course, since mill tailings still glow (however faintly) with radioactive isotopes with near-perpetual half-lives, the disposal cells will have to be “maintained.” After a likely 20- to 30-year life, a decommissioned mill would be turned over to the Department of Energy for long-term maintenance and the company will guarantee about a million dollars for that long term maintenance … Which sounds like a lot until you realize that the DOE is committed, by contract, to keep custody and maintenance of the mill disposal cells for the next 1,000 years. That is, it’s really the taxpayers and seven times seven times seven generations to come who will be picking up the final bill.

LOCAL GEOTHERMAL? … Turns out the southeastern hunk of the county has possible geothermal potential for energy development, if techniques for locating veins of high heat gradient at depth are perfected. We’re in the zone – Ouray to Orvis to Rico to Dunton and on down to Pagosa (with our own little anomalous Placerville warm spring vent off Little Cone) … Matt Sares, deputy director of the Colorado Geological Survey, gave a briefing to a recent Tri-County North meeting in Ridgway (Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel). CGS is doing a study on subsurface temperature estimates in the Rico area – under consideration by various parties for alternative energy development. And Ouray is mulling over a city and county study proposal. An Icelandic trade mission interested in developing geothermal resources is coming to Colorado … And Sare’s geothermal gradient mapping PowerPoint showed high heat flow underlying much of the San Juans, with a warm outlier towards Little and Lone Cone.

OIL and GAS … With EnCana putting its Paradox Basin operations on the market, it wasn’t surprising to see Sares’ PowerPoint graphs of the county’s annual oil and gas production, as well as its well activity (well, well, well) … Actually, tracking from 2000, natural gas production peaked in the county in 2006 at 19 billion cubic feet, and seems to be tracking the seven-year rise, peak and decline of oil production (down to 3,000 barrels a year), which seems to explain why EnCana is pulling out. Personally, I’m sorry to see them go. Their company team was excellent to work with, responded quickly to issues and met most best practices standards … Well permits and completions through 2007 saw a steady up and down in the five to 30 a year range, with the peak in 2004. So, nobody’s leaving, really. Just a changing of the company guards. We’ll see what kind of outfit will be the next operators of EnCana’s old facilities, and what kind of wildcats go nosing around the perimeter of their known strikes. And how far the purses lead them … The latest BLM natural gas permit auction, slated for November, includes parcels in the San Miguel Canyon and up on Iron Springs Mesa.

SUSTAINABILITY HEROES … John Powers’s Denver-based Alliance for Sustainable Colorado is hosting statewide Heroes of Sustainability awards at a Sustainability Gala at the Sherman Events Center at 1770 Sherman St. in Denver on Thursday, Oct. 16, from 6-9 p.m. It sounds like a good idea – if we’re going to move as a society toward sustainability then we ought to start by honoring those that are leading the way … And it turns out that two of my favorite sustainability advocates are co-finalists for the HOS award in the nonprofit category – local Green Party member Kris Holstrom of The New Community Coalition, who’s done such an amazing job getting our region moving toward resilience and wise practices, and Durango’s Katrina Blair, founder of Turtle Lake Refuge and featured Telluride Mushroom Festival speaker who hiked to the Galaxy Theater on foot from Durango this past August, with a friend, taking six days and collecting wild edibles and mushrooms on the way … Both are amazing women, and we ought to honor them both – so I hope they get to share a HOS award from Denver’s Mayor Hickenlooper, who’s participating in the presentations.

BAILOUT BENNIES … Pork-barreled into the recent emergency bailout plan for Wall St. (what my liberal buddies have rightly dubbed “Republican Socialism”) are some little known provisions that are high priority wins for the National Association of Counties – the D.C. group that lobbies for the interests of county governments … Payment in Lieu of Taxes will be fully funded as part of the bailout, which means San Miguel County – which got over $300,000 in PILT monies last year – may be in for an increase. And that full funding is locked in for four more years … Along with that good news, the Secure Rural Schools Act got renewed, also for four more years. That saves cash-poor former timber counties in rural California and Oregon (primarily) from having to charge taxes for schools and hospitals. Instead, the Fed is subsidizing them, because their county budgets were dependent on timber harvest proceeds. With the slowdown of cutting on federal lands, the proceeds from sales that are no longer occurring are still flowing to these rural places – more in the form of severance mitigation for when local logging’s boom and bust cycle finally busted than any carefully thought-out readjustment plan. That’s probably good news for the coastal western states, and even a few spots in Colorado, but maybe as Pitkin County’s Dorothea Farris suggests, a bad (unsustainable) way to fund essential facilities … Finally, the production tax credits for solar, wind and geothermal have been extended once again, saving a small but growing alternative energy sector from collapse … All of that however but a pittance of this historic giveaway of our common wealth to falling free markets … Someone explain to me how advanced neocon bushreaganomics works – I thought markets were suppose to rise. And fall. Freely.

© 2008 Art Goodtimes



-for Danny

Imagine the glacier

that carved Unaweep.

How little we matter.

Homo simians let loose.

Prolific. Territorial.


And yet, gifted.

Profound. Able to

imagine almost anything.

Though we can only

measure the strike & dip

of our own bedded plane.

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