By Nick Williams
February snow a no-show so far in Vail, but weekend relief on the way
February 4, 2009 —
What a difference a week makes. Last Thursday we were wallowing in powder after being pounded by snow for a solid week, but since then we’ve been basking in spring-like weather.
February has come in like a lamb so far with balmy temps perfect for cruising corduroy under cobalt skies, but we’re predicting the month will go out like a lion (ala January, when the final week brought 42 inches of snow).
So far this season, Vail has enjoyed 263 inches (nearly 22 feet) of snow, just 87 shy of our seasonal average of 350 inches with 73 days until the mountain closes on April 19. Beaver Creek has had 238 inches (only 72 short of its 310 average) with 66 days till it closes on Easter Sunday, April 12.
That gives you plenty of time to get out here and enjoy one of our quietest and best months of the season (February), or two of our snowiest but also most temperate months of the season (March and April).
And it looks like winter will make a return engagement this weekend and into next week, with snow showers in the forecast through Wednesday.
Speaking of snow jobs, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Wednesday did a 180 on an 11th-hour Bush administration oil and gas lease sale of 77 parcels on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah near such sensitive areas as Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Salazar said the BLM would withdraw leases sold in a controversial December auction in Salt Lake City that was marked by protests at BLM offices — including by luminaries such as Utah conservationist and actor Robert Redford — and infiltrated by an allegedly bogus bidder.
The leases led to infighting between the National Park Service and the BLM and drew protests from environmental groups fearful that drilling rigs would be visible from naturalist Edward Abbey’s old stomping grounds at Arches.
“In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes in Utah,” former Colorado Sen. Salazar said in a release. “We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations.
“I have directed Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on 77 parcels from the Dec. 19 lease sale and which are in close proximity to these national parks, monuments, and sensitive landscapes. We will take a fresh look at these 77 parcels and at the adequacy of the environmental review and analysis that led to their being offered for oil and gas development. I am also concerned that there was inadequate consultation with other agencies, including the National Park Service.”
Now environmentalists are taking aim at a similar lease sale set for Feb. 12 in Colorado. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Wednesday filed a protest against a BLM auction of oil and gas leases on 83,000 acres of federal lands in this state, according to the Associated Press.
That Feb. 12 sale also has drawn the ire of local governments such as the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners, which filed a protest because approximately 50,000 of those acres are within their jurisdiction in southwestern Colorado and should be considered “wild and scenic” and prime wildlife habitat, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.
It might not matter much anyway. Call it a slowdown or call it a bust, but it’s clear the natural-gas boom stoking the fires of development on Colorado’s Western Slope the last several years is all but over.
The Denver Post is reporting oil and gas companies are dramatically scaling back operations in former boom towns from Rifle to Parachute.
And although Garfield County saw a record number of drilling permits issued in 2008, with similar numbers so far in 2009, actual drilling activity has dropped off by about one-third, a county official told The Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Plummeting natural gas prices are largely to blame, according to some industry analysts, but others blame more restrictive drilling regulations adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in December after a year of negotiations and debate.
The state Legislature will take up those new regs in the next month or so, with some Republicans and even a Democrat or two promising a fight on certain aspects of the new regs — specifically when it comes to wildlife protections — according to The Durango Herald.
However, The Grand Junction Sentinel Monday reported a group of more than 60 retired state and federal wildlife officials sent a letter to state lawmakers urging passage of the regs as written.
And despite the massive drop in energy prices, various industry advocates continue to beat the oil shale drum despite its unproven technology. The Post Independent reports a local group has released a myth-busting fact sheet arguing alternatives will never displace the need for full-scale oil shale production.
In other Grand Junction news, even as the specter of another energy bust along the lines of the early 1980s looms over Mesa County, the only industry perhaps more depressed is newspaper publishing.
The Grand Junction Free Press, launched in 2003 to compete with the Daily Sentinel, announced Monday it’s scaling back to three days a week because of the current advertising climate.
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