Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mountain Town News


Breck thinking about turning off its lights

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—Breckenridge has 1,120 town-owned street lights, and a study by town staff suggests that 21 percent could be turned off, saving $13,000 a year in electricity costs, without threatening safety. But town councilors, says the Summit Daily News, haven't rushed to endorse the idea. One councilor said that, like snowplowing, it's the job of town government to keep the streets lit.

Local food movement in the news everywhere

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—The local-food movement is all over the news in mountain towns of the West, even those with short, short summers.

In Breckenridge, elevation 9,600 feet, several parties are working together to create a community garden.

"The Breckenridge community has said it's important to them," said Kim DiLallo-Dykstra, spokeswoman for the town government.

Nine miles away at Frisco, a celebration of local food growing is being held this week, reports the Summit Daily News. The community already has a garden with 40 outdoor plots, where lettuce, peas, broccoli and other cool-weather crops are grown. A greenhouse provides a suitable climate for zucchini, basil, tomatoes and other vegetables that demand warmer temperatures than ordinarily found at 9,000 feet.

Also at about 9,000 feet in elevation, the dude ranch called Devil's Thumb Ranch, located near Winter Park, has a strong focus on regional food sourcing. Evan Treadwill, the new executive chef, most recently was in California, where he started his career during the first regional "farm-to-table" movement 20 years ago. Finding local meats is somewhat easier than other foods, he tells the Sky-Hi News. That said, leafy-green spinach found a few miles away at Granby meets part of the bill.

Onus on industry to prove fracking safe

ASPEN, Colo.—No doubt about it—the safety of hydraulic fracturing is on trial. The technique, usually just called fracking, uses primarily water and sand to break up sandstone formations underground to allow tiny amounts of natural gas to escape into collecting pipes.

But do drillers really know what they're doing? That's been the big question for several years as drillers, using fracking and other techniques, have moved to tap the giant resources of natural gases everywhere from British Columbia to Pennsylvania.

The most basic question is how safe is fracking? Drillers have been using scores of chemicals, mostly in tiny quantities, to aid in the escape of gas. That has led to concerns about whether the chemicals could be leaking out of the geological formations deep underground.

Drilling engineers, geologists and others say claims of contamination have all been proven false, even after hundreds of thousands of "fracks." But, because of coverage in The New York Times and a movie called "GasLands," which premiered at Telluride last year, much of the public is not persuaded.

"Public perception is a huge, huge challenge that we are engaged in," said Tisha Conoly Schuller, chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, in an appearance in Aspen last week. "On every level, we are learning that public perception matters."

At the association's annual conference in Denver recently, drillers heard from speaker after speaker that regulation will be crucial if drillers hope to win acceptance for their ability to exploit the vast stores of natural gas found in shale and other unconventional formations.

Boosters of natural gas believe that the resource can be exploited successfully, reducing the amount of coal that is burned. Natural gas produces roughly half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal, and almost none of the other pollutants. They also argue that natural gas can be used for transportation, limiting how much oil is imported.

"It's going to give the United States an opportunity to sit at the big table for energy," said T. Boone Pickens, who also spoke at the Aspen event, which was covered by the Aspen Daily News. "For the last 20 years we have had no seat at the big table. When OPEC met, they met and we sat in the hall. Now you can sit at the table and say, 'Look, we have a resource that can compete with your coal.'"

Wyoming became the first state in the country to require drillers to divulge the chemicals they use in fracking.

But the onus is still on the industry, said Wes Wilson, a whistleblower from the Environmental Protection Agency. Appearing at a showing of the movie "Gasland" in Jackson, he said legislators should consider performance-based drilling. That, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, means that companies would be allowed to continue drilling only if they prove they can do it safely and cleanly.

Natural gas drilling has been planned both south of Jackson and west of Aspen, if several dozen miles away.

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