Mountain News: Mountain folks weigh in on regulations 

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AURORA, Colo. — The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission met in this city on the east side of Denver last week to consider how Colorado might tighten up the leaks from pipes, tanks and valves in the oil and gas fields. If this seems a bit remote from ski towns, local governments thought otherwise.

Volatile organic compounds are a precursor of ozone, which can stunt the growth of plants, even on mountain tops, and scar the tissue of people who breathe it when at high levels. That is most often true in summer.

High ozone levels are a problem in most urban areas, including some of those in Colorado, but increasingly in rural areas, too. Evidence was presented at the hearing last week about the effect to human health of nearby oil and gas drilling.

And finally, there is the issue of methane in the atmosphere. If methane dissipates in the atmosphere much more rapidly than carbon dioxide, it is far more powerful during that shorter life in containing heat.

Citing the mantra of "one size does not fit all," many rural counties from the Utah border to the Kansas border said the regulations were not needed in their jurisdictions. Among those counties was Garfield County. It's down-valley from Aspen and Vail, and among the county commissioners taking that position was Tom Jankowsky, the long-time manager and part-owner of the local ski area, Ski Sunlight. The Aspen Skiing Co., however, argued for the regulations.

In Steamboat Springs, Routt County commissioners said that they wanted to be treated the same as the urban counties, and they thought the smaller counties similarly needed to adhere to the same rules as the big ones.

"We believe this is a cost of doing business that everyone should be championing, and not just certain companies," said Doug Monger, the chairman of the commissioners.

Monger told Steamboat Today that to exempt western Colorado from the new rules would be to allow the ozone situation there to become a problem. Already, high ozone levels have been recorded not far west of Steamboat Springs, in Utah's Uintah Basin and to the north in Wyoming's Jonah Field, located south of Jackson Hole.

Matt Sura, representing a variety of community groups in western Colorado, said the air emissions associated with drilling are a much greater threat to public health than the hydrofracturing component of drilling. He compared it to the coal dust that ruined the lungs and lives of coal miners, and then the effects of smoking that tobacco companies long tried to deny. The emissions proximate to where people live also matter in this case, he told the commissioners.

In the end, by a 5-4 vote, the state-wide commission voted to include methane, the first time in the United States that methane will be regulated as a greenhouse gas.

Railroad buying safer oil tankers

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Railroad tracks separate downtown Whitefish and the ski area of the same name. A local worry there, as in other ski towns of the North American West with railroad lines, has been about the increasing number of trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken and other oil patches.

A derailment in Quebec last summer resulted in the death of 47 people, and if that was the most gruesome case, other accidents have also occurred.

An AP report carried in the Whitefish Pilot says that BNSF Railway Co. last week announced plans to buy 5,000 strengthened tank cars to haul oil and ethanol. The U.S. Department of Transportation is completing regulations governing improved tank cars, but the company said it was unwilling to wait.

Among other enhanced safety features, BNSF's new cars will have the added safety features of half-inch thick steel shields on both ends of the tank cars, to help prevent them from cracking open during accidents.

One sledder has story to tell, another won't talk

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — One guy got lucky. Another didn't.

The first, a 44-year-old-man from Alberta, had been sledding on Boulder Mountain, a popular snowmobiling area close to Revelstoke, and had dismounted to walk out onto a cornice to admire the view.

The cornice broke, authorities tell the Revelstoke Times-Review, and the man fell onto the slope below, bouncing "from powder pillow to powder pillow," altogether 305 vertical metres, a helicopter pilot estimated. All that pillow hopping left him in good shape, despite the tumble.

In another case on the same mountain, luck did not prevail when two snowmobilers were caught in an avalanche. One was quickly uncovered from the snow by his companions. The second individual, a 35-year-old from Alberta, was unconscious when dug out and later died.

The Times-Review relates that all the snowmobilers had appropriate safety gear, including beacons and shovels, and had been through avalanche safety training.

Banff outpaces Canada in immigrants

BANFF, Alberta — Banff is outpacing Alberta and Canada altogether in the number of immigrants who now call it home.

The 2011 Census found that 27.3 per cent of Banff's populations are immigrants, led by those from the Philippines and then Japan. This proportion of immigrants compared to 18 per cent for Alberta and 20.6 per cent for all of Canada.

The number of immigrants had increased substantially from 2006 to 2011, Banff municipal officials said. The increase further heightens need for instruction at local public schools of English as a second language.

Census figures also show that Banff residents, and not just immigrants, have lower incomes, with the median income of single people being $28,220 compared to $33,950 for Alberta altogether. A much higher percentage rent homes as compared to others in Alberta.

tomatoes at 2,100 metres in January

MANCOS, Colo. — At Open Sky Farm, Brittany Meyer, 26, planted tomatoes in October and has been harvesting all winter. She does this in a geodesic domed greenhouse that is five metres high and 13 metres across. What's most notable is the absence of supplemental energy during winter.

The farm is located in southwestern Colorado, between the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the peaks of the San Juan Mountains. The closest town is Mancos, and Durango is to the east. Elevation of the farm is 2,100 metres feet.

As explained by the Durango Telegraph, crucial to the ability of this geodesic dome to deliver food year round is the 121 square metres of floor. It's soil, but perforated by pipes buried 1.3-metres deep. In summer, electric fans push the warm air in the greenhouse through the plastic pipes. The heat in the air is transferred to the soil, and cooler air is delivered back to the greenhouse.

In a sense, the heat is banked in the soil for use during winter. The greenhouse was able to stay at 5.5 degrees during December even when the outside temperature reached -25 below zero Celcius.

While the tomatoes planted in October have now played out, Meyer is growing cold-hardy vegetables, including kale, chard and spinach, as well as carrots, beets and broccoli.

"Every week I harvest about $120 worth of produce, wholesale. Every single week I'm planting, harvesting and replanting in here," she tells the Telegraph.

But it's more than monetary savings that propels her.

"Doing these things when interacting with food, when we're growing food, is actually good for us on a deeper level than just the nourishment we get from the food that we eat," she says. "It's rewarding in my soul basically."

She also sees a global benefit from this local action.

"Instead of a truck shipping food from Mexico, I built his system that, by and large, uses things that I've got here on the property. All the soil underneath our feet, all the thermal mass, and with this simple structure, I grow food year round," she said.

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