It always seems coincidental when issues seem to arise in importance even as other events are taking place. Some people call it a "perfect storm" when this happens. In the case of the Red Rock Wilderness Bill and the Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association Annual Symposium and Banquet, that storm raged.
The symposium was a dynamic and important meeting as the storm clouds of future legislation for over nine million acres of wilderness designation in Utah gathered on Thursday. That same day, hearings started on the Red Rock Bill before a congressional committee in Washington D.C.
"We can't count on other people be active on this issue," said Rick Olsen, SEUEPA president. He spoke at the end of a day following energy-related workshops and a dinner in which the gathered group heard about the history of Savage Trucking. They also honored the late Cecil Ann Walker who created Hidden Splendor Resources and Gary Prazen, a local metal sculptor, whose works have denoted an image of the lot of coal miners to observers worldwide. "This needs to be a grassroots operation," Olsen continued. "We need to write letters and e-mails to our representatives about this and let them know how we feel about land use policies."
Citing numerous sources, Olsen pointed out the amount of money that goes into the local economy because of energy development and export. He told of dollar figures that, if cut off by a closing of land to energy development, would devastate the region's economy.
"All these figures and information is public and is published," he said. "We cannot forget the importance of energy to our economy, tax base and our livelihoods."
His speech ended a day of displays and workshops which were not only interesting, but also very informative for those that attended. Booths along the front of the Carbon County Events Center displayed some of the new innovations in energy development.
Conference speakers included Chad Booth, of the "At Your Leisure" television show, whose talk focused on the concept that recreationalists', ranchers' and energy development's interests are all in the same boat in terms of land use, Greg Schaefer, of Arch Coal, who discussed the "Future of Utah Coal," Peter Sullivan, of First Wind Corporation, addressing the Milford Wind Corridor, John Baza, of the Utah State Division of Oil, Gas and Mining commenting on recent energy developments in Utah, Darrell Gerrard of PacifiCorp speaking about electrical transmission and how it affects our future and Lowell Braxton of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States whose talk addressed the issue of public land access.
The classes themselves were fascinating for many. They were also alarming in some cases.
"The electric transmission system in this country is aging," said Darrell Gerrard, vice president of transmission system planning for PacifiCorp. "Just like our roads, bridges and other infrastructure, it is getting older and needs to be refurbished."
A big question of the day, that seemed to permeate many of the discussions was, "Where will our energy come from in the future?"
The buzz word for many people today is renewable energy; yet renewables with the technology that is available today cannot provide all the power that is needed even if many more sources were in place, which they are not.
"Some people refer to the rush to renewables as the gold rush of 2009," said Gerrard who grew up in Carbon County. "And I think it really is one."
John Baza pointed out a very simplistic, but true point of view about all that we have as a modern society during his presentation.
"Look around this room and around yourself at all the things we have and use," he said. "If it's not grown, it is mined."
While many speakers talked about the limits of renewable resources, one was there to discuss the way such sources can and are working. Peter Sullivan, while a wind power advocate, also knows it is not the end-all for energy production.
"Wind power works in areas where a company can get a return on their investment," he said. "We must build it in areas where electricity is expensive enough that the wind-powered energy is competitive with what is already there."
In his case, he was talking about the Milford Wind Project, where a power line was constructed 90 miles to the Delta area and could be hooked up to lines that lead from IPP to the California grid system.
While it will work well in the Milford area because the lines are within economic building distance, Gerrard said that, in many cases, where renewables would be available, there are few transmission facilities. During his PowerPoint presentations, he showed a series of maps demonstrating that areas where the wind is prevalent and places where solar power would be economical are often not near lines that can carry power to the users.
"Obviously, electrical energy transport is going to affect everyone as we move into the future," he said.
Lowell Braxton brought out the fact that U.S. Bureau of Land Management resource management plans will affect all kinds of people.
"This isn't just about oil and gas development," he said. "We have a stake in that, but I believe that all other users have stakes, too. These plans talk about transmission lines, coal mine development, county transportation plans and things like that."
By the end of the day, most of the people who went to the symposium were better informed than they had been in the morning. The education process continued into the evening. The keynote speaker for the banquet was Allen Alexander, chairman, president and CEO of Savage Services. He presented a brief history of Savage from their beginnings in the 1940's with a single truck that could haul only seven and a half tons of coal to the international company that the firm is today.
"The roots of our company are in coal and we still do a lot of work with the coal industry such as support facilities for coal power plants and materials to do with coal such as ash," he said. "We have just started a hauling operation in Vernal to handle oil and gas field logistics. But we also focus not only on trucks but rail and marine operations to provide a complete transportation package for our customers."
He went on to say that the company also has 15 facilities that deal with petroleum coke, which also led to the company also handling sulphur which comes out of that refining process. That sulphur is used in making sulfuric acid and is one of the ingredients in fertilizer.
Alexander also said the company has a unique rail maintenance division.
"It is our quality rail maintenance group, which works on engines, fuels them and gets them ready to go so they don't ever have to go into yards for maintenance," he said. "It's kind of like a race car pit crew, but instead they go to the locomotives so they won't ever have to stop. We have a number of these operations around the country."
Savage also has a large industrial planning group that operates worldwide.
"We all must face the same economic headwinds and we continue to strive to bring value to our customers so they want to continue with our service," he said. "We need to face change like all of you. I just try to remind everyone that a company can't change; it's the people within the company that must change."