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Front Page » March 9, 2006 » Opinion » Different shades of gray
Published 3,496 days ago

Different shades of gray

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Sun Advocate reporter

Each month the Sun Advocate presents two views of the same subject as columnists Terry Willis and Tom McCourt see it.

Ah, wilderness.

Will there ever be enough of it? The government is manufacturing it as fast as they can but demand always seems to outstrip the supply.

So it is in Carbon County.

The wilderness issue has created a possible showdown between the county and BLM in the near future. It's almost high noon, and both sides are popping their knuckles, pulling back their coattails, and practicing their steely-eyed stares. It all started when BLM tossed aside an agreement they had made with county officials and notified the county that they plan to designate more than 45,000 acres of Nine Mile and Desolation Canyon as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

The area impacted in Carbon County alone covers more than 26,000 acres, about 41 square miles. The land is smack dab in the middle of the fastest growing energy field in the United States, and heaven knows we need the oil and gas. The BLM action will prohibit all energy development in the affected area.

County officials have cried fowl, and in December they shot off a letter of protest to Patrick Gibbons, the head of the regional BLM office in Price. In the letter, county officials accuse BLM of breaking an agreement reached by both parties at a meeting in May 2005, when the BLM agreed to work with the county to protect sensitive sites in the area without restricting other land uses. And, they reminded BLM that in 2003, the state and BLM signed a "No More Wilderness" agreement that repealed all wilderness inventory areas created by the Clinton administration and prohibited similar wilderness designations in the future.

Now, the county says, BLM is attempting to sneak wilderness in the back door by declaring vast areas to be ACEC areas. The county plans to unite with Uintah and Emery counties and "go to whatever lengths necessary" to block the BLM proposal.

I agree with the county's stand on this issue. In the dangerous political and economic climate of today's world, energy development trumps wilderness in my book.

We are one of the most energy rich nations in the world, and yet we import most of our fuel. Part of the reason is because it's easier and cheaper to import foreign oil than to fight the endless environmental legal challenges. Every effort to drill for oil, mine coal, or even handle nuclear material, is blocked by legal action from environmental groups. And more and more, government is complicit in frustrating efforts to develop our natural resources, as seen with the recent ACEC proposals and congress voting down attempts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

In my humble opinion, our government and extreme environmental groups have placed all of us in grave danger by allowing this to happen over the past 30 years.

Our nation is at war with multi-national terrorists who recognize no sovereign or moral boundaries, and those foreign nations who supply more than half of our crude oil are more vulnerable to attack than we are. It happened to Kuwait in 1990. Other oil rich nations are targets for radical insurrection and take-over, as happened to Iran in 1979 and Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Iran is now developing nuclear weapons and the Israelis are sure to intervene. The Shiites and Sunni Muslims in Iraq are on the verge of a religious civil war that could spread all over the world. A big war is very likely in the Middle East soon.

And if that isn't enough to worry about, the royal family of Saudi Arabia is rooted on shaky ground. The oil princes walk a thin line between Islamic extremists and New York financiers. The house of Saud could come crashing down at any time, leaving our gas gauges pointing at empty. The danger is very real.

We need fossil fuels to turn the wheels of industry, fight the war on terror, and keep the home fires burning. There is no alternative at the present time. We must have a sure domestic supply that isn't affected by foreign wars and political intrigues. We must have an oil supply that can't be shut off by some pompous potentate in a foreign land when things don't suit his fancy. And we can never allow ourselves to be held hostage because some terrorist group has a bloody hand on the oil spigot.

We must develop and maintain our own fossil fuel supply until a viable alternative is found. We have no choice in the matter. Our standard of living, our freedom, and our very lives may depend on it. We simply must drill in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and we've got to drill on the book cliffs, Tavaputs, San Rafael Swell, and Nine Mile canyon if necessary. That's where the oil and gas is.

And I completely understand the environmental concerns. My roots are deep in Nine Mile canyon and my heart lives there.

But the most important thing in all of this is that we owe our children a secure future. All the wilderness in the world won't help them find jobs, win wars, or live free. We cannot relegate future generations to be slaves to other nation's oil policies or to have their lives and livelihoods embroiled in endless foreign wars and the protecting of foreign energy sources. Haven't we had enough of that already?

We have the technology, means, and resources to be energy independent and still protect our beautiful open spaces. We lack only the will to make it happen. It is time for all sides to come together and work for the common good on this matter. With proper planning, oversight, and mutual respect for things natural, cultural, historical, and non-renewable, I think we can have the best of both sides of this issue. Compromise is the key.

The future of our nation hangs in the balance.

I can't believe you think the government is manufacturing wilderness. Actually our government is leasing and selling it as fast as congress will allow it. Every time there is a section of land that there is an outcry to protect, everyone's hackles go up.

You are right that this is another area of showdown between the BLM and the county. In the end the areas will probably end up opened up to oil and gas exploration and drilling.

Areas of Critical Concern (ACEC) are just that, areas that need to be looked at carefully to make sure that the benefits do not destroy the area they will invade. An ACEC does not ban drilling and exploration. Actually if it is declared, Nine Mile will have less protection than it does now.

Also did you know that the sections of Nine Mile that are in Uintah and Duchesne have been an ACEC for around 15 years? An ACEC does not cover private land. There is a lot of private land in the Nine Mile area.

How is it that technology in telecommunications and computers has developed so rapidly in the past 20 years, but we can't seem to move beyond the use of fossil fuels as our sole means to heat our homes and transport ourselves? Instead of continuing to devour the finite and polluting resources of oil, gas and coal, why are we not pushing to become the lead in energy sources that do not leave us dependent on foreign sources?

We might be the most energy rich nation in the world, but we are also the most energy consumptive country on the planet too. Profit, not extreme environmentalists have driven our energy policy in recent years. During our last "energy" crisis this summer, big oil company profits skyrocketed. Do you know that we import more oil from Canada than from the Middle East?

We love our oil dependant lifestyle. SUV's are still very popular. We complain about how much it costs to heat our homes, but we are buying bigger and bigger houses which need to be heated.

There was a lot of moaning about high gas prices last year, but no one really reduced their driving miles. Oil consumptive toys are as popular as ever. There are tons of 4-wheelers, snowmobiles, and boats to go around. Packaging made of petrol-chemical products has reached the point of ridiculousness. Everything has two or three layers of plastic "protection" around it. Ninety percent of my garbage is from the packaging of the products I buy.

We crave open areas, which is why we continue to move further from our work sites. So we need to drive more each day. And because everyone is doing it, then there is gridlock.

We need to change our lifestyle. Drilling in the arctic, Nine Mile and other critical areas is a myopic view of the problem. Each of us can do our part to keep from being held hostage by both terrorists and the big oil companies. Are we willing to do what it takes? Well, we better think hard about it or some day we may not get to choose how we make it without fossil fuel products. Development fragments and permanently changes the environment that it occurs in.

You are right; we owe our children a secure future. That future is dependent on a balance of available energy and a healthy planet that can continue to sustain lives like we enjoy now. If we, as a society, didn't value wilderness and wild areas, then why are some of the most popular calendars and computer screen savers full of wilderness type scenes?

Our development of alternative energy sources needs to be put first and foremost in our energy policy. Our county has built its economy in the energy business and there is no reason that it can't continue in that direction. We just need to keep our heads out of the past, because it will not be our savior. We can allow the county to have every available inch developed by the oil, gas and the coal industry. But that is short sighted thinking. We will benefit for the next 10 or so years, but where will we be then.

You're also right about the future of our nation hanging in the balance.

As Joni Mitchell once sang in her song "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know whatcha got till it's gone, they paved paradise and put in a parking lot!"

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