Times are tough in America these days, and people aren't expecting relief any time soon. Consumer confidence is at the lowest point in a quarter century, due in large part to high energy prices eating into household incomes.
Our country needs all the energy we can produce- from renewables, fossil fuels, nuclear energy and beyond. While the challenges and unintended consequences associated with producing renewable energy and biofuels become more evident everyday, one thing remains clear: the versatility and efficiency of fossil fuels will make them a critical part of our nation's energy supply, and thus our economic and national security, for many decades to come. Natural gas is already a critical fuel, heating half the homes in our country and providing for a fifth of our electricity. Because it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, natural gas will become even more critical as states and Congress look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Policies that deny Americans access to natural gas, thus driving up the price of energy, do our nation a tremendous disservice. Yet that's what environmental and obstructionist groups like SUWA are pursuing with hysteria that tries to scare all of us who love public lands. Such groups would have us believe that multiple use is a threat to our lands, and that impacts from development of energy sources such as clean-burning natural gas are irreparable. It seems groups like SUWA would rather see a million people in Utah continue to struggle (over 30,000 households need energy assistance, and 30 percent are at or below federal poverty levels) than develop the proven natural gas resources found atop the West Tavaputs Plateau 60 years ago.
Not even the Sierra Club agrees with SUWA's extreme stance. In March, the Club's Carl Pope stated "we would rather see what we can do with domestic production here in the United States before we start substituting imported natural gas for imported oil." In fairness to Mr. Pope, his point was the push to maximize recovery of natural gas from known fields, which is exactly what Bill Barrett Corporation is striving to do atop the plateau.
The BLM, whose mission is to provide for the productivity of public lands as well as their protection, has developed a comprehensive plan to meet their mission through the agency's Preferred Alternative, E, for the West Tavaputs Full Field Development Natural Gas project. The BLM plan has extensive mitigation for wildlife, air, water, and transportation. The provisions for suppressing dust, enhancing the guest experience in Nine Mile Canyon, and protecting artifacts are extensive. Too often lost in the discussion about multiple use of 9 Mile Canyon is the fact that industry presence means more resources and more opportunities to partner with Carbon County, the state, and even the federal government.
The project, as currently proposed, would generate over a million dollars a week to Utah at today's commodity price at peak production. It would account for upwards of 30 percent of Utah's natural gas needs, and, with the potential of capital investment of a billion and a half to two billion dollars over the life of the project, the West Tavaputs Full Field Natural Gas Development would go a long way towards assuring the economic viability of that part of the state.
The state of Utah and federal government share a responsibility. As an exporter of natural gas, Utah has the responsibility to help provide for the country's energy needs, just as California does with its produce and Iowa its corn. Record high food and energy prices aren't expected to subside anytime soon.
It would be illogical at best and disingenuous at worst to argue against the fact that our fellow citizens need the natural gas, the state of Utah needs the revenue, and Utah's rural communities need the opportunity.