In a recent letter to the editor, Bill Barrett Corporation spokesman Jim Felton argued that full field development of the remarkable public lands in the West Tavaputs Plateau and greater Nine Mile Canyon area is the 'right thing' to do, given today's high price of energy.
Mr. Felton's argument boils down to this - either you're with us, or you're against us. Either you're for massive development of natural gas - no matter how poorly planned and how great the accompanying environmental damage - or you're for forcing fixed income families to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table. It's not that simple.
In reality, Barrett's proposed gas development in the West Tavaputs Plateau will not change the cost of heating your home but it will damage "the world's longest art gallery" - Nine Mile Canyon - and destroy some of the most remote, scenic, wildlife-rich areas of the state.
At a time of record industry profits - Bill Barrett Corporation reported on May 6th that its first quarter 2008 earnings doubled over those from last year - it is particularly disturbing to see this company laying blame for high energy prices on a lack of access to public lands.
In Utah alone, industry has roughly five million acres of BLM lands under lease, yet just over one million of those leased lands are in production. What's more, as Mr. Felton must know, there is precious little connection between Barrett's ability to drill more wells in the West Tavaputs Plateau and the price of natural gas for Utahns. We have every right to be skeptical of such claims.
The public comment period recently closed on Barrett's West Tavaputs Plateau and Nine Mile Canyon full field development plan. A number of groups representing a variety of interests formally expressed concerns about the project, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and the Utah Guides and Outfitters.
In addition, over 53,000 Americans from across the country wrote, faxed or e-mailed the BLM to express concern regarding Barrett's plans. Many of them asked BLM to make the company do better in its development plans. They told BLM to make sure that the unique cultural sites in and around Nine Mile Canyon would be protected before allowing Barrett to proceed. They want to be able to share their experiences in Nine Mile Canyon, Desolation Canyon, and the West Tavaputs Plateau with their children and grandchildren and are concerned that given the pace of development, that won't happen.
The BLM will ultimately decide whether and to what extent lands in this area should be leased and whether and to what extent Barrett will be allowed to proceed in developing its leases in this area. Given the Bush administration's consistent pattern of allowing development to trump all other uses of the public lands, we are not optimistic. That's unfortunate because it is a privilege for private companies like Barrett to operate on public lands. Americans have every right to expect and demand that Barrett will be held to the highest standards.