In a recent letter to the editor (Sun Advocate, May 13, 2008), Salt Lake City resident Stephen Bloch argued that full field development of the public lands on the West Tavaputs Plateau and near the Nine Mile Canyon area is the wrong thing to do, according to the green extremist agenda. Bloch, who is the spokesman and legal counsel for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) represented them in the case of SUWA vs. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of Interior, Bill Barrett Corporation, and the State of Utah in an effort to stop the 3-D seismic project which discovered the gas on the Tavaputs Plateau. He intentionally avoided bringing this case to the state of Utah, and instead brought suit in the District of Columbia, hoping to find an out-of-state judge friendly to SUWA's extremist cause. Instead, the judge was un-persuaded by Mr. Bloch's hysteria, found that there was no imminent or irreparable danger to cultural resources, and the case was won by the defendants, allowing this important project to continue.
The Utah Legislature blasted Mr. Bloch and SUWA during the last legislative session when both the House and Senate passed a resolution to oppose proposals by activist groups to lock up over nine million acres of land. Democrats and Republicans jointly pushed back against the tyranny of lawsuits, propaganda and intimidation.
Nevertheless, Mr. Bloch continues to propound the same tired arguments in his recent letter. In fact, Mr. Bloch could not then and cannot now provide any definitive evidence that development of the gas fields will inevitably or even likely damage Nine Mile Canyon. If anything, it appears to many local residents and users of the canyon that damage to "the world's longest art gallery" has become more likely primarily due to the various activist groups drawing attention to our area, and due to the National Trust for Historic Preservation naming the canyon one of the 11 most endangered places in America for 2004. They have drawn tourists and activists to a place that saw minimal visitation before all the uproar. These visitors stop in the middle of the road, crawl around the ledges, trample the vegetation, and encounter the rock art much more often, much more closely, and unfortunately, much more detrimentally than do those involved in the development of the natural resources in the area.
Mr. Bloch's argument boils down to the same thing Interior Secretary Babbitt said in 1991 to the League of Conservation Voters. "We must identify our enemies and drive them into oblivion". In other words, either you're with us, or you're against us. No matter how well it is planned and executed, and how great the accompanying habitat enhancement and better standard of living for all people, either you're for the permanent end to development of the natural resources necessary for human life and our unequaled standard of living, (within which the development of natural gas fields plays no small role), or you're for forcing American families to choose between enduring an ever lower standard of living until we either become complete drones to their elitist agenda or revolt. It is that simple.
In reality, Barrett's proposed gas development in the West Tavaputs Plateau will help stabilize the cost of heating your home. This is the economics of supply and demand; if there is more of a product, it costs less.
At a time of record industry profits, Bill Barrett Corporation reported on May 6 that its first quarter 2008 earnings doubled over those from last year. It is more revealing than ever that our inability to access the natural resources in our own back yard contribute substantially to our cost of energy. In Utah alone, industry has roughly 5 million acres of BLM lands under lease, yet has been able to access, receive permits and produce gas on just over one million of those leased lands. Carbon County's residents, and indeed most of the working people of America, will continue to suffer as energy costs increase. Again, this goes back to supply and demand. If there was more gas being produced, the price of gas and industry profit margins would go down.
Meddling, media hype, and constant threats and lawsuits by organizations such as SUWA have driven up the price of natural gas for Utahans, and all of America. I have every right to be skeptical of these shadowy groups that are constantly undermining freedom, especially considering that both Bert Fingerhut, SUWA's former chairman, and Mark Ristow, a former board member are in federal prison for stock swindles.
What's more, as Mr. Bloch surely knows, there is precious little connection between the propaganda fed to the public by SUWA about local government's intentions, and the reality of our local governments' extensive efforts to improve the road, reduce dust, improve safety, protect people and animals and to ensure that the drilling of wells on the West Tavaputs Plateau are accomplished in a responsible manner.
The public comment period recently closed on Barrett's West Tavaputs Plateau and Nine Mile Canyon full field development plan. A number of activist groups formally expressed concerns about the project, and 53,000 people made the same comment to the BLM regarding Barrett's plans. These comments will likely be regarded as one single comment by the BLM and will give the commenter's a warm fuzzy, but will not add any substance to the discussion. Many of them asked BLM to make the company do better in its development plans. They told BLM to "protect" Nine Mile Canyon before allowing Barrett to proceed. This is the code word for stop the project.
We local citizens want to be able to share our customs, culture, economy and experiences in Nine Mile Canyon, Desolation Canyon, and the West Tavaputs Plateau with our children and grandchildren and are concerned that given the pace of activism, hype and lawsuits, that won't happen.
The BLM will ultimately decide whether and to what extent the gas on the lands already leased in this area should be produced, and to what extent industry will be allowed to lease the large gas deposits remaining in this area. Given SUWA's consistent pattern of thinking that hiking and backpacking trump all other uses of the public lands, many local residents are not optimistic. That's unfortunate because it is a privilege for urban elitists to recreate on public lands.
As a citizen of Carbon County the state of Utah, and these United States, I believe that Americans have every right to expect and demand that SUWA will be held to the same laws and standards as local citizens and the energy industry.