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The Wasatch Behind: Grin and Barrett

Sun Advocate Columnist

The way I understand it, the Bill Barrett Corporation and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance - SUWA, have worked out a deal so Barrett can do some drilling on the West Tavaputs Plateau. They did this without inviting or even informing our Carbon County commissioners about their secret meetings, this according to an article in the Sun Advocate on June 1. After Barrett and SUWA worked things out between them, they got around to involving our elected representatives in the negotiations. We expect a final agreement will be announced soon. Hmmm. What is wrong with this picture?

The Tavaputs Plateau is in Carbon County. Most of it belongs to the federal government and the state of Utah. It is public land administered by the BLM and the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration - SITLA. Carbon County has a major stake in what happens out there. We have a vested interest in the resources, roads, royalties, taxes, recreational opportunities and development that affects that land.

So why are Bill Barrett and SUWA holding hands in the dark and having meetings on their own about the future of the Tavaputs? Last I checked, Bill Barrett Corp. doesn't own the Tavaputs and neither does SUWA. Public lands belong to "we the people." We have elected representatives to look after our interests. Why were they not involved in the deal making?

I've always been a supporter of American energy independence and drilling on public land. Until Al Gore and President Obama teach us how to burn wind and sunshine in our fuel tanks, we need the oil and gas. I've always defended Bill Barrett and their efforts to drill in the Tavaputs area. They have been very accommodating and willing to work with the state and county in preserving and protecting the wildlife and cultural heritage of Nine Mile Canyon. They have been more than generous in donating funds and helping with the roads and the preservation of cultural resources.

Having said that, I was truly offended when I read about Barrett and SUWA cutting secret deals behind closed doors. Have we allowed the process of energy development to sink to that level? Does the Barrett Corp. really need to kneel and kiss the ring of the state's most powerful environmental lobby to do business here? Where the hell is the U.S. Department of Energy? Where are Orrin Hatch and lame duck senator Bob Bennett? Where is Gov. Herbert and the state legislature? Does SUWA have more power and control over public lands today than the federal, state and county governments? When and how did that happen?

In my humble opinion, for Bill Barrett Corp. to meet in secret to cut a deal with SUWA is like doing business in Obama's hometown of Chicago. For years, to do business in Chicago meant paying off the Mafia and the political bosses. Extortion and corruption were so commonplace as to be factored in as a business expense. Is this what SUWA is doing to Barrett? Are they requiring a payoff to allow Barrett to do business?

I'm not suggesting that Barrett is paying bribes. I'm talking about an environmental payoff. As in, we'll allow you drill and not tie you up in court if you agree to do X, Y, and Z. In this case, it appears the deal is to keep the citizens off their public lands. SUWA will "allow" the drilling if Barrett puts locked gates on the roads to keep everyone out. That way Barrett gets to drill and SUWA strengthens their hand as the real power behind Utah land use policy.

This sets an ugly precedent. And, reading between the lines, it appears that part of the deal is for Barrett to be the one to suggest that locking the gates would be a good idea. This gives SUWA what they want with credible deniability.

Now all they need is for the county commissioners to agree to the deal. This puts the commissioners in a tight spot. If they fight for open roads, SUWA will threaten to sue and tie up the whole process for another thousand years. Barrett Corp. will lose, Carbon County will lose, the state of Utah will lose, and the American people will lose. The only way to win without a big fight is to give the green people what they want, and they want control of our public lands.

If we surrender to this, our public lands won't be public much longer. Look up "public" in your computer's thesaurus. It means communal, free, open, and unrestricted.

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