Westerners call for national energy policy
August 28, 2008
DENVER ” Westerners on the front lines of the region’s natural gas drilling boom say the lack of a national energy policy is producing environmental and social problems they cannot solve alone.
Speakers of different political stripes used the backdrop of the Democratic National Convention to call on both national parties Wednesday for a policy that goes beyond drilling.
Tweeti Blancett, a northwestern New Mexico rancher, said her family no longer uses federal grazing land it has leased for generations because of natural gas drilling. Their ranch is in the “fairway of the largest producing natural gas area in North America” ” one that generates $8.2 billion a year in tax revenue, Blancett said.
Blancett, a Republican who worked for George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, said she’s waiting to hear from both presidential candidates what they plan to do about meeting the nation’s energy demands.
If their plans are confined to just more drilling, Blancett said, they should be honest and label natural gas fields in the Rockies and elsewhere “the sacrifice areas they are.”
“There’s plenty of money to do (development) right,” Blancett said. “It just has not been done right.”
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Thousands of gas wells have been drilled in the interior West over the past few years.
In Colorado, roughly 1,000 permits were issued for oil and gas wells a decade ago. A record 6,368 drilling permits were approved last year and more than 7,000 are expected this year. Tens of thousands of wells could be developed over the next 20 years, Colorado officials say.
The Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, an industry group, took out a full-page ad in local newspapers Wednesday to boast about the Rockies’ natural gas reserves and urge members of Congress in town for the convention to step up drilling.
“We were hoping to raise awareness that the intermountain West contributes 25 percent of the nation’s natural gas” on just 1 percent of its public land, said Marc Smith, the group’s executive director.
“We’re encouraged Congress is discussing energy,” Smith said. “But all proposals to date from Democratic leadership seem to be meaningless sound bites that fail to address resolving the real problem of why more American energy isn’t being developed.”
Wally White, a Democratic county commissioner in southwest Colorado’s La Plata County, said state and federal policymakers need to help local officials regulate the industry.
He noted that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act does not apply to procedures injecting sand, water and chemicals underground to crack through sand formations and extract oil and gas.
The Environmental Protection Agency says those methods don’t endanger groundwater. Critics include Wes Wilson, an EPA engineer in Denver, who says more study is needed.
In Wyoming, the numbers of mule deer and greater sage grouse have dropped in areas where gas drilling has increased, said Walt Gasson, director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
Gasson said the energy boom threatens what he calls Westerners’ “home places.”
“Every Wyoming family has certain places that are special to them,” Gasson said. “The places that they hunt, they fish, the places they park their campers or put up their tent, the places they take their horses. The places they go to get their boots dirty and get their souls clean.”
Gasson, a former state wildlife biologist, said he believes people in the interior West at some point will realize “that maybe it wasn’t a great idea to sacrifice their birthright for a failed energy policy.”