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Ending the addiction

Dave Reed

The energy industry has dropped all pretense of caring about the unique environment of the Roan Plateau.Forget the moderate-sounding statements industry reps made at public hearings about limiting the number of wells on the top of the plateau and clustering them to reduce their impact. According to Tuesday’s Aspen Daily News, the Colorado Oil & Gas Association now says the BLM plan – the same one that its members praised throughout the public-comment process – is “inadequate,” and is demanding a new alternative that allows up to 3,000 wells on the top of the plateau.Three thousand wells! That is an Armageddon scenario, so far beyond the pale of anything that has been contemplated or discussed at any point during the process that one has to wonder what sort of coded message is being sent here.Is it just a negotiating ploy – an attempt to balance the overwhelming public opposition to drilling the top of the plateau with an extreme counterproposal, in the hopes that the BLM will then see limited drilling on the top as a fair compromise?Is it flat-out meanness? (“Think you can keep us from drilling the last 5 percent of the Piceance Basin? Try this on for size …”)Yes, that – and worse.We’re in a new era now, since Congress signaled its intention last month to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s open season. Energy companies have been given the go-ahead to ask for whatever they want.The backdrop to this is that oil and gasoline prices are at record highs, and there are growing indications that we’re very near the top of the worldwide oil supply curve – the point at which all the kings’ oil rigs can’t pump out enough crude to meet demand. When that happens, energy companies probably figure, America will be willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how desperate or destructive, to keep the oil flowing.I suspect the gas industry’s call for 3,000 wells on the top of the Roan Plateau is a harbinger of all this. True, there’s mostly gas, not oil, under the Roan, but give the Bush administration an energy crisis and I think they’ll have no trouble whipping up a panic and using it as a pretext to relax restrictions on all forms of energy development. They’ll call it something like the Energy Security and Sustainability Act. Congress is already paving the way by readying an energy bill chock full of industry “incentives.”We do have an energy crisis, but our solutions are not limited to increasing supply. My point is that in fact it’s counterproductive to fixate on supply-side solutions, because they’ll only postpone the day of reckoning for a few weeks or months, at which time the stuff will hit the fan that much harder.Oil and gas are finite, non-renewable resources. We’re going to run out of them eventually, but long before that – if we don’t do something to curb our appetite – we’re going to face painful, disruptive shortages. We have got to get serious about using these nonrenewable resources more efficiently and developing renewable alternatives. Better that we do it sooner than later, before we’ve drilled our planet to Swiss cheese in search of the last drop of oil.The change must come primarily at the national policy level. As citizens, we can help bring about that change by not getting caught up in the supply-side obsession; by demanding of our elected representatives that they adopt a national energy policy that emphasizes efficiency and renewables over more drilling; and, locally, by pushing back against proposed gas and oil development that degrades our environment and our quality of life while only prolonging our fossil fuel addiction.Dave Reed is director of development at the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.


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