Paul Andersen: The pincushion energy policy
October 27, 2002
The aerial photographs of the Parachute area tell it all. The earth is pockmarked with oil and gas drill rigs that have transformed the earth into a pincushion. One drill hole for every 20 acres has made a mess of the Colorado River Valley.
“It’s the subdivision from hell,” says Randy Udall, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) in Aspen.
If we could see beneath the surface, the view would be equally shocking. Drill casings and pipelines run through the earth like so many arteries and veins. These serpentine conduits, bearing the lifeblood of a nation of energy addicts, flow with methane and natural gas to feed America’s insatiable appetites.
The Parachute area is a prime methane producer because of coal beds far underground. By fracturing these beds under tremendous pressure, gas is released and brought to the surface, where it is shipped by pipelines to processing plants that convert the methane into natural gas, propane and butane.
These fuels furnish uses such as home heating, driveway snowmelt systems, butane lighters, barbecue grills, hot water heating and natural gas-based fertilizers. The Colorado River Valley has become a pincushion so that Americans can luxuriate with energy to burn.
There are roughly 70,000 oil and gas drilling sites in Colorado today; many encroach on private property where mineral rights have been separated from surface rights. Says Udall: “You mine everything to get this one resource out ? your scenery, your lifestyle, your solitude, your wildlife.”
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As the Bush administration rushes for energy the way the ?49ers rushed for gold, the coal beds of the American West are ripe for plunder. Energy companies are having a field day exercising their subsurface mineral rights, even when it means drilling within 100 yards of a home.
Many ranchers in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado have swung their political support to environmental causes after facing the juggernaut of oil and gas drilling, literally in their back yards. The laws are such that yeomen cattlemen are helpless against the rules granting extractive industries carte blanche on private property.
It’s even worse on public lands where energy giants have access to thousands of acres of wild and scenic country. As “thumper trucks” conduct seismic tests and bulldozers mark the advance of drilling crews, roadless areas are being desecrated in the name of corporate profits and for a reckless waste of energy.
The Roan Plateau, an area of high cliffs seen from Highway 70 north of Rifle, is slated to become one of these sacrifice zones. Once you’ve seen the Roan Plateau from a closer vantage point than beyond the window of a car, it becomes obvious that the costs of cheap energy go far beyond dollar signs and bottom lines.
Rising 3,500 feet above the Colorado River Valley, the spectacular Roan Cliffs give way to a broad and rolling plateau, with quiet forests of dense spruce, immense aspen groves, sagebrush parks, and wildflower meadows.
Several creeks cross the plateau and drop into dramatic box canyons; one features a spectacular 200-foot waterfall. Here is habitat for some of the purest strains of imperiled Colorado River cutthroat trout in Colorado.
Known as one of the most biologically diverse areas on the Western Slope, the Roan Plateau provides outstanding habitat for fish, wildlife and rare plant species. The Plateau contains four proposed wilderness areas totaling 38,000 acres and is popular for hunting, fishing, and other forms of recreation.
The Roan Plateau is a repository of biological diversity, including some species found nowhere else in the world. According to the Bureau of Land Management, “There are only three other areas of comparable size in western Colorado that contain such a richness of rare species.”
In addition to its outstanding ecological and scenic values, the Roan Plateau is rich in history and culture: a government survey revealed over 100 sites with notable cultural, historical and paleontological artifacts.
The rationale for the Bush administration’s pincushion energy policy in the West is based on energy profits, a false sense of energy security and a blatant denial of alternative energy sources. If America is truly a wealthy country, then let us save the Roan Plateau and other rural western lands from heedless exploitation.
[Paul Andersen urges readers to send letters in support of protecting the Roan Plateau to the Garfield County Commissioners, 108 8th St. #213, PO BOX 1009, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602. Comments are needed by November 13, 2002.]