What forces folks to keep eating long after they're full? Gluttony? Could the same be said of state and federal officials who continue to peddle oil and gas drilling leases when the number of leases already sold hasn't been acted upon?
Is the state of Utah so hopeful that one of the leases it sells will strike a proverbial mother lode and toss a few coins into the state's tax coffers that it will auction off any of its land, no matter the location and no matter how futile the project might be?
Those questions come to mind in the wake of an announcement from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and Sovereign Lands that it plans to auction off a 17-acre parcel that not only is adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument but also happens to lie beneath the Green River.
You can see exactly where the proposed lease area, highlighted in red, is via this site. Fortunately, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are protesting the lease sale, arguing that not only would drilling activities so close to Dinosaur Monument impair the monument, but also that they would harm a river corridor vital to wildlife and recreation.
"We are urging the division not to put this spectacular stretch of the Green River on the chopping block," said Stephen Bloch, SUWA's staff attorney. "The division itself recognizes that this stretch of the river is more important for recreation, wildlife and scenic values than for oil and gas development -- and the division also admits that the parcel has only low to moderate potential."
Over at the coalition, Bill Wade tells me that his group opposes the lease because "there is potential to impact the natural quiet, night sky, viewsheds, and wildlife migration routes, at minimum, and there could be other longer impacts, depending on the extent of the actual exploration/development."
State officials dismiss such concerns. Dave Grierson, who is the state's sovereign lands coordinator, told the Salt Lake Tribune that there will be no impacts to the river because the parcel will carry a "no surface occupancy" stipulation, which would require any exploration to be conducted through a horizontal drilling approach.
Of course, that begs the question of whether the noise of drilling, the night-time lighting of the drill pad, and the rigs going to and from the pad would create impacts?
Beyond the aesthetic questions is a larger question: Why is the state in such a rush to put this parcel to auction when the U.S. Energy Information Administration has said that the state of Utah holds only about 1 percent of the entire country's proven oil and natural gas reserves?
On top of that, exploration companies can't handle the number of leases they've already purchased. Between 2001 and 2005, according to SUWA, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 5,077 permits for exporation wells on both state and federal lands, and yet, through the end of 2005, there were more than 2,000 active permits from that timespan that had not been acted upon.
Drill the Green River? Sounds pretty ridiculous to me. If you think so, too, send a note of protest to the chief of the state's Division of Forestry, Fire and Sovereign Lands, Joel Frandsen, at [email protected]