Cowboys fight oil and gas drillers
"We finally decided we're tired of fooling with them," says Tweeti Blancett. She and her husband closed a road leading to six wells on their Aztec Ranch. "This is our land. We ought to be able to protect it."
Ranchers and environmentalists have become allies in a war with companies drilling on public and private land in the 7,800-square-mile San Juan Basin (HCN, 9/16/02: The BLM stabs at a tired land). Oil and gas drilling has denuded swaths of the delicate desert, polluted water, ruined roads and spread noxious weeds, critics charge.
BLM spokesman Bill Papich says the locks, while inconvenient, apparently aren't illegal, because they merely limit access. Alternate routes exist to most wells, and the landowners gave the BLM and each energy company a key.
But the industry isn't satisfied. Three oil companies have filed lawsuits, citing emergency access as a concern. James Bartlett, director of corporate communications for Burlington Resources, the largest producer in the basin, says the company works hard to maintain good relations with ranchers. Of the estimated 100 grazing permittees in the area, he adds, "there are only three or four we know of who are unhappy."
Blancett sees the struggle as critical for private property owners. "If we win on our ability to protect our private land, people across the West win," she says.