Energy without hypocrisy

  • Paul Larmer

  I have a confession to make: I like natural gas. Every morning at five minutes before 6:00, I wake up to the gentle whumph of the gas heater kicking on in the family room. I then get out of bed, tap on my son’s door and call, "Time to get up," and plant myself in front of the miraculous dancing flames that never consume the glowing fake logs. The warmth allows me to imagine that I never crawled out from under the covers.

Natural gas is also nice and clean. There’s no sooty mess like you get with a woodstove or with coal-fired beasts like the one I fed every day in the basement of our last house.

But my enjoyment of natural gas brings up a conundrum that many an oil company executive has eagerly pointed out: How can someone who uses natural gas be anything less than a hypocrite for opposing drilling in the West? Don’t we have an obligation to produce as much energy as we can here at home?

Hypocrisy is a dogged companion in this world, where the simple act of buying shoes brings up a moral dilemma of international dimensions. Anyone who maintains a strict, don’t-drill-in-my-backyard stance while warming their bottom, or firing up their vehicle with the dregs of the Carboniferous period — or, for that matter, complaining about this country’s political dealings in the Middle East — keeps good company with hypocrisy.

But to be opposed to drilling in the West’s few remaining pristine landscapes, or in places where drillers might encounter the dangerous remnants of a nuclear blast, as writer Jennie Lay explores in this issue, does not make one a hypocrite. Nor does insisting that the industry tread as lightly on the land as possible.

As numerous reports have highlighted, the vast majority of the West’s oil and natural gas reserves are available to industry, whether on private or public lands. Some 90 percent of the 270 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management is open to oil and gas leasing. And new technologies, such as directional drilling, make it feasible to tap these resources without having to build destructive networks of roads and well pads everywhere.

The real dishonesty about this energy rush can be found in the assertion by some that our nation’s political stability and energy supply will be jeopardized if the industry can’t have unfettered access to every last fume under the West. That’s just plain hyperbole.

Reasonable people in industry, the agencies and the environmental community understand that our ongoing responsibility to the land outweighs any boom. Just as buffalo hunters, timbermen, cattle barons, and gold miners have come and gone in the West, so too will the gas drillers. And when they go, we will be left with the land in whatever condition we have allowed them to leave it in.

So, all you conservation-minded folks out there: Go ahead and light that burner without guilt even as you promote sensible oil and gas development in your backyards. And pray that the designers of heaters figure out how to replicate the clean, comforting flames of natural gas — without the environmental costs.