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
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