Dear Mr. President:
back in an energy boom in parts of the West, and this made me
wonder how a rancher like yourself might feel if geologists
discovered an enormous pocket of natural gas beneath your spread in
Texas. What if the story got out, and the press corps suddenly
appeared at your Western White House, creating the kind of
spectacle you abhor?
Reporters will ask: "Will you open
your land to exploration and drilling?" I have no doubt
you’ll say ‘no.’
For one thing, your
ranch is private property. Everybody knows you love those 1,600
acres of Texas real estate. Every chance you get you escape to your
own private Walden, lessening the stress of your stressful job by
chopping wood and carrying water.
You stand gazing
dreamily at your 200 head of cattle grazing peacefully in hard
scrabble pastureland. You hike along the nearly six miles of trails
that crisscross the property, a veritable cowboy Thoreau, proud as
punch of your personal paradise.
You show the place off to
everybody, from heads of state (Blair, Putin, Berlusconi), to
members of the press corps who dutifully tag along behind you. Just
look at those live oak trees growing in those limestone canyons,
you say. "That river over yonder is the Middle Bosque.
‘Bosque’ is the Spanish word for ‘woods.’
See those cedars in the distance? Got to get rid of those pesky,
Mr. President, we know you are
not an environmentalist in name only. You’re helping to
install a passive solar system in the ranch house. You’re
watering the lawn from the cistern that captures precious rainwater
so not a single drop goes to waste. You are a man who knows how to
utilize natural resources -- a compassionate conservationist, so to
It is this compassionate conservationism that
confounds many of us here in the West. We cherish our publicly
owned forests and deserts with the same passion you have for your
It greatly distresses us to see you
pushing federal officials to speed up the permitting process for
producing oil and gas in the West. You’ve directed the Bureau
of Land Management to remove any obstacles preventing gas and oil
development in the five Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Montana,
New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. You believe -- as does your vice
president, Dick Cheney -- that environmentally-friendly technology
can be employed to exploit this form of natural gas, and that there
will be minimal impact on the land.
One such parcel of
land exists here in southern New Mexico. It’s called Otero
Mesa, and its 520,000 acres of wildnerness grassland in a pristine
section of Chihuahuan Desert is a prime candidate for gas
Despite its other natural resources including
pronghorn antelope, mule deer, golden eagles, forests of yucca and
vast vistas where mountains meet sky, you have determined that the
pocket of natural gas below the surface is the most important
feature of this environment. Gas, after all, is a commodity.
Everything else is priceless.
Unfortunately, no matter how
minimally-invasive the new technology, a price will be paid. Wells
will have to be drilled, compressors will make noise and dirt roads
must be constructed leading to those wells. Heavy trucks will
travel those dusty roads every day. Trenches for pipelines will be
dug, and poles erected for powerlines to span the desert grassland.
Ponds of worthless wastewater will spring up.
unspoiled portion of the West will be blemished forever.
Some people, Mr. President, think we are long past the time when
our country should have become fully committed to the development
of environmentally-friendly energy sources. When Mr. Cheney met
with energy executives not long after you and he took power,
couldn’t he have pursued alternative solutions along with the
same old push for non-renewable sources? Shouldn’t policy
planners have approached the problem with the same mindset you had
in developing an energy plan for your property?
brings us back to the hypothetical reservoir of natural gas
discovered beneath your Prairie Chapel Ranch. I bet you would fret
about your place no matter how careful those geologists promised to
be in extracting that gas. Even if the construction crews put those
wells on the Back 40, you’d know they were there,
wouldn’t you? No matter how carefully you practiced
conservation on the rest of your ranch, there’d always be a
chance that something could go awry. Would you be able to live with
yourself if your patch of paradise was ruined forever?
That’s why many of us are determined to protect our public
lands here in the West.