If we don't get our energy here, where will we get it?

  • Sarah Gilman

 

A few weeks ago, a Texas oilman cornered me at a brewery in the high-mountain town of Ouray, in western Colorado. Some young women from Moab had just taken the table next to my friend and myself, when the fellow wandered over to buy us a round.

Eventually, he revealed that he worked for ConocoPhillips. This didn’t go over well with the Utah ladies, and Mr. ConocoPhillips grew defensive: Did they think the vehicle they had driven here ran on rainbows? When he found out I covered the industry as a reporter, he leaned in tipsily and asked, “Can we have a conversation? A real conversation?”

The answer was apparently no, since what ensued felt like an energy-focused version of writer Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men explain things to me.

But if he had gotten past his assumption that I was an airy naïf, he would have realized that I mostly agreed with him: As drilling impinges on more communities, those communities need to have “real,” critical conversations about energy development, conversations in which the locals recognize their role as consumers.

Paonia, Colo., where I live and work, recently became such a town. Last December, nearly 30,000 acres in the surrounding North Fork Valley were nominated for oil and gas leasing. Though the proposal was deferred this summer for further study, in November, the Bureau of Land Management announced its intent to auction about 20,000 of those acres Feb. 14.

Given the habitat fragmentation and pollution that energy development can bring, many here have fought the proposal. Some of the earlier leases sprawled across mountain biking areas or sat next to schools. Others encompassed springs that feed the town water system or surrounded irrigation ditches for ranches, organic farms and vineyards. As Peter Heller reported in an essay for Bloomberg BusinessWeek this July, the North Fork Valley “is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the Rocky Mountains. … The valley produces 77 percent of the state’s apples, 71 percent of its peaches.” The BLM received nearly 3,000 comments on the proposal, mostly in opposition.

“None of (those) issues … are incompatible with oil and gas development,” Steven Hall, BLM’s Colorado communications director, told Heller. Even so, in its latest proposal, the agency removed a couple of the more controversial parcels,   including the one closest to Paonia’s water supply and another containing a popular trail network.

Most of the parcels remain, though. Worse, the sale would occur under the terms of the outdated Resource Management Plan, a 23-year-old document which governs development on hundred of thousands of acres. If the agency waited, it could re-examine the proposal under the updated version -- due in draft this spring -- which, in theory, would allow it to account for advances in drilling technology and changes to the area’s economy, demographics and environment. That might help the agency strike a clearer balance between energy development and other interests.

At an environmental film festival in Paonia soon after the BLM’s decision, the audience booed throughout a Google Earth tour of the parcels still up for lease. When a staffer from the conservation group who hosted the event noted that the mountain biking parcel had been withdrawn, discontent only grew. Many refused to accept any leasing whatsoever.

Opponents believe, as do their counterparts in many communities facing oil and gas development, that some places are too special to drill. It’s a valid view; I often share it. But that raises an uncomfortable question: Are there any places so unspecial that they should be drilled? Mr. ConocoPhillips knows well that few of us in Paonia or elsewhere can say we don’t rely on these fuels -- for heat, for transport, for electricity, for the fertilization of food. Every place matters to somebody. And what patch of Earth isn’t habitat for at least a few wonderful somethings?

As Bobby Reedy, who runs a local auto shop in Paonia, told Heller: “I wanna flick the light switch and know the lights are gonna come on. If it’s not in my backyard, whose is it gonna be in?”

If we continue to insist on living as we do now, maybe we need to see drill rigs from our kitchen windows and hiking trails, even our school playgrounds.

How else can we truly understand the costs of something we use unless we’re confronted with them daily? This isn’t just the machinery of corporate greed; it’s the machinery of our vast collective energy appetite. And if we can’t look directly at it, and can’t accept what it does to our water and air, then it’s time to do more than just fight drilling. It’s time to go on an energy diet.

Sarah Gilman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado, where she is the magazine’s associate editor

(hcn.org).

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.