How can they do this?
By Rebecca Clarren
Forest Magazine, Winter 2006
2004 report by the Environmental Working Group. All this money appears to be having an impact.
This political climate, coupled with record high gas prices, Hurricane
Katrina and the war in Iraq, means that it is now economically feasible to extract oil and gas from areas never before considered, regardless of roadless status or impacts to wildlife, water or those who live rurally, like Vance.
As you know, I have my own opinion as to why this public lands rush is only partially related to energy issues.
Service lands, the number of wells has doubled in the past five years, with the vast majority of new wells located in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New
Mexico. While Forest Service officials have no accurate data for the number of wells, they have leased 4.5 million acres of land to gas companies. In the face of this buildup, a broad spectrum of local governments, state wildlife agencies, outfitters, ranchers and farmers are fighting to preserve the land. Whether their voices will be loud enough to make a difference remains to be seen.
"It's an industrial zone," says Jim O'Donnell, a former oil and gas employee who now coordinates the Coalition for the Valle Vidal, a nonprofit group in northern New Mexico that is fighting oil and gas development on the Carson. "You definitely don't want to recreate in these areas. I've been to places I used to go to as a kid and you just don't want to be there anymore. There are power lines, gas pipes and pipelines everywhere. You've carved up the landscape into 5,000 tiny little pieces that nobody can survive on."
Additionally, the effect of such industrial development on human health remains largely unknown due to a lack of research. Even so, doctors and citizen activists worry that there is cause for concern. The flaring of natural gas produced from gas wells may release chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen; hydrogen sulfide and mercury, both neurotoxins; and toluene, which the United States Department of Health and Human Services warns may affect the central nervous system, resulting in headaches, drowsiness, memory loss and nausea. These hydrocarbons don't just seep into the air; they can leak from pipelines or wells into soils and underground aquifers.
"Anybody with any common sense could see this is a very serious problem.
These constant low-dose exposures could lead to cancers, but the long-term delayed effects will be very hard to link to industry later," says Theo
Colburn, coauthor of Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival-A Scientific Detective Story, which looks at the harmful effects of synthetic chemicals. "Already there has been a flutter of people complaining about their health," she continues. "It's just insidious."
Aside from diminished laws to protect the public, the increase in new wells means that agency staffers have little time to monitor for potential problems. Throughout the region, BLM field offices, also responsible for
Forest Service lands, met their annual environmental inspection goals only about half of the time during the past six years, according to a June 2005
Government Accountability Office report. One office in Buffalo, Wyoming-the field office with the highest drilling permit workload-achieved a mere 27 percent of its environmental inspection goal in fiscal year 2004.
O'Donnell, the former oil company employee from New Mexico, isn't so sure.
"I've seen that all these companies can have so many regulations, but when they get out in the field, they have a complete disregard for the rules.
They have no regard for the landscape."
nonprofit, looks down from a Cessna onto the White River National Forest
about fourteen miles from where Sandoval saw the pipeline leak. Under the
Clinton administration the land, which is home to the largest contiguous
aspen forest in the country, was designated as roadless. Today, a freshly
dug road and well pad cut a scar into a blanket of green trees.
"Goddamn it," whispers Shoemaker. His organization had appealed the lease on the grounds that a 1993 environmental impact statement excluded any surface
occupancy on all roadless areas. Yet this lease was from 1987 and was up for grabs. That shouldn't matter, he says.
This is a long, thorough and excellent article. Combined with a complimentary article in the latest issue of High Country News you non-westerners can get a taste of what we are facing out here and my fellow Westerners can get educated as to the fight we are facing.
plane window as he looks toward the red rock mesas and thin streams that weave through the landscape like silver snakes.
"We're talking about the waning days of the fossil fuel industry and this is just the last gasp until we make the transition to renewable energy. We shouldn't ruin the last best places in the process."
We shouldn't ruin the last best places - nor should we endanger the health of the American people.