Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
Given the nation's need for clean, abundant energy, as well as the need for jobs in the Uintah Basin, the Interior Department's decision this week to allow the Gasco natural gas project to proceed makes sense.
The project will add an estimated 1,300 new wells over a 15-year period, and estimates are that it will add more than 2,700 jobs from a $5 billion investment. More importantly, it will add to the nation's supply of clean-burning natural gas, which may aid the nation in converting its cars and trucks from the dirtier, and ultimately more problematic, oil-based gasoline. Using new drilling techniques, the wells are expected to tap reserves far beyond the surface boundaries of the wells without causing any greater disruption of the land above ground.
Environmentalists have been quick to condemn the decision, saying it will harm Desolation Canyon and other sensitive areas. It is, they say, a betrayal of the collaborative approach the Interior Department has touted for deciding such issues.
That spirit of cooperation was perhaps best exemplified earlier this year when a petroleum company, Indian tribes and local and federal governments came together to hammer out a compromise to allow Anadarko Petroleum Corp., to drill gas wells in the Uintah Basin. However, it is worth noting that not all sides were completely satisfied in that deal, either. One industry official assailed it as a cave-in by Anadarko, which was forced to make concessions in order to avoid litigation. Now, environmentalists are the ones complaining about the government caving to interests.
But it's difficult to see how the Gasco decision would harm sensitive areas. The BLM says the closest drill site would be about four miles northwest of the Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark and five miles north of a Wilderness Study area. Despite using directional underground drilling, the company is prohibited from drilling beneath the rim of Nine Mile Canyon, in the 100-year floodplain or in areas critical to the habitat of endangered fish species.
The approved plan is much less than what Gasco originally proposed. The total area to be disturbed by the wells is less than half the acreage requested.
The Obama administration appears to understand that the nation should do all it reasonably can to allow the extraction of plentiful supplies of natural gas. While Utah receives most of its oil supply from friendly Canada, much of the rest of the nation depends on oil imported from regions where people are at odds, or outright hostile, toward American interests. With the nation spending billions on a war against terrorists, it makes little sense to continue enriching the friends of terrorism through such imports.
Natural gas provides a viable alternative that has the added bonus of being more friendly for the environment than oil. It makes sense to allow its extraction, especially in ways that are minimally harmful to sensitive areas.
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