Crude reality: North Dakota oil boom has Utah envying its surplus green
State officials see federal control as blocking source of revenue, education funding
Utah ranks last in per pupil funding for education, spending about $6,200. He and others say it would take $2.6 billion to bring Utah on par with the national average. Flush with funds and straining over the headlong population explosion brought on by the boom, North Dakota is tossing money at its education system.
The state, which operates on a two-year budget cycle, increased its K-12 education spending for 2013-15 by 28 percent, and since 2001, spending in this arena has increased by nearly 190 percent.
Utah strikes back
Frustrated at a whole host of federal land ownership issues, a new swipe at autonomy broke out in Utah. Ivory points to the lackluster pace of oil and gas development and stalemates over issues like ownership of roads, endangered species management and management of forests that unfairly face states like Utah and are unheard of in states like North Dakota.
By 2012, Ivory got HB148 passed and signed into law. Called the Transfer of Public Lands Act, the law demands the federal government cede title to BLM and Forest-Service managed lands in Utah by Dec. 31, 2014. It leaves national parks and wilderness areas untouched, but critics say resource-rich areas like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be left vulnerable to the chopping block.
The idea is for the state to get control of the lands Ivory and others say were promised to it at statehood by the federal government. He stresses the flagrant inequities found in what he calls the "federal fault line," that shows Western states with less than 50 percent state ownership within their boundaries while states east of Colorado enjoy more than 95 percent state ownership.
Ivory and others believe greater ownership leads to greater revenue potential. He cites an Institute of Energy Research Report released in 2013 that detailed $150 trillion in mineral resources "locked" up in the West. The Green River Formation in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, for example, holds more than triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.
"We could become a major player in the world if we were able to access those resources," Stewart said.
Critics like SUWA and the Sierra Club say the Ivory movement is legally laughable but practically scary because of the people who buy into it — let alone the implications it holds for Utah.
"Under the various federal (environmental laws) there are multiple use mandates that require the BLM and Forest Service to put wilderness, cultural resource values and wildlife conservation on the same footing as things like oil and gas," said Stephen Bloch. "There is no similar state law that speaks to that."
Bloch said other critics say that should state agencies become vested with authority over the federal lands at issue, their single-mission mandate would cloud any vision of a "balanced" approach and compromise their ability to be stewards of long-term interests.
"Utah does not have a very good record when it comes to environmental regulation," said the Sierra Club's Tim Wagner. "(Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining) has never seen a project they would deny and would never take a constructive look at a project long-term before issuing a permit."
John Baza, the division's director, said it is a matter of analyzing the outcomes — and challenged the agency's critics to come up with specific examples of environmental neglect.
"I know there have been wells that we permitted on state or private land and there is BLM land right next door. If you compare the two wells, if you compare the oil production of the two wells, the two wells that are sitting right next to each other, the two agencies are going to be similar. If the outcome is the same, I would think we are doing as good of a job as the BLM."
Baza rejected the notion, too, that high-value recreation or conservation areas would be laid bare to oil and gas development should there be land ownership changes.
"We don't do that now," he said. "Why would we change the way we are applying oil and gas regulatory policy because we have more land?"
Added Rogers: "Goblin Valley, Dead Horse State Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. We don't drill there now and we never would. I don't see it happening."
But Wagner points to legal challenges that have been launched against the division and other state agencies over a permitting process he says is way too lackadaisical and pro-business.
"The state is gambling our future for short-term profits and jobs," Wagner said. "Trust the state government? No way. I do not."
The retort from those at the helm of that state government is loud, clear and a bit indignant: that federal control is somehow better because Utahns in charge are either incompetent or greedy.
"Why do we suppose that a federal government that is broke, that spent over a trillion dollars in the first six weeks of this fiscal year why do we suppose that type of failed political management would be somehow better?" Ivory said, showing his exasperation.
"Why do they suppose that somehow we can't govern ourselves, but people east of Colorado can? That's just nonsensical."
Monday: A look at the problems and solutions surrounding Utah's energy development.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: amyjoi16
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