Activist speaks on gas development
The federal government shouldn’t ignore the human dimension when considering whether to allow natural-gas development in places such as the Roan Plateau, a leading environmental activist said Saturday.Former U.S. Forest Service employee Gloria Flora spoke at a Grand Valley Citizens Alliance meeting at the home of Orlyn and Carol Bell south of Silt. Her speaking venue was within sight of a drilling rig and within earshot of a hydraulic fracturing operation. Visible across the Colorado River Valley was the Roan Plateau, which the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering opening up to drilling.Flora said the government is required to consider not only the physical and biological dimensions of public lands management, but also the human one. And that doesn’t just mean how many jobs are created by activities such as energy development. It also means looking at quality of life, including things like protecting the air and water, she said.”Ask them to put a value on that because that is part of the human dimension,” Flora urged about 30 people who attended the GVCA gathering. “If we don’t have clean air and clean water we’re dead, and who needs energy if we’re dead.”Local environmentalists say the BLM is ignoring the vast majority of people who have submitted comments calling for the protection of the plateau top from drilling. Some 75,000 comments were filed with the BLM and less than 100 favored gas development on the plateau top.Flora, who is on a speaking tour of western Colorado, prohibited gas development along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana while she was supervisor of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The industry appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, but the Interior Department decided not to approve drilling there.According to a biography at EcoSpeakers.com, Flora resigned as supervisor of a forest in Nevada and eastern California to bring attention to harassment and intimidation of forest employees by antigovernment zealots. She is now director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to the sustainability of public lands.She said federal agencies aren’t acknowledging the impacts on future generations when they make decisions about development on public lands.”Ask them, what is it going to be like for my great-grandchildren?” she said.Flora said the Bush administration, through its tax and public lands policies, is encouraging energy companies to try to open up the “best places” to development, rather than looking to other areas where there is a known quantity of gas and less risk of environmental impact.”They know if they can get in there, they can get in anywhere because they have taken away the bar,” she said.Flora said the Bush administration is ignoring science in its decision making. The government also is overlooking the obvious dangers in the case of hydraulic fracturing of gas wells, she said. It stands to reason that attempting to open up fissures underground to tap gas also could create conduits to groundwater and contaminate it, she said.Some residents in western Garfield County believe such contamination has occurred in their wells.Flora said another big problem is the failure by agencies to adequately monitor impacts after allowing energy development. She said this problem became clear to her when she visited Southern Ute territory where drilling was permitted, but the Utes strictly monitored it.”It was like walking onto a different planet,” she said.Drilling’s impacts were far less visible on the Ute land than on adjacent land administered by the U.S. government.”I felt like a poor relative or something. … I felt ripped off. Where are my public servants that are supposed to be monitoring these lands?”Flora also spoke in favor of reforming surface-use regulations in Colorado so energy companies adequately make up for the impacts of drilling on landowners. An attempt at such reform failed in the state legislature earlier this year.Even Oklahoma, which has undergone energy development for many decades, has stringent rules in place to protect surface owners, she said.”It’s not going to cost that much more to fairly compensate surface owners for the problem,” Flora said.Valerie Durand, a Carbondale resident, said Flora’s speech helped her “realize how much the government in Washington is forcing these issues on the public, and the little, small steps we can take to make it better.”Durand said she has been involved in trying to protect the Roan Plateau, and thinks about other special places such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Redwood national parks.”They’re all there because somebody was out there doing this,” she said of the work of environmentalists.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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