Interior Secy. Zinke is Albert Fall and other writings on energy/public lands

In a harried attempt to keep up with the Trump administration’s assault on public lands, I’ve put out a flurry of articles in the last week or so, concerning Bears Ears National Monument, oil and gas development in the Chaco region, and so on. If there’s one line from all of it that I’d like people to retain, it’s this one:

What Zinke has failed to realize is that every “burden” removed from industry ends up falling on the backs of the country’s land, air, water, wildlife — and people.

I know, it should go without saying. But we often forget that rules and regulations are all about protecting human health and the environment. If we “roll back” those regulations, as the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior are busily doing, it will result in human and environmental harm.

In some cases, the harm goes further.

Take Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s attack on the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste prevention rule, which was put in place in the waning days of the Obama administration. It requires oil and gas companies to do more to keep methane from wafting into the air during the extraction process. That would not only reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the short-term, but would also reduce emissions of associated compounds, such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide, which are detrimental to human health.

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A flare at a newly-drilled well near the Navajo community of Nageezi, in the Greater Chaco Region.

Methane, meanwhile, is the main component of natural gas, a marketable commodity. So capturing as much of it as possible is good business, not only for the companies extracting it, but also for the entities that get taxes and royalties on the product. Nevertheless, Zinke just delayed implementation of the rule for a year, during which time he will surely do his best to dismantle it.

Zinke says that this and other rollbacks are intended to take the “burden” off of the energy companies. Seriously? The energy industry has been riding roughshod over this nation’s public lands for decades. If you think they’ve been hindered, then take a gander at this map of oil and gas wells (1 dot=1 well). See those yellow blobs over on the left? That’s Aztec and Bloomfield. Oh, and the blue on the upper right? Navajo Lake.

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While most of those wells were drilled prior to 2008, the Obama administration and its “burdens” hardly slowed things down. Between 2008 and 2016, the federal government issued 36,000 drilling permits. And since 2010, the BLM’s Farmington Field Office has leased more than 50,000 acres and issued some 550 permits to drill horizontal wells, almost all of them in the Greater Chaco Region. Burdened? I don’t think so.

It’s this tendency — to screw over the American people, the land and the taxpayers at the behest of the energy industry — that inspired my comparison of Zinke to Albert Bacon Fall in this piece. 

I also wrote about how that energy development in the Greater Chaco Region (not to mention in other archaeologically rich areas) is destroying important sites and features, thus harming our understanding of those places. When Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, he prohibited any future oil and gas leasing within the boundaries, thus staving off similar destruction there. Now, with Trump’s shrinkage, many area’s have been thrown back open to development. Does that mean a battalion of drill rigs will be pouncing on Cedar Mesa next week? No. But then, 20 years ago, the Gallup Play in the Chaco region was thought to be drained dry. Then horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking came along and gave it new life.

RockFramesPumpjack
A pumpjack framed by masonry blocks at Pierre’s Site, a significant and spectacular Chacoan Great House that lies about 10 miles north of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park boundary. Jonathan Thompson photo.

Finally, I wrote about the particulars of that shrinkage, and how the new boundaries of Bears Ears make almost no sense whatsoever, no matter which side of the debate you’re on.

 

 

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