Tuesday, February 10, 2009

US Green Groups Hail Reversal

I have been involved directly in the extractive industries for around thirty five years and I weary of the persistent attacks of perhaps well meaning people on the industry in general.

The industry has one huge advantage over any other industry. While it has a clear beginning, it also has a very clear end. It is trivial to create regulations that simply demand a site remediation plan and bond for when a project is done. This is common sense to begin with and only disadvantages those reckless fools who attack a project underfinanced.

The reality is that no land should actually be excluded as a matter of course; simply for fear that damage cannot be remediated. It is better to place the bar high enough to curtail development were it is never wanted.

The easiest remediation prospect is the site of an oil or gas well. It lasts typically perhaps twenty to fifty years, upon which the casing is pulled and the well is plugged with cement. Everything is easily removed and the site is returned to its original status. The pad is easily cleaned up and moved to a gravel tip. In a year there is no evidence whatsoever that such an operation ever existed.

Open pit mines are obviously more of a challenge, and may need to be operated for decades to collect leachate for the contained metals. Again a site cleanup today leaves little evidence of the operation. And you still do not want one in a national park. The key remains to insist on site cleanup.

Folks need to understand that this industry is able to minimize its footprint and to generally make itself disappear. On top of that, all the metal mines in North America likely use less than a few square miles of land. Your biggest is good for a mere two square miles.

Real impact is generated for agriculture first and forestry second. After that it is all about industrial sites and housing.

In fact a proper ordering of environmental priorities should be agriculture, forestry, urban management, coal mining, oil, and mining. The regulation already exists to keep the last three in very good order, while only agriculture has avoided tight oversight.

US green groups hail reversal of Bush-era land lease

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 6, 2009


US environmentalists including actor Robert Redford have hailed US President Barack Obama's administration's reversal of a Bush-era move to lease wilderness land in Utah to energy companies. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered the Bureau of Land Management "not to accept the bids on 77 parcels" that, he said, former president George W. Bush's administration had rushed to sell off in its dying days in office.

The lands involved sit "at the doorstep of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes in Utah," including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mile Canyon, Salazar said Wednesday.

Actor, environmental activist and Utah resident Robert Redford called the move "a sign that after eight long years of rapacious greed and backdoor dealings, our government is returning a sense of balance to the way it manages our lands."

"I'm celebrating wildly," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), of which Redford is a trustee.

"The Bush administration left a huge mess on Salazar's doorstep and this is a step in the right direction," she said, lauding the new interior secretary for "recognizing that we need to move toward clean energy and away from reliance on fossil fuels."

Bush had pressed Congress to lift bans on offshore oil prospecting and backed moves to allow oil exploration in wilderness areas including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

David Garbett of the Southern Utah Wilderness Association (SUWA) described how one of the companies eyeing the land up for grabs, the Bill Barrett Corporation, had submitted a proposal to build 800 natural gas wells in Nine Mile Canyon, renowned for its ancient Native American rock art.

"Part of the plan was to create temporary worker camps that would last three to four years in an area that is completely undeveloped, totally remote, one of the most spectacular areas in the state," he said.

"We're not asking for no development. We are asking that areas that the Bureau of Land Management has identified as having wilderness characteristics" be left alone, he said.

But the energy industry criticized the cancellation of the leases and contested Salazar's and the environmentalists' claims that the Bush administration had forced through the lease sale.

"This wasn't rushed or last minute. The Bush administration took a lot of time to analyze environmental impact and put in additional environmental protection," said Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS).

Natural gas from Utah and other western states in the Rocky Mountain range provides around 27 percent of natural gas used in the United States, and has minimal impact on the environment, said Sgamma.

"For that small impact we would get the energy we need to back up renewables, and it's a secure American source of energy," she said.

Garbett, meanwhile, dismissed as "laughable" criticism that Salazar's move had harmed US efforts to become less dependent on foreign energy.

"Yes, there may be some resources here, but they are not significant and not worth the sacrifice of one of the most unique areas in the US for a brief amount of natural gas," he said.

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