Demagoguing Resource Extraction

The other day, the Tribune published another broadside on the GOP’s drive to revise the monument. It included this note:

3. There are no real energy resources anywhere in Bears Ears

Last session, the Utah Legislature called for the repeal of the Bears Ears Monument citing, among other reasons, the way it would impede the plentiful energy extraction, sapping revenue that otherwise could flow into the state’s school system.

But one of the most striking things when you look at the state’s Bears Ears maps is how, aside from a band of uranium deposits north of the buttes, there really are no energy or mineral resources to speak of anywhere inside the monument — no coal, no oil, no gas, not even any potash.

You can see the area speckled with oil wells that have been drilled over the years, but the oil just isn’t there.

Then you look east, over Comb Ridge that forms the boundary for the monument, and it is a bonanza. It’s almost like, when the monument was designated, the boundaries weren’t arbitrary and the Interior Department drew the borders to avoid damaging the potential jobs and wealth in the county.

Neat how that works, right?

The information in the map undermines the argument the monument is costing San Juan County and the state jobs — but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop complaining about it.

My Comment

Every once in a while, monument advocates have trotted out the argument advanced here: that monument designation won’t cause local economic harm by reducing energy and mineral development in San Juan County because, after all, there isn’t anything of value to drill or mine inside the monument. (See also this page for another example of the argument.)

It always strikes me as a bit odd when this observation about the lack of energy or mineral resources west of Highway 191 is made by the same groups and publications that ordinarily argue that the monument is the only thing standing between a pristine San Juan County and oil pumps as far as the eye can see. (For just a few examples, see here, here, and here.)

Still, as far as it goes, it is refreshing when monument proponents make this argument because it is basically true. It also happens to be a core argument of many monument opponents: since there is substantially nothing worth drilling for or mining inside the monument, monument designation is redundant in terms of precluding those land uses.

Some monument opponents are even aware that:

1. Oil and gas production in San Juan County peaked 30 years before the monument was designated, and is down by one-half and two-thirds, respectively, from those highs [source].

2. A total of around 15,000 acres of the BLM’s Monticello Planning Area  — well under 1% of the total acreage — has ever been disturbed for oil or gas drilling and, as implied by point #1 above, old wells are being abandoned at about twice the rate as new ones are being drilled [source].

Taken together, it seems like the reclamation of abandoned well sites would be a more relevant and impactful environmental goal than tagging non-productive land with a superfluous monument designation.

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