Jim Stiles

In February, despite wide-scale protests, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the lease of 26 public land parcels for possible oil and gas development south of Moab.

Leading the protesters was longtime resident Kiley Miller and her partner, John Rzeczycki. Their concerns ran deeper than most. For Miller and Rzeczycki, the threat of nearby oil and gas projects meant more commercial traffic adjacent to their remote “off-the-grid’ home. Of greater concern was water contamination. They specifically objected to two nearby parcels. One was removed from the sale, but the other remained

A Moab environmental group, Living Rivers, objected to 24 of the 26 remaining leases. All of them were approved. Spokesman John Wesisheit noted that development posed a water contamination threat “to residents of Kane Creek, Bridger Jack Mesa, and Brown’s Hole. These homeowners,” Weisheit noted, “have investments in infrastructure that provides clean drinking water. Other investments at risk include depreciation of property values.”

There is also a growing movement to reduce energy development in the area via the proposed “Greater Canyonlands National Monument.” Proponents call for the protection of 1.4 million acres of public lands adjacent to the national park.

Moab environmentalist Bill Love wrote,“The area surrounding Canyonlands will be lost to the public unless protected from the extraction industry.” And he noted, “Monument status will protect our tourist economy and hundreds or thousands of jobs.”

Many share Love’s view and his suggested bottom line—that the scenic beauty of southeast Utah is too valuable, measured in tourist dollars, to be degraded by fracking.

But the tourist/amenities economy demands the massive consumption of natural resources, especially oil and gas. Moab City officials recently announced that commercial construction exceeded $16 million in just the first quarter of 2013. The reality is, a tourist economy needs an ever-growing supply of affordable oil to meet desired increases in visitation. But they fear oil exploitation will adversely affect tourism.

So where do we get the oil to keep Moab and the country rolling? Clearly, nobody wants to live with less. It’s not an idea even remotely considered by politicians or their constituents or even mainstream environmentalists. Long term threats like climate change vanish when it demands a sacrifice.

But are there places to exploit oil we can all agree on? Where? Urban areas don’t want them. EPA data shows that not only is aquifer contamination a real threat, air quality degradation from thousands of venting condensate tanks is a concern too. Urbanites don’t want large-scale fracking next to the neighborhood school.

So where? The fracking boom came to the Great Plains two years ago and now farmers compete for the one commodity they and the oil companies both need—water. They fear contamination of the water table but more than that, they fear being unable to compete financially for the water. Some have stopped farming and resorted to selling some of their water to the frackers as the only means left to stay afloat financially. But here is where the country grows much of its food. Are Americans willing to put at risk the nation’s bread basket to protect their special interests?

So…WHERE? Most of the same people who promote tourism also oppose the Keystone pipeline. Again, the irony raises its ugly head. Most environmentalists oppose extraction and speak endlessly of resource degradation and the dangers of climate change. They delude themselves with the myth that if we just build enough wind and solar farms that we can restore the planet and keep consuming as we always have. It’s a delusion, of course, if not a lie. But no one’s willing to confess to it.

And yet, we all know that if we dramatically reduced our consumption, we could dramatically reduce the demand for oil extraction. But we won’t.

So…we can all complain about the world and insist we’re trying to save it, but more often than not, we wage battles on our own behalf. None of us really wants to do anything dramatic..something that might turn the world around. But that won’t stop us from going to rallies dressed as forest creatures, or signing online petitions, or ‘liking’ Facebook pages that echo our “cause,” or sending twenty bucks to our favorite “green” group, or buying a Prius and a stash of reusable Kroger bags.

Someone once said, “If it feels good, do it.” The problem is, we never DO anything. But we talk a lot and it seems to make us “feel” better.

For now, I guess, that will have to do. But our grandkids are going to hate us.