NATURAL GAS IN THE WEST: It is the BLM's job to make gas drilling clean, not easy

Published March 12, 2005 12:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There is a huge difference between knowing how business thinks and thinking like a business. We want a government that does the former but not the latter.

That's why recent remarks by the head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management struck us as more than a little off-key.

It is important, as BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said Thursday, that government agencies understand the needs and wants of the businesses they interact with, especially a business as crucial as energy production.

But that's not the same thing as having a government that thinks it is a business, and therefore is far too likely to forget that it is supposed to have a more public-spirited, and longer-term, view of how things should be done and whose interests it serves.

BLM lands in Utah and throughout the West are thought to be a prime, largely untapped, source of natural gas. The BLM is making more and more sounds about how it wants to facilitate the extraction of that natural gas, to the point that Clarke asserts her agency's role in the process is to "produce opportunity."

Not exactly.

Natural gas has much to commend it. It is a plentiful, though by no means inexhaustible, energy source that burns clean and which, unlike our primary source of petroleum, is not subject to being cut off due to war, embargo or other factors of Middle Eastern life.

At the same time, those who siphon, ship and sell that pristine and patriotic energy supply aren't in business for the good of humanity. They are out, like every other business, to make a buck or two. It is simply unrealistic to assume that gas extractors will use the least intrusive and, perhaps, more expensive means of finding and removing the gas if the BLM doesn't make them.

Making them do exactly that must top the BLM's list.

Pointless gridlock doesn't help anyone. So if what Clarke is talking about is making the rules more clearly understood, administering them fairly and without favor to old friends or big checkbooks, reducing unnecessary delays and redundant paperwork, that's all to the good.

But if her idea of how to "operate as a business" is to join the old boy network, roll logs, scratch backs and turn a blind eye to environmental and cultural damage rather than risk an awkward moment with a driller, then Clarke and all who work for her will have forgotten just what business they are in.

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