Compromise is a four-letter word in Congress these days, but in some other circles, it's a concept that seems to be catching on.
Environmental groups and energy developers in Utah have been talking out their differences and striking deals to allow drilling with manageable environmental consequences.
First there was an agreement over the increasing number of natural gas wells on the Tavaputs Plateau creating heavy truck traffic through Nine Mile Canyon that kicked up dust that was destroying ancient Indian rock art. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Bill Barrett Corp. came to an agreement that would decrease the trucks' impact on the pictographs but allow the developer to expand.
Now another Colorado company that drills for natural gas, Denver-based Enduring Resources LLC, and environmental organizations, including SUWA, the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society, have compromised after years of legal battles over energy development in scenic areas of Uintah County.
In a 2008 lawsuit brought against the developer by the nonprofit groups, a federal court ruled that more analysis was needed to determine the potential impacts on air quality of 60 natural-gas wells proposed by Enduring Resources about 35 miles south of Vernal. Faced with the judge's order to re-examine its reports, the developer agreed to reduce the scale of its Rock House Project, cut the number of new well pads and roads and restrict truck traffic near the White River.
To get the groups to drop the suit, the company also promised to use "best management practices" for air quality. The Uinta Basin, where the project is located, already has some of the most toxic air in the country, especially during summer when the sun cooks the chemicals emitted by drilling, producing ozone.
In exchange, Enduring Resources will be able to develop most of the 60 permitted wells on state, federal and private lands.
The agreement, like the one reached for Nine Mile Canyon, is good for both sides. The developer can move ahead with its project without worrying about court-ordered delays, and the area's scenic and recreation values are protected for the public, which owns the federal lands.
Most important, those families who for decades have enjoyed paddling canoes on the White River will be able to continue, and those who make a living selling them food, equipment and lodging will go on doing so.