George Pyle: Fossil fuel industry is one dinosaur Utah can do without

The sometimes excessively cordial euphemism for it is that someone, or some thing, is a “legacy.”

No, not like the young people who can expect to be admitted to the best schools — or worst fraternities — because their parents or older siblings went there, too.

Like a term applied to businesses, sometimes whole industries, that once ranged from successful to bestriding the globe, and now are being eaten away like so many dinosaur eggs by packs of upstart proto-squirrels.

Folks representing such economic sectors reach out to newspapers from time to time to seek our support. Taxi companies worried about being pushed aside by Lyft and Uber. Electric utilities concerned about what a city full of rooftop solar arrays will do to their rate structure. Car dealers whose century-old business model is challenged by Tesla.

We are happy to hear them out, consider their woes, allow as how decades of success providing employment to many and products and services to whole communities deserve some consideration.

Sometimes, though, the conversation can become a bit awkward as folks seeking our help in preserving their legacy industries realize just who it is that they are talking to.

We’re a newspaper.

We’ve spent years watching a changing world eat our proverbial lunch, poaching away our classified advertising base, our big display ads for auto dealers and department stores, our very credibility as a source of news and information. And it wasn’t we who changed — to our credit and our disgrace. It was everything else.

So now we are moving our content and our focus to an online universe. And we are looking to become the first big “legacy” newspaper to evolve into a nonprofit model. To become the birds that evolved from dinosaurs rather than the fields of bones commonly found around Utah.

Speaking of fossils.

Utah is beset by efforts to pretend that the oil and gas industry somehow has a right to survive the same social and economic forces that have led to major changes in companies that used to print newspapers, operate taxis, sell tickets on passenger trains or shoe horses.

In a process that might make sense if the nation were perilously low on gasoline, the Bureau of Land Management has been auctioning off — into a market that shows scant interest — drilling rights on federal lands that offer little in the way of known reserves, next to nothing in the infrastructure needed to get the machines in and the petroleum out, but immense significance as either a storehouse of Native American culture or just big, silent rocks.

Between the low price of fossil fuels created by new drilling techniques — practiced mostly on privately owned land — and the growing awareness the burning all those barrels of dinosaur guts is scarring our innards and drying up the Great Salt Lake, the desire to drill more wells in southern Utah is more vice than virtue.

The federal system of drawing ridiculously low royalties and lease payments from drilling on lands held in common by We the People is also based on an idea that the product that would result is in such high demand, and available from no other sources, that we are willing to socialize the cost and privatize the profit just so our gas tanks won’t go dry.

As our business and political leaders continue to clamor to Make America Drill Again, Utah is falling behind other western states in the necessary — and potentially highly enriching — transition to renewable energy, primarily solar and wind. Stuff we could be very, very good at if we’d let go of the anchor of fossil fuels and look ahead.

The newspaper/website you are now reading is not begging for special help to stick to its old way of doing things, just because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Nobody else around here should, either.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, once convinced a newspaper publisher he worked for that, no, the internet was not just the next CB radio.