Gazette Opinion: BLM’s nonsensical excuses for blocking Montana drilling

2010-03-20T00:00:00Z Gazette Opinion: BLM’s nonsensical excuses for blocking Montana drillingDAVE GALT The Billings Gazette
March 20, 2010 12:00 am  • 

The new Disney movie, “Alice in Wonderland,” opens with Alice falling down a rabbit hole and landing in a nonsensical world where logic is turned upside down and where, as the Cheshire cat comments, “we’re all mad here.”

When the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced late on March 12 that it will suspend the leases it had already granted on 61 oil and gas parcels in Montana in order to mollify two obscure out-of-state environmental groups and a Helena outfit notorious for stopping business development, I felt as if I had taken the plunge down the hole to Wonderland myself. When the BLM explained that it needs to conduct further environmental analyses on the 61 parcels, likely in response to the plaintiffs’ claims that exploratory work in those areas would “contribute to climate change,” I knew I had arrived at the Mad Hatter’s party.

The oil and gas industry is one of the few business sectors that is actually adding jobs in Montana, and has been throughout this recession. The 61 oil and gas leases represent not only future jobs but also economic opportunities for the nearby communities that would benefit from energy development activities. Towns such as Lewistown, Big Timber, Sidney and Miles City need the employment and the revenues that Montana’s energy industry generates while producing essential energy.

Absurd fringe policy

We are still in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. Montana is struggling with unemployment and a budget deficit. The oil and gas industry creates jobs and pays taxes. Yet the federal government decided to stop exactly the types of business activities we need right now. The reasoning is far more absurd than that of the Mad Hatter: to reduce carbon emissions in areas like Garfield County — not exactly a densely populated area with air quality issues — and to placate the Colorado-based Wild Earth Guardians and their comrades who have made no bones about their intention to shut down energy development in Montana.

“We are fighting fossil fuels on a variety of fronts,” the fringe group proudly proclaims on its Web site. Sadly, they are fighting fossil fuels by killing domestic energy production and vitally needed energy jobs, while our government eagerly waves the white flag in court.

Probably most Montanans will never know about the Wild Earth Guardians’ latest victory. This is not as high-profile as their co-plaintiff’s (Montana Environmental Information Center) success in slowing down the leasing of the Otter Creek coal tracts and the construction of the Highwood power plant near Great Falls.

Energy-killing agenda

But I would guess that if you were to ask a resident of Jordan or Bainville if he or she feels it is more important to have jobs and school funding or to reduce the greenhouse gases in their counties, they would first of all not be aware of any air quality problems in areas that are known for their wide-open spaces. Secondly, they would probably put the interests of working people and schoolchildren ahead of the energy-killing agenda of the Wild Earth Guardians. Just a guess.

In the movie, the Mad Hatter is played to the hilt by Johnny Depp, who poses a riddle to Alice: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” and when she can’t guess he replies that he has no idea either. This is the same answer I received when I asked a government official when the “environmental studies” would be conducted on the stalled leases and when they would be complete.

Curiouser and curiouser, and very sad for our state.

Dave Galt of Helena is executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association.

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