High Desert Hoofbeats
Modern-day range war...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Mar 20, 2014 | 1356 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Environmental bickering over natural resource extraction near Moab has heated up over a pipeline project that began last month. But I’m not convinced it isn’t a lot of drama meant to malign legitimately permitted energy development.

The Big Flat, bisected by Highway 313, which travels out to Dead Horse Point and Island in the Sky, has long been a contentious area due to the many people who use it for sometimes similar, but more often different, purposes. Back in the cowboy days of the early 1900s, the Big Flat was like a Western civil war battleground for the various livestock owners who didn’t want to share the forage with other cattlemen. Carbon County author Tom McCourt’s 2010 book, “Last of the Robbers Roost Outlaws,” tells of the skirmishes that occurred, many of which were recorded in old issues of The Times-Independent.

Here we are a hundred years later and the user groups of today are as antagonistic as cattle ranchers were to sheep grazers and competing cow outfits a century ago. The juxtaposition of world-famous national and state parks close to oil, gas and potash development is a truly American example of multiple use practices on public lands. It’s also a source of friction that creates a modern-day range war.

Fidelity Exploration and Production Co., has a right-of-way permit on a 24-mile natural gas pipeline currently under construction to transport the natural gas that is a byproduct of its oil wells to a processing plant near Dubinky and Blue Hills roads. The project has come under recent criticism by self-proclaimed watchdog groups who allege that safety guidelines aren’t being followed by the company or enforced by the Bureau of Land Management. There is some speculation that ill will has been fueled by resentment about a non-union company working there.

Safety issues are legitimate concerns, but so far there is no hard evidence that any rules are being broken. As for the contractors working out there, I would like to think that non-union labor can work as well as union teams. I would also hope that non-union workers are as concerned about health and welfare standards as are their union counterparts.

I am a bit familiar with the Rangely, Colo., company that is working on the pipeline, and I’m guessing that the fickle energy economy is probably what brought the W.C. Striegel company to our neighborhood for work. That company is one of the biggest benefactors in Colorado’s Rio Blanco County, and has helped to build untold projects, including colleges and hospitals in western Colorado. Their safety record is open to public view.

The BLM has in place a compliance monitor whose job is to ensure that the terms and conditions of the pipeline project are being met. The agency is also interacting with the Utah Department of Commerce and a couple of federal agencies that monitor pipeline work. There are a lot of eyes on this project in addition to those who are seeing problems with it.

The Big Flat has been a promising energy source in addition to a vast playground for the myriad types of people who enjoy outdoor recreation. The state and national parks that perch at the edge of the Island in the Sky mesa are outdoor museums, preserved via state and federal laws with lengthy restrictions as to how they can be used. Their postcard vistas of the desert Southwest are world famous, which is what makes energy extraction near there such a sensitive issue.

People rightly get defensive about how the land should be protected. In this case, though, it seems that criticism of the project is rooted more in protest than in fact.

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