Burning Cathedrals for Firewood

From New Mexico Business Weekly

March 13 – 18

By Nathan Newcomer
Associate Director
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance 

As a fifth generation New Mexican and grandson of a roughneck oil worker, I know all about the benefits of oil and gas drilling, and I also know about the consequences to our environment, health, and future quality of life.

The debate over America’s future energy needs currently finds itself spiraling down a hole of misinformation and fear mongering. In a recent commentary by the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy, the level of propaganda displayed in this pro-drilling piece reached a pinnacle of disgust, worthy of strong repudiation.

As Sergeant Friday once said, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for public lands, both onshore and offshore in the United States, increased 361 percent. This is a staggering statistic that should not be overlooked when debating energy needs in this country.

The Bureau of Land Management has now issued over 28,776 permits to drill on public land. Yet today, only 18,954 wells have been actually drilled. In other words, 10,000 well permits have been stockpiled by the already cash-bloated oil and gas industry.

In addition to that, there is 47.5 million acres of onshore public land that is currently leased by oil and gas companies. Meanwhile, only 13 million of those acres are actually in production.

America cannot afford to stoop so low as to allow the oil and gas industry to drill the last, best, wild places left in the country like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or New Mexico’s Otero Mesa. Industry cries foul that land is locked up, while the facts show otherwise.

Just this past week, there are reports that vast fleets of supertankers, filled with oil, are parked offshore, anchors down and crew idling. Vast storage areas in the United States are swelling with crude because the world is demanding less oil, not more. Thus, oil companies and investors are stashing crude, waiting for demand to rise, perhaps to levels higher than the summer of 2008, so they can turn a large profit later.

In the broader context of energy development in America, the Energy Information Agency affirms that the United States possesses only 3 percent of the world’s total oil reserves, while Middle Eastern countries control roughly 64 percent. Likewise, according to a 2005 BP report “Statistical Review of World Energy,” the United States has just 2.9 percent of proven natural gas reserves.

Throughout the Bush administration years, domestic oil and gas drilling skyrocketed but we never saw the drop in prices at the pump or in our heating bills. At the same time oil companies were reaping record profits and bilking taxpayers, the administration continued to cut investment in conservation and renewable energy initiatives.

Since 2001 there has been a 65 percent increase in home energy prices, which was only exacerbated once the administration instituted a 40 percent cut to the Weatherization Assistance Program – a service designed to help low-wage workers and retirees on fixed incomes conserve energy by insulating their homes.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fiscal Year 2009 Budget for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy was slashed by 27 percent, while nuclear energy received a $385.5 million increase (37 percent increase from FY 08 appropriations) and fossil fuel energy received a $222.7 million increase (25 percent increase over FY 08 appropriations). While cuts need to be made in any budget, the extremes to which conservation and renewable energy have been slashed are a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach.

The attitude of drilling anywhere and everywhere is not making a real difference for the average citizen. In fact, this type of policy thinking and lobbying is outright dangerous and does a disservice to the American people. We must demand clear facts, comprehensible insight, and robust leadership on energy issues, not the cloudy and murky rhetoric of the oil industry.

Surely, in the words of the late David Brower, “we are not yet so desperate that we must burn our cathedrals for firewood.” Let us also not be so disillusioned as to drill the heart out of America when now is the time for all of us to find it in our own hearts to do the right thing for our country and environment.



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Contact Us

Coalition for Otero Mesa
Phone: (505) 843-8696 | Fax: (505) 843-8697
Email: oteromesa@yahoo.com
Contact us for more information about the Coalition for Otero Mesa, oil & gas development, or the ongoing effort to protect the last wild lands and open spaces in New Mexico.