Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Grasshopper Infestation of 2008

The grasshopper infestation of 2008 is chewing up the land at a rate equal to the Bush administration’s oil and gas-drilling frenzy. It is non-stop, it is visibly apparent, and the devastation, nearly complete. Is there a halt in sight?

40,000 acres of State Trust land are on the leasing block for gas drilling in Mora and Colfax Counties. KHL, Inc. landman, Knute Lee, has been discussing this leasing with State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons.

This coming Tuesday, June 17th, at 11:00 a.m., at an advisory board meeting, Drilling Mora County, a group of concerned citizens, will deliver petitions asking Commissioner Lyons not to lease these state trust lands. During the public comment period, all New Mexico citizens can offer their opinion on what they think Commissioner Pat Lyons' responsibility to the state trust land and to the people should be.

The State Land Commissioner's sole purpose is to generate revenue for the New Mexico public schools. There is no environmental responsibility or higher authority to whom the Commissioner must answer while in this office. This gives an eerie autonomy to a person who tugs at the heart-strings of people who wish not only to enjoy these wilderness areas, but to ensure a high quality education for their children, as most funding for New Mexico schools comes from mineral leases on state trust lands.

But when places like Chaco Canyon and Whites Peak are up for lease for oil and gas drilling, the very outcry that education and sacred grounds and the last vestiges of wilderness are the two last straws to chose from, there is definitely something seriously wrong with this picture. Akin to William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, which do we choose? Who dies? The choice is between her young son and daughter. Our choice is our children’s education versus our state trust land. That was not a choice Sophie could live with. And neither is it a choice we can live with.

They tell us the situation is polarized, with only two options. But there must be other options. If we step outside the box and look at what is possible, we will find solutions. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. We now have reasons to develop new technologies—energy prices rising, coupled with the inescapable knowledge that our oil and gas reserves have peaked. These prices and the shortages might keep people at home more with their families, children, and neighbors. Maybe even evoke a return of the neighborhood community. This could be good.

If, however, we believe what we are told, that “we are in an energy crisis”, and “that we must drill, and we are un-American if we do not,” then we will continue to drill for the last drop available and continue to consume without reflection upon the devastation it is causing. But if we choose a different paradigm, and see that we have a grand opportunity in front of us to make a long needed change, we can have not only our children’s education and our wilderness and sacred sites, but oil and gas for future generations as well.

This will mean a choice. The current administration prefers a consumption paradigm; they would like us to continue to drive our gas-guzzling vehicles to put more profit into their coffers. Last year Exxon Mobil netted $1 million per 10 minutes according to a report last week on N.P.R. (6/4/08). That is $6 million every hour, $144 million every day. $52,560 million in net profit in 2007 from oil and gas revenues. Why, again, is the price of gas so high at the pump? But we can make choices, such as opting for conservation rather than consumption. We can choose to drive energy efficient vehicles. We can incorporate renewable energy into our homes and businesses. Solar is effective and dependable. Wind can supplement the energy grid, and compared to the devastation of oil and gas development, is a very acceptable renewable energy source.

How can we fund our kids’ educations in other ways? Perhaps a tax on vehicles that get fewer than 15 miles per gallon? We could reward those who do conserve and tax those who do not. Freedom is through choice. Democracy is about freedom. We can choose to see that we have an opportunity, or that we are under siege. It is our choice either way.

The Bush administration put a fast-track on coalbed methane and natural gas production this past decade. Water usage is enormous during these extractions—300,000 gallons of fresh drinking water to drill one gas well. On Ted Turner’s Ranch in Colfax County, coalbed methane extraction is causing a serious dewatering of the Raton Basin according to Gwen Lachelt of Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP). In a state where water is a fragile, yet plentiful resource if used wisely, we cannot afford the dewatering inevitably caused from oil and gas development. And besides, the resultant “gas” is not what is sold at the gas stations to fuel our cars. It is natural gas, not “gasoline.” The price at the pumps for gasoline will not be touched when these lands are devastated by the industrial development from oil and gas.

Gasoline prices at the pumps 35 years ago were 25 cents a gallon. Opec’s oil embargo in 1973 created shortages, and prices skyrocketed to $1.25. Today at $4.00 a gallon, gasoline at the pumps is still less expensive than a gallon of bottled drinking water. Which can we live without? Neither will go down in price, of that we are assured. Are we willing to dewater our land for oil and gas production rather than see that this “crisis” is an opportunity for us to make some creative changes in how we live?

Rather than join in the mad frenzy the oil and gas corporations and our current federal government present to us—the paradigm that promotes consumption—think of your dreams and your children’s dreams, and create a better world.