Carbon County letter writer misuses information to make false arguments

I want to call your attention to a letter to the editor published in last week’s Carbon County News. It’s a great example of how people can completely misuse information to make false arguments.

You can read the letter here. The author’s main point is that a person who advocated against fracking two years ago, and who later had to be rescued after he was injured on the Beartooth Plateau, owes his survival to the fossil fuel industry.

I’m not making this up. Read it yourself.

This is a frequent refuge for those who believe that communities should do the bidding of oil and gas operators. I get a lot of comments on this site that go something like this, “If you hate oil and gas so much, you should stop driving a car,” or, “If you really believe the things you write, you should stop using all petroleum products.”

The intent of these people is to point out what they feel is the hypocrisy of those who want to protect their property, health and livelihoods by regulating oil and gas drilling.

They see the proposition as all or nothing. Either accept what the oil and gas companies do, or, as this letter writer suggests, go back to the days of Hugh Glass, the protagonist in The Revenant. Again, not making this up.

An oil rig in Carbon County today. Click to enlarge

An oil rig in Carbon County today. Click to enlarge

This, of course, is a false choice, and this letter writer, who has been active in Carbon County government, knows better. Nobody along the Beartooth Front is advocating an outright ban on drilling in the area. However, many recognize the need to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy as quickly as possible.

This is necessary to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and it’s also a market reality. As solar, wind and other technologies take hold, coal, oil and gas will become less necessary. This won’t happen immediately, but those of you who are alive in 2050 will see a completely different energy landscape, with a proliferation of rooftop solar and electric cars, and high percentages of energy generated off the grid. The market has already spoken on this — two of the four Colstrip coal plants will be closed within ten years.

Solar installation at Red Lodge Ales

Solar installation at Red Lodge Ales

What people and organizations along the Beartooth Front are advocating is not a ban, but local regulations that protect their properties in ways that federal and state law do not, such as:

  • Mandated minimum distances, or setbacks, of wellheads from occupied residences, schools and hospitals.
  • Regular testing of fresh water near wells to determine if contamination has occurred.
  • Regular testing of air near wells to determine if there are high levels of methane or other chemicals that create health risks for humans and animals.
  • Well design specifications to make sure that concrete casings do not leak, and so that produced water is disposed of safely.

That’s very different from a drilling ban. This is just people wanting to protect themselves from the frequent and well-documented potential damage from drilling. The reason that this is so critical now is that  improvements in fracking and horizontal drilling technologies are bringing drilling closer to where people live.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the area near Belfry. Oil companies have been drilling in the Elk Basin field on the Wyoming border south of Belfry for a century. But the well recently proposed in the Silvertip area was miles from Elk Basin and down the hill in an untouched community of small farms and ranches. Again, the letter writer knows better, yet pretends that companies are “look(ing) for oil in a place oil had been found and utilized for over 100 years.” It’s not the same place, and the impacts would be far different.

Elk Basin Gusher, 1917. Photo: American Heritage Center

Elk Basin Gusher, 1917. Photo: American Heritage Center

Oil prices will go up again, and that will likely make it profitable to drill in previously undisturbed areas along the Beartooth Front. It is the responsible thing for local communities to make regulations to protect themselves when that happens.

Reasonable people don’t waste time making false arguments and belittling their neighbors. They work together as community to do the right thing.

The long history of oil drilling in Elk Basin explains why local zoning is necessary
Third edition of fracking compendium includes over 100 new studies on the risks of fracking
Frequently Asked Questions about the Silvertip citizen-initiated zone
A visit to the front in the war on rural America
We’ve reached a tipping point: there are now more solar jobs than oil jobs

View Preserve the Beartooth Front video:

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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