Luke Schafer: Statistics are not the issue

On October 4, the Craig Daily Press reported that the Moffat County Commission disputed Gov. Bill Ritter's use of the term "2 percent" in referring to Vermillion Basin. The governor made it clear that he was referring to the percentage of the Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake Resource Area's overall acreage in the Vermillion Basin, which is 2 percent. This is not in dispute.

But the real debate should not be over what small percentage of potential gas resources may or may not lie under Vermillion Basin. The real question relates to the simple notion of right and wrong. Is it right to bulldoze swaths of land in an area that remains in relatively the same condition as it did 1,000 years ago? Is it wrong to question whether destroying the character of one of the West's last wild places is worth it? I don't believe it is. In fact, I believe that by not asking those questions we are doing a great disservice to not only ourselves, but to our children and grandchildren as well.

In February of this year, The Wilderness Society released a study regarding the potentially recoverable gas resources in Vermillion Basin. This report stated that Vermillion Basin contained roughly 630 billion cubic feet of natural gas, which equates to enough gas to supply the U.S.'s energy needs for a paltry 10 days. Vermillion Basin's oil resources are even more minuscule with just 102 thousand barrels or 7.5 minutes worth of oil. The methodology that produced these results is the same that has been utilized by both the natural gas industry and government scientists.

If Vermillion Basin and the other six citizen-proposed wilderness areas in the Little Snake Resource Area - amounting to only six percent of the land base - were protected from oil and gas drilling, less than five percent of the Little Snake area's gas resources and less than one percent of the oil resources would be placed off-limits, leaving the vast majority of these resources open to development. Why are the commissioners arguing with the governor over this tiny five percent - isn't the potential to develop 95 percent of the gas resources enough?

Furthermore, while Vermillion Basin deservedly receives a large amount of the attention regarding BLM's Resource Management Plan Revision, the future of the Little Snake region's important resources are also at stake in this plan. The Little Snake Resource Area is home to more than two-thirds of Colorado's greater sage grouse population, a bird that has seen its habitat shrink as natural gas development has exploded across the West.

This plan will provide management guidance on how development will occur in its dwindling sage brush habitat. The future of the big game herds that make this area so special, and provide Moffat County with nearly $30 million in yearly economic benefits, also is at stake in this plan. The decision on whether three spectacular stretches of the Yampa River, the lifeblood of this valley, will be protected as Wild and Scenic River segments will also be decided. These resources and values, along with the special places such as Vermillion Basin, provide us with clean air and water, spectacular vistas, and the quality of life that so many of us enjoy.

The issue at hand isn't about a single-digit number or the minor differences of opinion between various gas estimates. The issue at hand is what we want our land to be like in the future. Do we develop resources in a responsible and sustainable manner while protecting the special places and values that makes this area so unique? Or do we roll the dice, hope the boom comes and pray that our way of life doesn't disappear? That is the question that we are facing and will continue to face.

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