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Kevin Grandia

Kevin Grandia

Posted: February 24, 2010 03:36 PM

Bill Barrett Corp's Sweet Deal to Drill the Rocky Mountains

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In the dying days of Bush Jr.'s administration there was a massive sell off of untouched Colorado Rocky Mountain wilderness for oil and gas drilling that only a lame-duck President would have the guts to undertake.

As the Times described the land grab at the time:

"What we are really seeing, though, is the last gasp of the Cheney drill-now, drill-everywhere energy strategy; one last favor to the oil and gas drillers and the off-road vehicle enthusiasts before a more conservation-minded president (both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have far better records than Mr. Bush) comes to town."

Many of these deals remain on the books.

If you've never heard of a company called Bill Barrett Corporation (NYSE: BBG), I wouldn't blame you. Barrett is a Colorado-based natural gas company that is planning to drill up to 3,000 natural gas wells in an area of the Colorado Rockies called the Roan Plateau. Much like Barrett, the Roan is one of those places you have never hear of unless you are a local. One of those hidden gems that us city-dwellers always dream of escaping to.

A few years ago, the Bush administration undertook a process through the Bureau of Land Management to make land like the Roan in Colorado and other large swaths in Utah available for drilling.

This is the same Bureau of Land Management that has been embroiled in controversy for its cozy relationship with the energy industry and willingness to grant drilling licenses near national parks and protected areas.

Despite major opposition from residents, including local government officials like then-Colorado Senator Ken Salazar and his brother Rep. John Salazar (D-CO), the Roan drilling plan was granted approval in August, 2008 to the Barrett Corporation, who now is looking to make Swiss cheese out of the region.

Why should you care?

First off, natural gas drilling is not the clean and green "game changer" T. Boone Pickens would like us all to think. Natural gas doesn't just bubble to the surface when you drill down a well, it involves the injection of thousands of gallons of chemicals into the ground in a process called hydraulic fracking. These chemicals and the fracking process leaves a trail of devastation. You needn't go much further than the new award-winning documentary Gas Land to see what I mean.

Fracking is also conveniently exempt from the Clean Water Act under what is commonly referred to as the "Halliburton Loophole."

A more straightforward reason to care about the Roan is best explained by Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, a (former?) opponent to the project, who stated last year in a Men's Journal article that:

"The Roan is one of those treasured landscapes of America... a place where we have fish and wildlife resources, beautiful streams; I think there are ways in which the gas could be developed that are more sensitive to the environmental values of the plateau."

While Salazar has reversed similar plans in Utah since becoming Secretary of the Interior, he has yet to budge on the Roan. A lawsuit launched by environmental groups and locals is the only thing now that can stop the Roan drilling from going ahead.

Unless of course, the story of this little-known place in the Rockies and the little-known company planning to drill it is told loudly and repeatedly. Politicians will perk up, trust me, they always do in an election year.

 

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