Travel to the breathtaking Desolation Canyon of Utah, and you will find the legacy of John F. Seiberling. During his 16 years in Congress, the Akron Democrat protected millions of acres of wilderness, reflecting the obligation of one generation to the next in preserving the country’s natural heritage. He would be aghast at the Obama White House making way for Gasco Energy of Denver to begin drilling operations in the canyon, a plan calling for roughly 200 wells amid the gorgeous plateaus, mountains and waters.
Gasco launched its pursuit almost a decade ago, the George W. Bush team then putting the proposal on hold until 2010. The Environmental Protection Agency called for a better plan, one that put the fragile lands at far less risk. Yet the Interior Department recently unveiled an alternative approach that rates as worse in many ways, increasing by 50 percent the percentage of the wilderness land that would be disturbed.
To be sure, the White House feels the political pressure from increased gas prices, critics baying for domestic production, all in a presidential re-election year. Yet Desolation Canyon hardly is the place for the president to tap somehow an inner and expedient “drill, baby, drill.”
That is especially so, in view of the worthy options for both Gasco and the Seiberling legacy to prevail. One practical alternative involves lateral drilling, the operation removed from the wilderness yet substantial gas reserves still recovered. Unfortunately, discussions between Gasco and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance have not yielded the promising result.
This is the endpoint the feds should seek. Conservationists and drillers have joined elsewhere in Utah, with the West Tavaputs Plateau project in 2010 and Anadarko Petroleum in March.
Ohioans know well the economic value of rich natural gas deposits — and the necessity of environmental protection, striking a sensible and sensitive balance. Imagine the stakes with these magnificent lands at risk. This is a moment for the president and his team to recalculate. There is no urgency to drill in Desolation Canyon, lower natural gas prices mirroring the ample supply. Further, there is what John Seiberling stressed: Once such lands are spoiled, there is no going back.