Jan 142013
 
Last Friday I had the opportunity to address a room full of eager tar sands and oil shale developers, state government energy officials, and at least one state Senator. It was the last “Unconventional Fuels” breakout session at the Governors Energy Development Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The topic of the breakout seemed to be “Whining about the National Environmental Protection Act and Those That Dare Oppose the Fossil Fuel Industry.” From where I was sitting in the back,  it was a sea of shiny, balding white scalps looking up at some shiny, balding white foreheads. They should have passed out sun glasses. Anyway,
There was one environmentalist on the panel. Rob Dubuc, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates (who represents my organizations parent nonprofit Living Rivers in legal challenges to U.S. Oil Sands’ mining permits), had the guts to get up and say “I know I’m in Utah, and a lot of you don’t believe in climate change, but a lot of people, including the protesters you’ve been seeing, do believe in climate change, and they have the resources to really get in your way, so you should listen to what they have to say.”
Nice, man. I clapped. And posted on the social networks. But, what DID we have to say? I wasn’t planning on speaking, but I couldn’t leave it hanging like that. Since I was there alone, and no one was recording, I now only remember what I was trying to say. The following contains the sentiment, with “ums” and sentence fragments removed:
“I think there’s a misconception that those who are opposed to the development of unconventional fuels are a willfully blind minority. That we’re a nuisance that just gets in the way. It could seem like that in Utah or in rooms like this. The truth is, we are in the vast majority of critically thinking laypeople, and choose to follow the advice of those who are experts in climate and weather, and whose careers depend upon performing unbiased analysis and reaching defensible conclusions.
The people in this room want to make money by feeding oil into the oil-based economic engine. Makes sense. Someone’s going to do it–might as well be you. So I think it’s fair to say that if the economy were solar, wind, and geothermal energy-based, you’d likely be trying to make money in that industry. Why isn’t this the case? Because the fossil fuel industry is good at keeping change at bay.
If we seem to be obstructionists using NEPA to sabotage honest entrepreneurs because we love trees and sage grouse, I’d encourage you to think again. We are concerned about the impacts that climate change will have on our children and the global ecosystem that you rely upon as much as we do–and we are disillusioned by the lack of leadership in our state and federal governments to incentivize you to seek your riches in less deadly ways.
No matter how “green” your new approaches to these resources might be relative to techniques used in the past, by participating in the development of unconventional fossil fuels, you are taking a leading role in the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. You must destroy land, water, and air to create profit for your shareholders.

Unlike many of you, we are not seeking opportunity for ourselves.

At the core of our misunderstanding, you mistake our deep sense of responsibility and determination with unreasonableness.
Feel free to comment if you thing I left something out. And send an email while you’re here, for pete’s sake.