David Moss: A fictionalized account as food for thought

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This is a story of two attendees at a meeting concerning the drilling of an oil and gas well. The first attendee moved to Steamboat Springs 10 years ago after a very successful career elsewhere. He chose Steamboat, like many others, for the natural beauty of the area. After 10 years, he considers himself a local. His God is the environment, and as such, he drives a Chevy Volt.

The second attendee is a rancher. He was born in the valley and his family first moved here in 1912. His grandfather bought a small ranch and, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, managed to put together the current ranch, which comprises more than 1,000 acres of privately owned land.

As the first attendee drives to the meeting, he is somewhat self-righteous about the fact that his car does not emit any pollution. He does not think about the carbon dioxide and other gases emitted by the Hayden Station power plant when he plugged his car in for the six hours to recharge its battery. Rather, he wonders how anyone who loves the valley could think about despoiling it by allowing a “Big Oil Company” to come in, destroy a beautiful area with a well pad and remove the hated fossil fuel. Fortunately, the environment has disciples like himself to stop such madness. If he considers private property rights at all, he is sure that the protection of the environment trumps those rights. Fortunately, the county government has the power to stop the madness and protect the valley. He gives thanks that it has this power.

As the rancher begins his drive into town, he thinks about many things. He is sure that his grandfather and father would support his lease to the oil company. The lease bonus payment helped him get the ranch through yet another financial rough patch a few years ago when he signed it. The proposed well will disturb a very small area of the ranch and for only a short period of time. The potential royalties will allow his one son who wants to keep the ranch to do so for another generation. The other kids might be able to go to college and out into the world without student loans. He chuckles to himself that if he has his own oil well, maybe he can afford the fuel to run the ranch.

As usual, he checks the cows on the winter feeding ground as he passes. The rancher thanks his God (again) for a mild winter and hopes the dry weather holds for the calving season. Last year was bad as the heavy snow and late spring claimed many of his calves and any profits for the year. He does think about a late-winter storm, water for the summer and a bad fire season. He thinks that the nice thing about being a rancher is that there is always something to worry about.

As the rancher approaches town, he wonders if his father and grandfather are rolling over in their graves. With private property rights, the ranch was in their hands. Their stewardship, along with that of their neighbors, is what kept the valley as it is for the last hundred years. They all loved and cared for the land. Most of the attendees at the meeting will not remotely understand the work and sacrifice involved. To have the fate of his oil well in the hands of government officials with input from many others who claim “ownership” of the valley without any legal basis drives the rancher nuts. He thinks about the old days when all his grandfather and father had to fight was the weather, the predators and the prices. They would have been able to lease the land for oil without any input from anyone, especially the government.

The rancher settles into a seat in the front row next to the Volt owner. As the room fills, he nods to a few of his neighbors who are there to support him and his private property rights. He notes that he does not know many of the other attendees. This is another change the last 20 years has brought to the valley. The other attendees are dressed like the Volt owner, not ranchers.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners calls the meeting to order.

David Moss is a resident of Clark.

Comments

Fred Duckels 2 years ago

RIght on David, The Volt owners are there to let the commissioners know their fate if they side with the rancher. Next, they will be running for office to protect their quality of life. Sad but true.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

Well said David, There was a time when having a say-so required a vested interest.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

David, Based on the actual comments at the meetings, you captured some ranchers accurately. Based on comments at the meetings, you probably also captured some of those ranchers' views of O&G opponents, in your fiction of the Volt owner.

Your rancher has a life and responsibilities. He has kids to look after. Livestock to tend through rough conditions again. The oil and gas royalties are going to save the ranch and pay college educations. Or not.

The real fiction is your stereotype of the people you obviously don't like. The ones expressing concern about air and water quality. In your fiction they have no life, make no contribution, have no children to be concerned for, no stake in this valley, but are certainly self righteous and hypocrites. They are newcomers, flatly dismissing the ranchers' property rights. Based on the comments at the meetings David, this stereotype lives only in your head.

You could write what people are actually saying. You could write some truth or fact. Instead you choose to venture only your prejudice via an insulting fiction?

A related letter precedes yours by a day. Its from Bob Enever, calling for stricter regulation of the O&G industry. Safe to say David, your writing needs both a reality check and a bit more class.

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jerry carlton 2 years ago

Very good writing, humorous, and basically I am for the rancher. However I have one question. Does the rancher have a conservation easement paid for by excessive taxes on the Chevy Volt owner and us other newcomers {15 years} that drive gasoline cars because we can not afford a Chevy Volt?

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Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Hear about the story of another family rancher? A similar story of a longtime family ranch wondering if the new neighbor that bought a few years ago whose main business of apps for Nokia phones is tanking so the guy now went for maximum money with driller that does not seem too concerned with water and air quality. And so the longtime rancher is on the way to a county meeting to argue that county has good environmental regulations on drilling projects to protect his family ranch.

This issue is not the ranchers with property vs residents of SB. It is people near drilling operations worried about water and air quality. Sure there are some people opposed to drilling in all cases. Just as there are people that support drilling without any regulations. But what is important is reality where Routt County is working towards appropriate environmental regulations for this county.

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Fred Duckels 2 years ago

Hey Steve,

The environmental movement's wishes are to eliminate fossil fuels period. Presently they are finding rouigh sledding at all levels. Locally we have this group probing to penetrate for local control over such matters. Sounds apple pie enough but the enviros hope to use the "foot in the door" approach to wreak as much havoc as posible with fossils and our economy. Steve, You and Bob are in the process of strenghtening local control for your own ends, using local "concern" for the goals of the movement.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

Fred, By your logic, Boulder County, Longmont and Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Erie, Aurora, Arapahoe County, Douglas County, Elbert County and El Paso County also want to eliminate fossil fuels.

Perhaps you are wrong. Got any facts to support your fears?

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George Fargo 2 years ago

David, I think your fictional rancher does not really exist anymore (unfortunately). If he does, the number in Routt County can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

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Jeremy Johnston 2 years ago

That rancher exists and does just fine with what he has and is sure his grandfather would care more about safe drinking water than a extra couple thousand a year.

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Fred Duckels 2 years ago

Steve, Gov. Hick is taking his stance for a reason and it is certainly not to appease his backers. Local control is "apple pie" and who could argue against it? Most of the folks are well meaning but in their midst, is your ilk, looking to use this foothold as a springboard to mucho regulations to enact your own cap and trade that will not pass conventional channels.

It is noteworthy that in todays paper we have an article by Peter Leavitt that we are not able to comment on. Is this the Pilot's official view? God help us.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

Fred, It is very simple - Local control is good for Routt County. Don't you agree?

Darn, you saw through my actual comments to that other, never spoken reality. I am jedi. The force is strong in you! OK, I'll remove the blocks on your internet account tomorrow.

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kevin fisher 2 years ago

David-

Howzabout the rancher who doesn't have to worry about paying for college because he just a piece of his acreage to those dressed as Volt owners for a healthy sum? What about when the same rancher then puts in a gravel pit right by said owners. Additionally, what about the fact that now drilling has come to town, the same rancher smiles smugly at the fact that he separated the mineral rights in said sale and intends to proceed with drilling in those same people's backyards, in a visual corridor, on a ridgeline?

I guess my real question is: when does this/do these minority ranchers, many of whom have profited tidily off of the earnings of those buffoon Volt owners, recognize the rights of their majority fellow citizens? Certainly, Routt County's ag heritage is why we are all here in the first place and is a facet of our community that should be well-preserved. However, the times they are-a-changin. We are now a dynamic, diverse community. And, like it or not, our collective futures rest in the health of our tourism-based economy. To mock, ridicule and coerce those who look to protect the aesthetic and ecologic beauty of this special place is self-serving and short-sighted.

I very strongly support the individual rights of property owners. However, when the decisions made by those owners may affect the rest of the community, there is a place for regulatory oversight. Hence, the Routt County Building Department, Planning Department, etc, etc.

Domestic oil and gas exploration is not just an energy issue, it is a national security issue. That does not, however, mean we should not proceed with their extraction in a cautious, conscientious manner. Those fossil fuels have been there for millennia, they aren't going anywhere.

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Fred Duckels 2 years ago

Steve, When local control is used as a political tool I am in agreement with your governor.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

As a libertarian I favor keeping as much government control at the county level as possible; most no higher than state level; and very little at the federal level. Therefore I can not object to assertions of people like Kevin Fisher or Steve Lewis or Jeremy Johnston on allowing at least a reasonable amount of local control of energy extraction regulations. At least not on the grounds of the merits of local VS federal or state control. (the term 'reasonable" to be debated another time)

However, I do find it more than little bit ammusing and even hypocritical that so called environmentally concerned individuals, typically making up the far left politically, are now wanting county level government to correct a percieved wrong which alledgedly originates from the state and federal level. Has it not been customary for the far left to crush local guidance using the power found at "higher" levels? Here we have the very deacons, bishops and elders of the Steamboat Springs branch of The Church of Higher Government advocating for us little 'ole county folks to correct a supposed disasterous, heavy-handed, and environmentally destructive decision handed down by their "Vatican".

It just don't get no better than that, Hmmmm?

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Scott Wedel 2 years ago

The important distinction is not between state vs local control. We have seen no shortage of stupid local rules where locals push their particular vision of architecture onto property owners and so local control is not some ideal of wisdom. Out of town property owners in Oak Creek have recently fought to repeal a particularly stupid ordinance that attempted to make property owners liable for tenant's electric bills and later had to resort to a petition approved for the ballot before they fixed their land use code to allow something other than retail on Main St where less than half of the buildings were retail.

The important point of distinction where planning should get involved is when the plans of one property owner is a direct, identifiable threat to neighboring properties.

A drilling operation certainly can threaten a neighbor's groundwater and so on. Thus, for that activity to occur should involve planning ensuring preventive steps so it doesn't damage the neighbor's water and so on.

Whether or not Wildhorse has proper false dormer windows on their roofs is planning via local control going off the deep end. The trouble with local control is that the people that chose to serve on planning almost always have an agenda of what they like. And there are not enough people with enough resources at the local level to consistently fight the little napoleons that are attracted to planning boards.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

The philosophy behind local controls, I think, is: 1) Locals can overcome the would-be napoleons if they ban together easier than they can overcome the feds. 2) You can always leave a community and move down the road to a like-minded community... like Oak Creek. hee hee hee BUT You can't leave the state or the nation quite as easily.

While those of us on the losing end of ridiculous local rules/ decisions might suffer, local control, with all its shortcommings is still better in most cases.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

We are all napoleons, telling our version of the best path. Some just do it at the meetings where these decisions are made. Those meetings usually have some facts supporting each decision.

It would be useful to find some consistent, rational philosophies. Good starts above. I would rather avoid discussing stupid ideas at the fringe, such as dormers or sidewalk widths. A core question would be what Scott and Kevin mentioned - the interests of the commons vs. the interests of the individual.

Libertarians might lean far toward the latter, but I suspect a group of Libertarians, made supreme, would leave most of our laws and codes intact.

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Scott Wedel 2 years ago

My point about local control is that local control is no panacea. That oil and gas drilling left to operate on local control would result in no regulations in some areas and being banned in others. That is not a reasonable situation to expect drillers to operate.

That state regulations would be fine if they were appropriate and well designed. The problem is that state regulations picked a one size fits all despite the very different situations of some rural counties with very remote drill sites compared to more urban counties with nearby neighbors. State would have been better served to have allowed a range of local control suitable for rural and more urban drilling sites.

That flaring off some gas during drilling might make sense in some very remote drill site where the alternative of hauling it back would be cost prohibitive, but irresponsible when in the middle of a suburban neighborhood or in areas already with EPA air quality issues. Just as the impact of contaminating groundwater is far higher when the occasional contamination could arguably be cleaned up miles before it reaches another property vs having close neighbors that would be forced to haul water.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

A group of libertarians, by definition, would not allow themselves to be made supreme.

Much to the consternation of the group thinkers out there, it is the individual who is supreme.

Check out the ridiculous laws on this video. If you think libertarians would leave these kinds of laws on the books you're crazy. www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBiJB8YuDBQ>

Didn't you practically have a breakdown the last time I tried to probe some of your inconsistent philosophies, Lewi?

Pot...Kettle, me thinks.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

Scott, This evening Routt County Planning Commission recommended the down gradient groundwater monitoring well be close to the Cameletti wellpad (about 300 ft) vs half a mile away and 1/4 mile from Milner. Seems common sense to catch any contamination issue closer to the well. There are many existing wells to test close by Milner.

I disagree with any venting or flaring of gases this close to Milner. If they can capture it, they should. Several counties have the higher standards, so it can be done. The industry dragging its feet on gas emissions reminds me of the Hayden power plant being forced, in court, to scrub its emissions. A step no one would reverse, once achieved.

Mark, I disagreed with the straw men. Who wants to waste time defending and correcting fiction. If you are right, focusing attention elsewhere shouldn't be necessary.

I don't follow your consistency critique above. Some topics such as immigration, suffrage and civil rights cannot be really addressed at the local level. I would add pollution standards to that list, but would allow local jurisdictions to exceed them. Its a choice that Moffat and Routt will view differently. Viewing civil or women's rights differently between the counties or states seems wrong. Why should these be treated the same as well standards?

What would a group of libertarians change here? If it becomes established that oil and gas development are deteriorating environment and health in Weld County, how would Weld libertarians react? Much different than me?

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Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Steve, Did anyone say why it isn't economical to capture the gases instead of flaring them off? Especially near Milner which is not that remote.

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Steve Lewis 2 years ago

Scott. I doubt its more economical to capture the gases. Some of the emission might become fuel with processing.

Basically its pollution. Some of planning commission have said we have extra "carrying capacity" for more pollution in Routt County. In my view we are trading temporary pockets of very bad air, and overall Routt County air quality, as a subsidy to Quicksilver profits.

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