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.