Do You Care About Energy Exploration Near Our National Parks?

Key: Red, designated tar sands areas; pink, national parks; blue, oil shale potential; orange, wilderness/wilderness study areas; light brown, national monuments. Source: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

As energy prices creep steadily higher, there's a growing segment of America that believes short-term relief can literally be tapped from fossil-fuel resources in the Western states. But many of those resources are found on public lands that buffer national parks, national wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas, and their development could have dire consequences for those landscapes.

Still, energy companies and more than a few politicians are clamoring for greater energy development in the West, from tapping the coal, oil, and natural gas fields in Montana and Wyoming to the oil shale and tar sands deposits buried beneath southwestern Wyoming, Utah, and western Colorado and to the oil beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

But development of these resources carry more than a few impacts. Already there have been concerns expressed about how development of the massive Jonah Gas Field in southwestern Wyoming will or already is impairing air quality over Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and impact wildlife corridors that animals from those parks utilized.

Then, too, there have been fears expressed about how oil shale and tar sands development could tarnish the landscapes around Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. Such developments would require massive amounts of water and, some believe, generate two-and-a-half more greenhouse gases than traditional oilfield development does.

And then, of course, there are the analysts who say there's no way we can sate our energy hunger with domestic resources. Here's a snippet from a fact sheet compiled by The Wilderness Society:

At current consumption levels, U.S. resources are inadequate to achieve energy independence. The United States contains 2.5 % of the world's oil resources and 3% of world natural gas resources. But we account for 24% of total world consumption of oil and 22% of natural gas consumption. Opening more areas to drilling in the U.S. can never make us less dependent on foreign oil or natural gas. The only way we will ever reduce our dependency is to reduce our consumption.

Yet in spite of these dire predictions of environmental degradation and the analysts' opinions that the proposed developments would not solve our current energy plight either in the short- or long-term, more and more Americans seem to favor drilling our way to lower energy costs, conservation of energy or natural resources be damned. Here's the bottom line from a national survey the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted late last month:

Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy - rather than protecting the environment - is the more important national priority.

The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 18-29 among 2,004 adults, also finds that half of Americans now support drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, up from 42% in February.

What's shocking about this report, at least to me, is not only the overall trend, but which demographic groups are moving into the "drill for our salvation" camp: "Young people, liberals, independents, Democrats, women and people who have attended college," according to the Pew survey.

You can find the rest of the survey here.

The Traveler is interested in your thoughts on this issue. Does this survey reflect your beliefs? Are our domestic energy resources a panacea for the current energy crisis? Or, should we as a nation be more focused on researching and developing alternative energy sources, both to preserve our public lands and to try to stem anthropogenic contributions to climate change?

What about conservation of our national parks and other federal lands? Would you mind if they suffered from greater energy exploration as long as the price of gas went down a nickel or dime and you saved $10-$25 a year on your heating bills? Do you care what future generations think of our conservation practices?


more drilling won't completely solve the problem but I am in favor of responsible exploration.

With our energy usage, it is impossible to drill our way out of the energy crunch. Facts are facts and I do not want to destroy what makes our natural world so wonderful to get the costs down a few pennies at the pump ! I do not want to live in a world devoid of beautiful natural settings with its wildlife.

Logic tells us two things. First, we have to learn to conserve (if we have continued the push to increase auto fuel economy after the crunch in the 1070s, we would be much better off today....why are standard light bulbs still you really need a 5,000 + sf house). Secondly, we have to develop renewables that will not destroy our environment and our way of life. Somewhere in the United States 24 hours a day, 7 ways a week the sun is either shining or the wind is blowing and the tides are always moving.

Too many people hear just what they want to believe without listening to the facts. If we completely destroyed Alaska, Montana & Wyoming (heaven forbid !), it would be 8-10 years before we felt the small, short-term effects. Short-term solutions are not the solution. We need to buy into clean, renewable energy right now ! Solar, wind, hydrogen, tidal movement electric generation. It will not be cheap but it will be renewable and it will clean up our air & water without increasing our food costs and destroying some of the most beautiful places on our earth.

We sent a man to the moon people, the United States of American can do this ! We can develop new methods without destroying our environment and our way of life ! We must do this NOW ! This is is solution I want......This is the solution I demand !

The harsh fact is it will take decades to develop truly reliable alternative energy solutions that meet our needs, even with conservation. The goal should be to reduce fossil fuel use, for sure, but there are no clear-cut solutions.

Wind farms run into NIMBY-ism. Solar is a poor source of electricity (it's more useful for hot water generation, which is not where the research dollars are going). Nuclear is a great answer, but obviously has it's own risks. Hydroelectric power causes its own environmental damage. Harnessing tides is a great idea, but will take decades to properly build out. Conservation can only take us so far.

Solving our energy problems requires a mutli-pronged "attack", it's naive to think that we can only solve it with alternative fuels, at least in the short term. We have to allow responsible drilling.

Of course, the current administration has been anything BUT responsible ...


My travels through the National Park System:

Isn't ironic when the Bush & Cheney regime is due to leave office the gas prices go convenient! Now, it's all out massive attempt and assault by this corrupt administration to explore some of the worlds most pristine and sacred places called our National Parks...for what...more oil? If this is allowed to happen, either it be off the coast of California, or near the national parks in Alaska, Montana or Wyoming, I assure you the parks are doomed. These oil executives live in there little shangrila's, or in some peacock ranch afar from all this smoke, haze and pollution that most Americans suffer each day. They could careless about are visual quest for more beauty in our National Parks. They are completely oblivious to are suffering and economic demise. Do you really think they care or give a damn if they ruin our National Parks in the name of Big Oil? Hell no! To drill near, or in our National Parks is a well executed ploy by the Bush & Cheney administration to give "Big Oil" it's last huge gulp of windfall profits. God forbid!

Lifestyle changes that are advocated by Ed Begley's, Lifeboat Foundation is a format and guide that can help us all to live more sensibly and harmoniously with are environment. No more hummers or big McDonald's homes that can burn enough energy that can light up a small city in India. Are piggish lifestyle must go and the time is now. Let's start pushing "Big Oil" out of the equation and start putting alternative energy back on the drawing boards with urgency.
Time is no longer on are side!

Alternative energies ARE ALREADY HERE AND VIABLE. I keep hearing about the cost, which is certainly more than the cost of traditionally subsidized energy sources. But if you remove those old subsidies, or add on similar subsidies to alternative energy production, then the cost different disappears and depending on who you talk to, may in fact reverse itself.

Conservation is something we can do right here, right now. Conservation "produces" more energy than any of the proposals for drilling, etc. I keep hearing how we need to drill now because alt energy sources are still a decade out. What you never hear is that the traditional sources that corporations want to drill right now won't produce any energy for at least as long!

More traditional energy production now is simply short-sighted and stupid.

I read an interesting proposal not too long ago for solar farms out in Nevada... I am all for exploring the potential of the solar farms that Germany seems to making such great strides with before I am for drilling and mining. If Germany can do it with great success... why can't we? Granted, solar farms will have an impact as well on the environment, but prehaps not as bad as tearing up the earth in a quest for fossil fuels!

We need to preserve our beautiful Parks, but we've got to be smart about it. If we don't become energy self-sufficient soon, we are going to become slaves to all of of our current energy suppliers. Once we're in THEIR control, you can be sure THEY will drill wherever they want (including IN our Parks) and we won't be able to do anything about it.

We already have the Chinese drilling off our coasts. How do feel about THAT?

So more drilling in the US bu US companies will stop THEM from taking over OUR land?!?! How does that make any sense? We will never be energy self-sufficient as the simple fact is as a country we use more energy than we could ever find within our national borders. The only solution is alternative energy. I think the recent increase in oil is exactly what we need and deserve. Hopefully this drives us more quickly to alternative energy. We all knew this was coming, but most chose to ignore it and more idiots bought pickup trucks so they could pick up milk and a loaf of bread. I laugh at those people and I hope gas goes to $10 a gallon within the next two years. Maybe at some point 'cheap' plastic will stop being 'cheap' and we'll move away from all the disposable packaging and products we use today. Think back to the 'old' days when things might have cost a little more, but they lasted a lot longer. How much oil would we save then?

We need to become energy independent and need to do it soon. The reason we are in this predicament is due to the people who yelled to stop exploration in this country over the past 10-20 years and yelled about the building of additional nuclear plants. I like the national parks as much as the next person does, but what if nobody can afford to go to them because energy is too expensive? I think too many people are very much idealists when it comes to energy and think alternative energy will solve everything and that it can be done at the snap of a finger. Those of us that are realists believe that some day, those alternatives will be useful, but until then, lets get going on what we know works. For the guy who hopes gas goes to $10 per gallon, I hope his job does not depend on people using enegry to buy his product. He has a real soft heart for all of those people that cannot decide whether to buy food or buy gas. Maybe all the people who think we should not drill or not build nuclear plants would like to ride horses and read by candlelight like we did in the 1800's.

I want to point out that solar energy farms are not viable for electricity generation and pose real hazards of their own to the environment. The electrical output per acre of solar panels is surprisingly small, so to meet the energy needs of a city like New York you'd need a tremendous amount of land surface, greater than the size of the city itself. That would mean filling up all the parks and open spaces, and clear-cutting forested areas to make room for the panels. That would be a significant amount of environmental damage, far greater than drilling using modern techniques. Solar is really only useful for hot water generation, which would be a significant contribution, but it's not a panacea.

Every non-petroleum based energy alternative presents its own risk for the environment and the health of the National Parks. That's just the truth of the matter.


My travels through the National Park System:

Oil is sold on a global market. The oil found in our country is NOT sold to us at a discount because it was found here. Any oil found through more exploration will never be enough to offset the increased usage in China, India and Brazil. Think back to China 5-10 years ago, the cities were jammed with bicyclists, but today there streets are crowded with more cars than our own.

If gas prices did miraculously decrease people would just start to drive more. Come on people, no matter how much oil we find it is a FINITE resource and no matter how much of the environment we destroy looking for more, someday we will have to do without it. Why not start to pay the piper now instead of selfishly delaying the inevitable for our kids and grand kids to deal with?

I get the feeling from this blog, there's few individuals would rather see us drown in Big Oil (at the whims of oil executives) then give up frivolous style changes. I see a bit of propaganda for oil exploration off are coastal waters...even when ninety percent of are coastal fringes are dying from heavy pollution. Folks, the oceans are showing strong signs sulfuric acid poisoning. It's easy to find this written material in most science and nature magazines at your local news stand. Now, if you read these articles, it's most distressing and alarming. To drill into are coastal waters is pure nonsense and foolhardy. Most oil executives know this, but it's the corporate dollar that matters more then a healthy fish habitat. Look folks, the OCEANS are dying and next it will be the National Parks if the oil companies get there way. I'm not a doomsayer, but the handwriting is on the walls, were in dire need of a responsible energy czar that has a healthy approach to productive alternative energy sources...and not ride on the coat tails of Big Oil. The key is lifestyle changes and less consumptive appetite for more things that usually junks are garages and trash bins.

The question is whether this is necessity or convenience. In 1942-1945 the National Park Service had Newton Drury as its Director. Then as now, there were calls from big business and the politicians on their side to enter national parks and extract natural resources. They claimed these needs for fighting the World War II effort, and really how much more dire situation could our country ever be in than that? Thankfully, Director Drury resisted and President Roosevelt did not overrule him. Their reasoning - because their investigation coupled with their intuition was that what big business was truthfully saying was "we want to extract these resources from national parks because its cheaper for us to do it there, and then when we sell the finished products back to the government for the war effort, we can make a bigger profit." That episode was convenience not necessity. Salute to Drury and Roosevelt for understanding that!

I doubt many responsible citizens would deny resource extraction from the National Park System if they truly believed that the USA was approaching that point of no return where we either had to do it or the country would be lost. But many of us national park lovers are skeptical of big business and the spin that they put on their ad campaigns and press releases (i.e. tobacco companies, Exxon & the Valdez oil spill, mining companies and their lobbying efforts to prevent revision of the 1872 Mining Act, etc.). We remain to be convinced that this current situation is necessity and not just convenience again. It will take more than opinions. It will take irrefutable scientific facts.

And one such fact that seems irrefutable to me is that 4% of the world's population with 3% of the world's known energy reserves within it borders that utilizes 25% of the world's energy output does not sound sustainable over the mellinnia to me.

Solar panel as currently engineered as lacking in efficiency to be sure. But the required modifications to the "layering" that would increase the viable wavelengths from the current single to a multiple nanometer collection panel are available now. True again that conversion to a single-source power generation that would immediately and effeciently substitute for coal / nuclear / hydro generation for any large metropolitan area is not feasible with even next-gen technology, but that's really not the issue. Let's not allow the general public to succomb to that special interest smoke-screen. The issue is obtaining and manipulating viable sources of SUPPLEMENTAL energy, which would have an immediate impact on our requirements for fossil and other fuel sources. And let's not ignore the easiest to find and most economically efficient source available RIGHT NOW, which is geothermal energy. It's availability is much further reaching, nationally speaking, whereas solar is dependent on a panels proximity to enough sunlight to make the system feasible, which effectively eliminates a vast percentage of the country. If we were smart, which is a big assumption, we would be attempting manipulate ALL available sources of energy, ignoring the lobbyist propaganda and not allowing the local power company's blockade in regards to developmental technologies.

I Just returned from two weeks in Alaska. There I learned that the proposed site for oil exploration in ANWR is five miles, just five miles over the boundary line for the refuge. If environmental controls were tight, the 2,000 acres that would be used out of the 3.5 million acres seems as though it would have a very small impact on the entirety of the refuge.

I started to think about the comparative impact of the oil exploration in ANWR versus the impact of the tourist footprint in Denali. Which has the greatest impact on the land and the wildlife? Denali has a large visitor's center, restaurant, several satellite visitor's centers down the park road, the constant drone of buses on the park road, campgrounds for tents and RVs, the park headquarters, the sled dog kennels, a research center (being enlarged), the Alaska Railroad that goes along the park border, and the hundreds of people who fly in to climb the mountain. Then there's the wilderness lodge at Wonder Lake. Not to mention the string of hotels, an airstrip, and tacky souvenir stands just on the park boundary. All in all probably more than 2,000 acres devoted to tourism in Denali.

Would any of us park nuts remove those facilities to keep Denali more pristine? It seems to me that there is an element of hypocrisy in the arguments of those who love the parks but who want the services when they get there. Yes, conservation. Yes, alternative energy (although solar farms and wind farms are more unsightly than an oil well in my opinion). The world price of oil right now is being driven by pure speculation There is no way that demand is rising so fast that the price is justified on demand or that supply is falling so much that price is market set by supply. This is a false bubble in oil prices. The mere serious threat to drill and explore more on the North Slope would drive down the speculative bubble.

Interesting reading all the comments that seem to be on both sides of the issue. Delay of exploration and further development of nuclear plants caused by environmental outcry 10-20 years ago is why we are in the situation that we are in. To delay another 10-20 years while we debate will not make it any better. We should use what we have, control the environmental issues the best we can while exploration takes place near these areas and continue to work on alternatives for the future. Kath's observations are very much right on point. We already have lots of impact from what we do today that is likely as bad or worse than what will be done during exploration activities. I guess one way to get rid of the clutter in our national parks is to do nothing, watch energy prices soar and then nobody but the locals or the rich will be able to get there. Then there will be less impact all around.

Kath, what would recover faster from environmental degradation, heavy tourism in Denali or a major oil spill in ANWR...remember the Alaskan oil spill at the Port of Valdez? How long did it take to recover after the major spill (plus the local fishing industry has not fully recovered yet)? According to local fisherman, the place still stinks with oil. What is more tragic and shocking, is that the oil companies had to pay a pittance in penalties and compensation to the citizens of Alaska. Cry foul...yes!
I would rather see the landscape dotted with solar and wind power energy then a exploding oil rig (or pipeline) thats going take decades to clean up. I think the hypocrisy lies, is when you drive a hybrid car and park it in your driveway, next to your four bedroom home that burns enough electrical juice to light up a neighborhood in New Delhi. The classic example of a pig out without a conscientious in how much energy we burn to keep are toes warm. Again, Ed Begley's (Life Boat Foundation) books has an answer to all this sloppy living and careless waste.

Also just returned from a cruise of Prince William Sound where the Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled the oil. I saw no evidence of the oil spill, thankfully. It has been 19 years. Since then the Port of Valdez requires a harbor escort further out into the sound, which is dotted with islands and underwater rocks. Prince William Sound is as beautiful as any national park. Truly a blue and green gem with whales, salmon, puffins and seeing it I can really understand why the oil spill evoked such an emotional response. Oil is messy, but the 800 mile pipeline across Alaska hasn't had any major spills. Solar farms like the one in the Mojave desert is a really unsightly glaring blot on the land. Wind farms are not only unsightly but chew up migratory birds.

In pointing out the footprint of visitor's services at Denali my point was this. We park fans are willing to degrade the parks somewhat for our comfort. The park service is willing to degrade the pristine nature of the parks to attract visitors. We are willing to have the wildlife subject to the noise of the Denali buses, the tramping of hikers across the tundra. The animals don't seem to mind.

I think it is a bit hypocritical to say that the oil exploration in the ANWR, 2,000 acres only in a vast wilderness, just five miles across the refuge's borders, would destroy the ecosystem when we are willing to venture a hundred miles into Denali, bringing sewage systems, water systems, the diesel exhaust of the buses etc. With ANWR, compromises need to be made, and we all have to think about our own impacts on the national parks.

Sounds to me Kath your afraid to give up your SUV or make alternative lifestyle changes just yet...just kidding! They just did news brief a couple weeks ago on the decline of the fishing industry in the Port of Valdez and how poorly it has recovered. Did you talk to the local fisherman in Valdez or physically inspect the beaches of Valdez to make your claim there's "no evidence" of the past spill? Looking from a boat while cruising through Prince William Sound isn't quite like making a thorough investigation to see if there's been a FULL RECOVERY of the past Valdez oil spill. I think your looking at the cosmetic factors that makes the boat cruise so enticing to visit Prince William Sound. Get out and talk to the local fisherman and visually check and see under the rocky beaches along the Port of Valdez and you will still see remenants of the past oil spill. Yeah sure, emerald green slick under the rocks if you look hard enough in the right places.

Kath, give the oil companies an inch they will take a foot...and you say compromise with ANWR. No way! Look what they have mapped out in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah in our National Parks for gas and oil exploration...and you worry about influx of visitors in our National Parks. Shame on you!

I wouldn't approve of drilling in the traditional national parks. But ANWR is huge and the oil drilling would be on a tiny percentage of the land. The 800 mile pipeline crosses Alaska and has had no significant problems. We have to remember that most of the national parks were not virgin territory. They were mined, logged and ranched. And now they're parks. In other words, drilling is not forever.

It's easy for some to be elitist about this. It's as though some are doing a Marie Antoinette impression and saying "Let them walk or ride bikes". But we have to remember that many people will really suffer if oil goes any higher.

re Kaths' "But we have to remember that many people will really suffer if oil goes any higher. Many people are already suffering from pollutants in our air and water. Having to stay inside for most of the summer because of air pollution is no fun ! And if you are worried about wind farms killing birds, how many do you think are killed each day by moving vehicles. I love birds and butterflies and all things natural but I would much rather see solar panels and wind farms than drilling rigs, blowoffs and potential spills. The Alaska pipeline is already past its expected lifespan. I just hope we don't suffer a disaster with it.
In my opinion, American technology is way behind in the renewable energy area. We tend not to do things until our backs are against the wall.........I think our new president MUST throw down the gauntlet like Kennedy did with the space program. We can get it done in less than 10 years and in the mean time we must conserve and be very carefull as we extract the crude and coal that is available without destroying our precious saved wild places.

Thank you Kath for the strongest comment on the board. Exploration/drilling is not the complete answer; but it sure makes sense to take advantage of it in a regulated way. I'm a life long Democrat but Harry Reid is convincing me to never vote straight ticket again. Sure we need to focus on alternative energy but we also need to stop sending our wealth to the Middle East.

With all of the near surface thermal energy available, we should tap Yellowstone for massive geothermal energy development. It could power the entire western US and help to greatly reduce our fossil fuel consumption as well as provide additional electrical power generation we'll need for switching over to plug-in electric cars.

Thermo, there's no question that there's a lot of high-quality energy that could be tapped in the Yellowstone caldera, and we might even get the high net useful energy yield you assume. But even if we could agree that it's ethically acceptable to use and abuse one of the greatest natural treasures on the planet this way, we'd still be running two risks of absolutely gargantuan scale. The mind absolutely boggles at the thought. The first enormous risk is rooted in the fact that Yellowstone is unstable. You have no earthly idea what will happen when you start drilling here and there in the Yellowstone caldera. In the back of your mind lurks the knowledge that every once in a while (is it a 600,000 year cycle?) the Yellowstone caldera produces a volcanic eruption so cataclysmic that it almost defies description. You want to take the risk -- even a small one -- of triggering something like that? Not me. The second enormous risk is the one inherent in putting your energy eggs in one huge basket. Large-scale, centralized, capital intensive energy supply systems like the one you propose are not only extremely difficult and expensive to create and maintain, but also vulnerable to disruption, being no stronger than their weakest link ( the kind exposed by natural disasters, human frailty, and perhaps even terrorists). The general principle involved here is expressed in the statement "The more tightly we are wired together into the same complex grid, the greater the likelihood that a short-circuit anywhere in the system will fry us all.") Before taking such enormous risks, I'd like to see us use our money and brains to create a dispersed collection of small- and medium scale systems utilizing a mix of alternative energy sources appropriate for each local situation. It'd be quicker, cheaper, easier, and we could all sleep better. And yes, Thermo, I do understand that the typical smaller-scale system would have substantial front load costs and only a low- to moderate net useful energy yield. Energy security makes that kind of return worthwhile.

The electric hybrid is a joke, and certainly not the long-term solution to our energy needs. All these vehicles are doing is giving with one hand (slight reduction in petroleum requirements) while increasing environmental concerns over battery recycling / disposal, along with a disproportionate increase in the power required to recharge the cells every day or so. You save a little in gasoline and you pay more to the electirc company. Where's the savings to the consumer? Vehicle costs are a wash. My utility bills go up. Sounds like a lose/ lose proposition from my perspective.

The power generated from electric vehicles, such as the "green" snow sleds that are being touted for Yellowstone's winter onslaught, are inherently flawed to effectively perform their intended goal of noise / pollution reduction. Just like the rechargeable RC toys, both 1/64th scale and those monstrosities that the <10 set uses that emulate driving what’s tantamount to an electric go-kart, in rough terrain (especially when temperature extremes are factored into the equation) the discharge of the energy cells is too rapid to be useful for any meaningful length of time / distance. And that's probably a big reason that Yellowstone isn't all that keen on a fleet of those buggers running amok in the winter, Kurt. Too many search and rescue operations at risk retrieving stranded sledders who weren't paying attention to the "fuel" gauge, and didn't heed the warnings to come back home when the street lights came on.

Now, the compressed air series vehicle currently entering initial production phase in France, now THAT'S something that could be useful. It utilizes a large cylinder of CO2 and a supplemental small gasoline tank that kicks in on when the internal recharging system is reloading the "gas" tank, as it were. It can go ~150 on compressed air alone, with NO petroleum assistance, and up to ~650 miles with the assist of a 5 gallon gasoline boost. The vehicle recharges its CO2 tank while driving, which is something the electric vehicles simply can't do efficiently without doubling battery capacity and weight, which defeats the whole purpose of the system as it drives overall "fuel" economy right down the toilet. The French series of vehicles may be "ugly", which is a personal issue anyway, but given the overall efficiency and the opportunity to shove it up Big Oil's behind, I'd buy a fleet of them, give them away and start another “French Revolution”.

And as posted on other threads, geothermal is currently being enlisted as a major component of the power supply for many up-and-coming residential and commercial developments on both coasts. While the Yellowstone field is indeed huge, it's by far not the only or even most convenient source for "hot Earth" energy. Before we tap the Mother lode, a bit more expertise should be garnered in the most effective methods to manage /distribute the resource. But by all means, let’s put the pedal to the metal and get this resource on-line on a major scale within the next 5-10 years. Absolutely NO reason, technologically speaking, why that goal can’t be accomplished, unless you factor in the propaganda and general resistance from the utility infrastructure. Screw them…..and the horse they refuse to ride out on.

Damn it Bob, you stole my thunder by a matter of seconds. I'll get you for this........

Dear Kath:

-- On the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it is wrong to think of it as a project to drill in only a tiny area. The fact is that the place they want to drill also happens to be the most sensitive part of the Range, right in the caribou calving ground.

-- and, it is not true that the impact of development of the pipeline are insignificant. If you see what has happened to the Prudhoe Bay drilling zone, and superimpose that upon the calving ground inside the Arctic NWR, you'd see an area pretty much eaten up. Prudhoe Bay has had pretty continuous accidents and continual damage.

-- a lot of the damage of development comes with all the ancillary impacts. The feeder roads. The location of headquarters sites, staff housing, feeder pipelines, air strips. Constant resupply. Recreation zones. Extra people during their time off creating a huge bump of access to the backcountry.

-- All areas do not recover at the same rate. some of the Arctic areas that experienced only truck tracks during World War II ( we are talking 60 years ago) are still plainly visible. There are documented cases of one truck track leading to erosion and defrosting of permafrost to the extend that they actually became streams and drained entire lakes. You need to know what the impacts really are, and not be comforted by dismissing them all as equally sustainable.

If you want to look right at development and go for it, don't minimize what the impacts are, but realize what the impacts are. All sites are not the same, and all cannot be developed the same way, or easily absorb the same amount of impact.

-- On the Yellowstone system, I was involved in a review of the geothermal capacity of Yellowstone and other parks in the early 1980's. At that time, of the 10 or 12 major geothermal sites the size of Yellowstone's around the world, all but two had been "destroyed" by development. By destroyed, I mean what happens is the underground water in these systems is what is tapped. Draining that water for industrial heating use means that the phenomena you are used to at Yellowstone -- geisers and mud pots across a steaming landscape -- will go away. You can decide whether it is important or not that one of the two remaining sites like Yellowstone is preserved, or even is of value as a preserved site. But as long as you are using the underground hot water as the key thing for your development, tapping it will reduce or eliminate the water pressure needed to sustain what most people think of when they think of Yellowstone.

Maybe we should just decide to try to keep our kind of massive technology in place, and just come up with increasingly difficult sources of energy by engineering it. Or, as Bob is suggesting, maybe we don't need to sustain an engineering system as the underpining of our culture based on unlimited cheap oil.

The problem with the 'drill baby, drill' concept is we remain addicted to doing things in ways that just cannot last.

Lone Hiker, you've been reading the crap I post on Traveler long enough to know that, if you want to kick my ass, you are going to have to pack a lunch, get a good book to read, and go stand at the end of a very long line.

Geothermal energy is almost impossible to store or transport. So Yellowstone is simply too far out-of-the-way to use the geothermal options there effectively. Fortunately it is not necessary to drill the nations first National Park, as geothermal energy can be used at almost every place where there are deep (12.000-20.000 feet) aquifers. And there you don't risk there to trigger a super-volcano.

MRC, I'm not sure your first comment is entirely true. Raser Technologies earlier this month cut the ribbon on a 10 megawatt geothermal plant in Utah. They've already marketed some of the electricity to some California communities. Here's a snippet of their news release:

Raser Technologies, Inc., a leader in geothermal power generation, inaugurated late yesterday its first commercial-scale power plant, in Beaver County, Utah, demonstrating the viability of advanced technology that can make geothermal a major price-competitive resource for this country’s energy supply. The plant’s output has already been committed to supply electricity to Anaheim.

The company noted that the Beaver County plant, called Thermo, was built in only six months using its revolutionary modular construction design, greatly reducing the normal five-to-seven years typically required for traditional plant development and construction technology.

Raser concentrates on geothermal electricity. There you run into the problem, that the national electricity grid is in an abysmally bad condition and the loss on the long-distance is considerable. High-voltage direct current could reduce the loss, but so far there are only two long distance HVDC lines, one between Quebac and New England and the Intermountain line between Utah and Los Angeles. Might Raser deliver the energy from the new plant to Anaheim over that power line? The new plant is pretty close to the starting point in Delta, Beaver County, UT so it might be possible.

To go back to the title of Kurt's story that started this discussion: "Do You Care About Energy Exploration Near Our National Parks?" My answer is "yes," and it sounds like quite a few others share that view.

It is encouraging to read the comments in favor of a combination of conservation and accelerated development of alternative energy sources. I agree that's the only long-term solution. And ... I concede that development of some domestic resources of oil and gas is both a political reality and probably needed to help bridge the gap until better alternative sources of energy come on-line - but ONLY if the location of such development is carefully considered.

Here's an example of such development I can live with: The full extent of the Barnett Shale natural gas field is not yet fully known, but it's already the second largest producing on-shore domestic natural gas field in the United States. It's located beneath north Texas, and active development of that field is underway. The Dallas-Ft. Worth airport complex covers 18,000 acres, and much of that is open space buffer. The first of about 300 planned wells are already being drilled on airport property. There are similar sites across the area that are currently in marginal agricultural use that could also be developed. In my book, that makes a lot more sense than developing new fields near areas such as national parks.

There are a lot of good ideas above, but I was especially intrigued by Bob's comment:

I'd like to see us use our money and brains to create a dispersed collection of small- and medium scale systems utilizing a mix of alternative energy sources appropriate for each local situation.

That approach might help reduce the problems related to lack of existing infrastructure to move electric power long distances, from the places where wind or solar are most viable, to places with large concentrations of power consumption.