Exhibits: Resources: Energy
Most of the energy sources we use have a downside for the environment. Extraction, processing, and use of fossil fuels releases pollutants like greenhouse gasses, heavy metals, and industrial toxins into the air, soil, and water. Nuclear energy production creates radioactive byproducts which stay dangerous for thousands of years. Dams used for hydropower disrupt river ecosystems and contribute to the decline of native fish species. Wind turbines can kill migrating birds. Energy production and distribution also requires a massive system of roads, power lines, processing plants, pumps, pipelines, storage tanks, and refineries. All these facilities leave their mark on the environment.
As we have become more aware of the side effects of natural resource extraction, our government has passed a number of laws which require energy companies and other companies which affect public lands to make amends for the damage they cause. This may mean reseeding a forest, restoring wetlands, building fish hatcheries to boost fish populations, or cleaning up toxic pilings left from the mining process.
In addition, most new energy extraction requires an Environmental Impact Statement, which is a detailed study of the proposed plan, and how it will affect wildlife, plant life, and the quality of the water, air, and soil. The EIS also examines how the resource extraction will affect other uses of the public lands, such as recreation, cultural resource conservation, or grazing. If the impacts of the proposed well, dam, or mine seem too great, then alternatives are examined. These range from scrapping the plan entirely to using advanced technology to extract the resource, such as directional drilling, where the well is sited in a less vulnerable area, but the drill still reaches the underground reserves.
Partnerships Preserving the Environment
A good example of how oil companies can drill responsibly on public lands is in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah. There, several different companies have set up operations to drill in the oil-rich Bridger Basin region of the Uinta Mountains. The roads to the wells, production facilities and pipelines are carefully constructed to maximize crucial wildlife habitat, improve drainage, and minimize erosion and dust. The facilities themselves are painted so as to blend into the landscape, and are located so as to protect drainage, rare plants, and fisheries. Drilling operations are entirely suspended during the seasons when resident elk are most vulnerable-- during winter when forage is scarce and during the spring when the elk are calving. Finally, when all the oil has been drilled from an area, the energy companies cap the well and reclaim the site by replacing the topsoil, planting new vegetation and fencing the area for five years so the new plants have a chance to become established.
Although the issues regarding energy extraction from public lands are complex and difficult, energy companies and public lands managers are working together to meet the needs of the present generation while preserving our lands for the future. As owners of the lands and their natural resources, we can do our part to make the most of our energy reserves by keeping in mind the three "R's" of conservation: Recyle, Reduce, and Reuse. We save our environment and our energy resources by recyling our trash and buying products made from recycled materials; by increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings, appliances, and vehicles; and by reusing what materials we can instead of dumping them in landfills. As energy users, we can assure a bright future by incorporating these conservation strategies into balanced energy plans for our communites and for our nation.
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