Stakes and Stakeholders in the Uintah Basin

I’ve been living in Vernal, Utah for about a week now and thanks to a raggedy sombrero i have been able to weather the sun and heat pretty well.  Having worked for the BLM for four days now, i can say that a lot of the volunteer work that i did with my local botanic garden (the Chicago Botanic Garden) prepared me well for the type of wild goose chases and tedious work that is plant surveying.  Having to locate a 5 inch piece of rebar in a desert with FAIRLY accurate gps readings gives me a lot of respect for the people who came out into the field initially to located the plant populations that we are tasked with surveying.  I say wild goose chase and tedious, but when you are hiking around one of the most beautiful places on earth looking for your target plant, the hours seem to melt by and the tedium is replaced with a meditative state of mind (of course it’s not always fun and the mosquitoes can be a pain sometimes).

Since I’ve been here in the Uintah Basin, I have noticed an interesting interplay between the few distinct groups who live and work in the basin.  The groups i am referring to are the oil and gas workers, ranchers and farmers, blm employees, and flora and fauna of the basin (I’m sorry to not include the Ute tribe, i haven’t learned much about them yet but they definitely deserve to be mentioned, obviously, as they were here before any of us European immigrants). The interesting interplay i’ve noticed is how each party is in some way is vexed by another, but are also dependent on each other in order to live and work.  For instance, take the oil companies: their livelihood depends on the extraction of oil and natural gas from the Uintah basin.  You can imagine how they must feel when an employee of the BLM tells them that a well site cannot be located in a specific area due to the presence of an endangered cactus which is barely 3 inches tall.  However, it is also true that the BLM employee needs fuel to drive out to all their research sites and depend on the petroleum based products made from the resources that the Oil Companies extract. I would probably need a flow chart to completely describe all the interconnectedness and dependencies that occur in the basin, but an abbreveated version follows:

The flora and fauna provide forage for the ranchers and jobs for the blm, but can be threatened by the oil companies; The ranchers and farmers provide food and resources for the BLM and the oil companies, but their range could be impacted by the oil fields; The oil companies make petroleum based products possible and provide crucial fuel for the BLM and the Ranchers, but feel the ever watchful eye and regulatory hand of the blm; and the BLM provides proxy protection for the natural flora and fauna.

All of these parties depend on each other and their stakes in the basin should be considered when making policy decisions or moral assertions (e.g. oil drilling is bad!…well too much probably IS “bad” …but that’s a whole other conversation).  Like i said, this is an abbreviated version and I’m sure there are plenty of other ways that these groups can impact each other.  Being an environmental studies student, I am well accustomed to the clash of values when different parties have stakes in a shared area.

So all that being said, I am planning on taking a hike through Dinosaur National Monument tomorrow because, frankly, the land around here is stunning and awe inspiring despite any desolation or the unforgiving sun (a sombrero REALLY helps), as well as intellectually stimulating if you know anything about geology.  So I guess I’ll wrap this entry up by saying i actually can’t wait to go into work next Monday

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