Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Western Lands, a Free-Market Path

Deep in the jagged heart of central Colorado lies one of the world’s most beautiful backyards: a rugged and wild quilt of national forest where elk roam and bobcats hunt. It is public land, and as the song says, made for you and me. But the rights to drill it for oil and gas belong to private companies. Stories of fiercely loved lands like this one often chart a predictable path. Residents opposed to drilling lodge protests with the government, and when that fails, they head to court. But recently, environmental advocates have begun banding together with ranchers, hunters and rich landowners with a novel tactic to preserve the landscapes of the West: they buy out their opponents. For years, conservation groups across the country have hammered out deals to preserve private ranches and old homesteads as parks and open space, rather than see them sold off to become mini-malls or subdivisions. But the federal government is the biggest landlord in the West, and one cannot simply buy a forest or mountain to keep it from being drilled. Instead, conservation groups are trying to buy the mineral leases that oil and gas companies purchase from the federal government at regular energy auctions, sometimes for as little as $2 an acre. Conservation groups pay the companies a premium to buy up the leases. Then elected officials draw up laws to ensure that nobody else will be able to drill there in the future. And the land is forever enshrined as open country, locking away whatever resources may lie beneath. The groups have had some early successes...more

No comments: