It’s interesting about Bill Koch, the energy and mining billionaire and Tea Party sugar daddy, though his brothers seem to be more the Tea Party groupies than he. He reminds me of Marie Antoinette, not in his looks, but in his mindless pursuits.
She prized parading around as a milkmaid on the grounds at Versailles. Bill has a thing for cowboys. It explains why he paid $2.3 million for a photo of Billy the Kid. In fact, this Wild West fixation probably explains his desire to secure about 1900 acres of public land, our land, so as to privatize his 5000 acre Bear Ranch near Paonia, CO even further.
According to an independently researched story by Madeline Osberger in a recent Sunday Denver Post, his ranch is bisected by BLM and Forest Service land, and it represents a problem he can solve if we just accept a land transfer of his choosing–he offered an exchange rate of one acre of his land, some of it in Utah, for 2 acres of our land. He’s built a replica Wild West city on the ranch, not for the benefit of small children, but to live out his own cowboy fantasies. His own private sand box or milk pail, if you will.
He seems to be threatened by the fact that people using public land might spy on him playing Marshall Dillon in his replica city. He’s built a saloon and everything. Like the land barons of old, he’s serious about keeping the riff raff out and has reportedly hired shotgun-toting goons on horseback to patrol the ranch. Lordy, these are truly tough times.
But what really caught my eye about this piffle concerning the idle rich is that the transfer would deny public access to Deep Creek which courses down the middle of our public land. It doesn’t matter that our state constitution says that all “streams are public property,” Article XVI, section 5, because the courts in a series of lumpen decisions have systematically bestowed the rivers and streams of this state as private property on big land owners like Bill and Ted Turner and Phil Anschutz, and on it goes.
I guess the courts and those serious men in black robes have reasoned that the clear language of our constitution couldn’t possibly mean what it says, for then rivers and streams would be just like highways, or the street that runs in front of my house. They’d be open to everyone, even the poor, provided they could afford the gas to get to Paonia. Bill’s PR flack summed up the dust up by saying most local people don’t know part of Deep Creek runs through public property so the diminution of their riverine estate will hardly matter to them.
Gunnison county commissioners voted unanimously last week to approve the transfer. Two acres in Colorado, with riverfront, for one acre in Utah must seem like a good exchange rate to these Solons. Next up on the approval trail is the Congress where our boy in chaps has wisely greased the wheels on the good-will wagon by giving campaign money to both Bennet and Udall, our two conservative, oil-loving, budget-slashing Democratic senators, as well as Scott Tipton, the thoroughly squirrelly and likely one term Republican congressman from the district where Bill’s ranch is situated. Tipton is best known for toading up to the Kochs, advocating killing the regulatory responsibilities of EPA, and feverishly supporting unlimited and unregulated drilling for gas and oil in Colorado.
The Koch’s investment in the Tea Party really pays dividends. They put up a few million, and the Tea Party tricorns reciprocate by chanting the Fox News mantra that regulation is killing jobs and denying us energy independence.
I have a simple solution to Koch’s dilemma and ours. Let’s transfer the public land to Wild Bill, as he asks, but retain the mineral rights, as we should. Then, as an act of good faith, he and his brothers agree to bring the gloriously transformative industrialization-of-the-west-through-fracking to Bill’s doorstep. They agree to build a fracking well pad 150 feet from his outsized, new-west style mansion, for that’s all the distance between home and well pad required by the state in some rural areas. This tradeoff will prove to us the Koch brothers’ commitment to protecting public health and safety. If they think fracking is good for us, let them show it’s good for them.
Just this week I heard one of the oil boys say at a conference at CSU, where the ex-governor, Bill Ritter, is now resplendently ensconced in an endowed energy chair that pays $300 K a year, that the fracking technology now allows them to put up to 52 wells on one pad, that they can sink each of these wells 8000 feet down in a couple of day, and that they only need to separate them by 5 feet. I say, require Bill, using all this gee-whiz technology, to do a demonstration fracking project on his property as part of the land swap deal, or tell him to go to hell.
Water might be a problem, though, as it takes somewhere between 2 million to 15 million gallons of water to frack one well, and each well is fracked numerous times to keep the oil flowing. Realistically, 52 wells could require 100 million up to almost 800 million gallons of water for the first frack. Even the lower figure is almost twice the annual domestic water needs of all the folk living downstream from Bill in nearby Paonia. This could test the relationship between the Kochs and neighboring Delta County commissioners. But these guys seem to know the value of a buck, and Bill has already contributed money to their campaign coffers. Can you doubt they’ll also get on board the Bear Ranch buggy?
And of course, if the water holds out, these oil production pads can be replicated a number of times on the ranch property, literally one for each section of land. Wild Bill and his brothers will also need a lake-sized retaining pond for the returned water containing a cornucopia of volatile organic compounds, radioactive nuclides, plus a wide mix of injected chemicals.
Our principle requirement in this mutually beneficial exchange of land is that Bill live 150 feet away from the well pad, full time, to personally debunk the public health and safety issues, and that he build a school close by for his grand children, nieces, nephews, and the children of all elected officials, from county commissioners on up to our new Governor, John Hickenlooper, who think fracking concerns are nothing but the fear-mongering of Luddites. These children will be the guinea pigs for health impacts from living near an industrial site where huge evaporation ponds encourage the release into the atmosphere of heretofore unidentified and unmeasured gasses and other suspected carcinogenic pollutants. Then, too, these children, along with Cowboy Bill will be asked to drink water from a local well to prove the industry assertion that pollutants will never reach the drinking water supply since the wells they are drilling are many thousands of feet below that supply, and that accidents from workers, who might occasionally spend a few hours in Bill’s saloon telling tales of daring do, never happen.
Think of the savings. It is a deregulation dream come true. No federal interference, no expensive federal environmental studies to determine the impacts of unlimited fracking on the natural and human environment. No clownish pronouncements from careerist politicians. No uninformed cheerleading editorials from the Denver Post. Just a voluntary experiment to prove that fracking is not a health risk, that the local environment can flourish even if it starts to resemble a giant pin cushion, and that oceans of new, high-quality water can always be found for the fracking enterprise, no matter how great the overall demand. But what’s best about this modest proposal is that those who reap the monetary reward, the Koch brothers and the politicians they buy, get to conduct the experiment on our behalf. This is government as it should be. This is Candide.
PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org