By Paige, Sean
Insight on the News , Vol. 17, No. 15
Anyone interested in knowing what was behind former president Bill Clinton's 11th-hour designation or expansion of 21 national monuments, besides self-aggrandizement, might start by asking what's below the lands in question. And the answer to that inquiry turns out to be energy -- or at least potential energy sources, possibly in quantities large enough to be of serious consequence to this power-dependent society, but which will remain untapped in perpetuity if the monuments stand as designated.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ordered by Congress indicates that at least 16 of the 21 monuments designated or expanded during Clinton's tenure may have reserves of oil, natural gas, coal or coal-bed methane locked in the strata below. USGS reached its conclusions by comparing the boundaries of recently designated monuments with national-energy-potential assessments based on rock types and known geologic formations.
While cautioning that its conclusions were "speculative," USGS found that five of the new monuments likely have no oil or natural-gas development potential, 11 have low potential and another five have a "moderate to high" chance of having oil or natural-gas reserves locked below. Ironically, two of the monuments with the highest potential for oil and gas development are in California, where rolling surf today meets rolling blackouts.
The survey also concluded that southern Utah's 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which remains a subject of controversy more than five years after its designation, is sitting atop huge amounts of clean-burning coal and coal-bed methane -- confirming speculation that one Clinton-administration motive for its 1996 designation was to block any possibility of mining there. …