Rick Bass’ reading on Thursday from his new book co-authored with David James Duncan (The Heart of the Monster, All Against the Haul 2011) raises issues that most Montanans have so far been shielded from having to consider. Oil and gas development lays heavy on the land in much of the West: our neighbors in Pinedale, Wyoming, have seen their game populations collapse; on farms around Pavillion, folks can’t drink their well water due to methane and other contamination; in Aztec, New Mexico, rural people disproportionately bear the costs of America’s natural gas boom.
Montana is now poised to join that party, so now is the time to decide how—and whether—we want to tap those resources here. Strong landowner protections would go a long way toward preventing the sorts of horror stories common in places like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale and Colorado’s Piceance Basin. At the same time, we have the ability to decide what sorts of places are acceptable for drilling, and where it is not. Finally, morality calls us to weigh our energy use, become aware of the prices paid both by individual communities and by humanity as a whole, and make more informed, responsible decisions. As one Wyoming farmer told me, “We can live without oil and gas. We really can. We can’t live without water.”