National Geographic : 2005 Jul
failure to enforce regulations governing the 450 wells that pepper their spread. The wells and their associated compressors, pipelines, and access roads, Linn Blancett contended, had caused un mitigated erosion, loss of forage, and pollution of both air and water. "We understand today as in the past the need to drill," Blancett wrote in a letter last year to Steve Henke, who runs the BLM district office in Farm ington. "What we don't understand or accept is the destruction of our ranches in the process." Steve Henke, for his part, acknowledges that drilling for natural gas in the San Juan Basin is having some impacts; he just doesn't see them being as serious as Linn Blancett does. "I can not agree with those who say that ranching is no longer viable here," Henke told me. "We're doing everything we can to keep them in busi ness, because ranching is not what they do it's who they are." Despite Henke's assurances, several lawsuits are currently wending their way through the courts. One, filed against the BLM and Interior Secretary Gale Norton by three chapters of the Navajo Nation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Tweeti Blancett, among others, chal lenges a plan to authorize nearly 10,000 new oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin over the next 20 years. Another legal action targets Burling ton Resources and two other basin producers, alleging hazardous waste spills. Burlington, the basin's most active producer, holds down a big office in Farmington employing 280 people. The man in charge there is vice president Richard Fraley. In our conversation and in a prepared statement later posted to me, Fraley said he believes that the "vast majority" of Burlington's Lightning crackles over Adobe Town in Wyoming's acclaimed Red Desert, an area once proposed for wil derness protection but now proposed for drill ing. Biologistsbelieve fragmentation of such habitat and increasing traffic in gas fields is a factor in a dramatic decline of greater sage grouse in the West.