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Dual rallies focus on drilling

2 groups takes sides on oil and gas exploration and the environment

Dueling rallies were held Saturday — both dealing with the environment but representing opposite ideas.

Vi and Bill Corkle walked door-to-door on Hollywood street with an envelope full of flyers that ask for support to protect Utah wilderness from oil and gas exploration. The Corkles joined more than 100 volunteers for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who met at Sugarhouse Park before dispersing to Salt Lake neighborhoods, information in hand.

Across the city, a group of some 200 people organized by two local college students gathered at the south steps of the Utah Capitol as a rebuttal to SUWA's rally.

Besides addressing oil exploration, that group also promoted more access to the wilderness lands for off road vehicles, mountain bikes and RVs.

"We love the land every bit as much as SUWA does but we want the right to more responsible access of our public lands," said activist Kim Orndorff.

But Margi Hoffman, outreach coordinator for SUWA, said, "The last remaining wildlands of Utah are under attack."

Recent increases in oil and gas prices have spurred proposals to develop more wells and pipelines, and the Bush administration has asked the Utah Bureau of Land Management to make oil and gas exploration its No. 1 priority, she said.

If this happens, Hoffman said, wilderness areas will see an onslaught of drill rigs that will destroy wilderness land.

On SUWA's flyer is a picture of Delicate Arch and seven red-marked oil exploration sites proposed by the federal government. Below the picture is a letter to Congressman Jim Matheson, D-Utah, asking for his support.

The flyers drew mixed results in neighborhoods.

"We've got to get to the point that we don't depend on Third World countries for our oil," said one women through a half-opened screen door on Hollywood Avenue. "I disagree with all of this."

In response, Lawsen LeGate, southwest region coordinator for the Sierra Club, said the United States will never get there. "As long as we use oil we'll have to go to foreign countries to get it."

The U.S. consumes a quarter of the world's oil but controls only three percent of its oil reserves, he said. All the oil the industry would hope to find in Utah's wilderness lands would only meet the nation's needs for three weeks, he said.

"The only way to reduce the need for foreign oil is to reduce the need for oil, period," he said.

SUWA suggests people invest in better technologies like hybrid vehicles, which use about half the oil of a regular car, and mass transit systems. People can also be more efficient with their own use of fossil fuels.

At the rebuttal rally, activists at the Capitol said that some of the use for roads and off-road vehicles, and the minimal damage that comes from them, is better than barely being able to use the land.

The dictionary definition of waste is something not used, said Stephen Nielson, a sophomore at the University of Utah who heads a pro-access group called True Access and who helped organize the rally. "That's what the land becomes if people can't access it — waste."

He emphasized that to completely limit roads in wilderness areas discriminates against people like the elderly or disabled who can't strap on a backpack and hike for miles.

They also said they support using the land for fossil fuels if it's needed. Orndorff said they would rather oil rigs weren't on the land but if the country needs them to become more independent than they would only take a small fraction of wilderness space and can be removed after use.

She also said they support oil conservation.

"Responsible multiple use is done with the environment in mind," she said, adding that she didn't know of any bikers who wouldn't reroute their trail to save an endangered species.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, encouraged the crowd to be more active in supporting pro-access.