Black gold

With apologies to Jed Clampett and sitcom fans everywhere, please sing along:

Come and listen to a story about Nevada’s land,

Fossil fuels hiding underneath miles and miles of sand,

Then one day, fracking by some Houston dudes,

And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.

Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.

It turns out Nevada’s natural resources go beyond shiny metals and sunshine. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the state is poised to join the country’s fossil-fuel fracking revolution. And if it goes as well as expected, it’s an economic bonanza for a state that’s been slow to attract new industries.

Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. intends to drill for deep deposits of oil and natural gas across 40,000 acres of public and private land in northeast Nevada. Company officials say they have leases for 350,000 acres in Elko County, and that they plan to spend $130 million over four years to ramp up operations. In less than two years, they project output of up to 50,000 barrels of oil per day – enough to match the state’s 2012 production in one week. It’s remarkable news.

The only way to tap it is through hydraulic fracturing, the blasting of pressurized fluid that smashes free underground oil and gas. The technology that has economies exploding across the Midwest also drives environmentalists nuts, not because of serious environmental threats, but because they hate fossil fuels and the threat that cheaper energy poses for their economy-stifling climate change agenda and the subsidized renewable projects they favor. Expect the greens to put on a full-court press to block the project.

Nevada regulators will have to get busy and study up. Fracking has never been used in Nevada before. It’s new ground for everyone.

But this breakthrough also serves as a reminder of the greatest limitation Nevada faces in getting its resources to market: The federal government owns most of the land in this state. Much of Noble’s plan requires Washington’s blessing. Midwestern states, which are composed almost entirely of private land, have no such problem, hence their prosperity.

Now more than ever, it’s critical to take the destiny of Nevada and the West out of the hands of the politicized federal bureaucracy and into local control. Hand it over and set us free.

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