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Guest Editorial: Jerry Butterbaugh – Fairfax, Oklahoma

Guest Editorial by Jerry Butterbaugh – Fairfax, Osage County, Oklahoma

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, unless you are totally biased and nearly blind, the wind farm in western Osage County is absolutely beautiful and an astounding triumph of science and perseverance.  When I viewed it this week, nearby oil wells were pumping, cattle were grazing, hawks were sitting in the few nearby trees and the white turbine blades were shining brightly in the sun against the orange and tan of big bluestem, Indian grass, and little bluestem.

Western Osage County, especially this area of the northern Salt Creek Valley has always been an area of industry and money generation. Long ages ago it was a hunting area for the Pawnee and associated tribes, and later a pass through area for the Osage on their way to the western buffalo herds.  After the Osage purchased the area from the Cherokee in the 1870’s they began leasing it out for grazing.  In the early 20th century it was the site of one of Oklahoma’s greatest oil booms.  In the 1960’s I worked in the very oilfields where the wind farm is now being built. The wind turbines are far more attractive than the oil scarred surfaces, busted pump jacks, and crumbling derricks from the 20’s and 30’s that still existed then.

The country needs all forms of energy. Especially solar and wind driven domestically generated energy independent of international markets. This very area, so rich in and of the history of oil will continue to be an important source of oil and now wind-generated energy as well. But this monument of engineering and courageous investment almost didn’t get built.

During the permitting process, a lot of misinformation was provided by what are otherwise usually admirable groups.

The Audubon Society chose to emphasize eagles, although the eagle population is very low in this area, and wind energy is one of the safest forms of energy generation.  Eagles being eagles tend to prefer the area over near the Arkansas River at Kaw Lake, and indeed there is a seasonal population there.

The Nature Conservancy, who has a major presence with the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve several miles east of the wind farm, tried to label the area “unfragmented block of tallgrass prairie” (TW 12.18.2014), when the very land that the windfarm is on has been producing oil for nearly 100 years.  Remnants of the old pump jacks and derrick blocks are still to be seen beside the old gravel roads that accessed the units.  Oil field camps were scattered all about the area, and several operating oil producers made fortunes in the Burbank district. Even with that history, one Nature Conservancy representative from Osage County still wanted to call it “virgin prairie”.

Over 10,000 men and 300 businesses in the 1920’s lived in Burbank, Denoya, Shidler, and Carter Nine along the Salt Creek Valley; the same area that now houses the wind farm.

Some of the people at the public hearings made comments about ‘foreign’ ownership or the energy being produced being sent ‘out of state’.  The same people were wearing clothes produced in Pakistan, Indonesia, and China and left driving vehicles produced by companies from Korea, Japan, and Europe.  They also enjoy vacationing in Colorado, Arizona, California and Florida and many other states.

Such are the hypocrisy and misinformation that often stand in the way of making the world a better place.

Some representatives of the Osage Tribe continue to protest the wind farm.  Their purpose is not entirely clear.  Historically, the Osages began leasing out these grazing lands shortly after they acquired the reservation and when asked to show evidence of their members actually camping or living where the wind farm is, they haven’t pointed to anything, nor have gravesites been identified, or made publicly knowable.

The surface area of the wind farm was radically altered 100 years ago by the drilling of numerous oil wells and the building of surface roads. Land destruction that the Osages did not protest as they collected royalties.

The communities of western Osage County (Fairfax, Shidler, Burbank, and Webb City) that have declined since the 1950’s can use all the help they can get. The wind farm development has created jobs and will contribute significantly to the Shidler area and school district and western Osage County.

Yes, the turbines really are beautiful!  Drive Highway 60 and see for yourself.  As the oil of Osage County helped the development of the United States during the 20th century, the wind farms of Osage County will help supply the country’s energy needs in the 21st century.