Coalbed methane development in Wyoming : fiscal solution or environmental disaster : an honors thesis (HONRS 499)

Thumbnail Image
Dotson, Michael D.
Vander Hill, C. Warren, 1937-
Issue Date
Thesis (B.?.)
Honors College
Other Identifiers

Fossil fuels have long supplied our country's need for electricity. More specifically, coal and oil have been the primary fuels for meeting this energy demand. Nearly half of our country's energy is produced by coal-fired power plants. With thehelp of scientists and extensive research, some in our society have come to see coal as too polluting to our air and water supplies. With our country's energy needs continuing to increase, we need to utilize more efficient technologies to improve our way of life.Natural gas has become a popular resource for energy production. Cleaner burning and more efficient than coal, natural gas power plants are increasing in numbers. While natural gas may be clean-burning, it does not necessarily mean it is clean-producing. The residents of Wyoming can prove that the natural gas boom is harming their way of life. While it is creating an enormous budget surplus for the state, the people of Wyoming say that the natural gas boom is doing more harm to the environment. Ranchers are losing thousands of acres of land because gas companies are building wells at a rapid pace. Not only are the ranchers losing land, but they are also losing money. The gas companies are using grazing land and not reclaiming it after the wells have been removed. Gas companies make the mess and the ranchers have to clean it up.The natural gas boom in Wyoming has created a great deal of controversy. Coalbed methane is the newest trend in natural gas production. Coalbed methane is far less costly than typical natural gas because it does not take as much infrastructure to obtain it. Instead of spending millions on conventional natural gas wells, companies can spend about $90,000. to produce a CBM well. The CBM may be efficient for gas companies, but fields and pastures are being flooded because of all the excess water produced. CBM wells displace millions of gallons of water in order to produce a minimal amount of natural gas. Wyoming, which only averages about 12 inches of rain a year, has a dilemma. Ranchers have struggled most of their lives to find ample water sources. Now they have too much water.The Bush administration has pumped millions of dollars into programs to increase CBM development. With more than 51,000 wells proposed in the Powder River Basin, the landscape is threatened. Instead of cowboys and cattle, the prairie is littered with wells, roads, and fences. Wildlife is also threatened. Several important migration corridors are in danger of closing because of natural gas development. If these migration corridors disappear so will the deer, elk, antelope, and sage grouse. This wildlife is something that makes Wyoming unique.My thesis explores CBM development in Wyoming. I analyze the benefits of CBM development, primarily the enormous revenue it creates. Wyoming's towns and cities are becoming more and more dependent on the energy industry. Indeed, this energy industry accounts for nearly half of the state's revenues, but there is far more to CBM development than the money it produces. People are angry because it detracts from Wyoming's traditional image, especially in the environmental area. In a recent poll, Wyoming residents ranked conservation of resources as one of their most important values. Resource extraction was second in that poll. Resource extraction and resource conservation seem to be in conflict, but in my paper, I analyze how the people of Wyoming are trying to balance these two important values.