To Drill or Not to Drill (Nightline video)
File name: To_Drill_or_Not_to_Drill.html
July 19, 2004
Wyoming Upper Green River Valley is a crucial link in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Each year more than 100,000 animals, including antelope and mule deer, pass through this valley on a long migration from the Grand Tetons to their winter pasture in the High Desert. This valley is also home to the headwaters of the Colorado River, a vital trout habitat. And it’s one of the last strongholds for the rare Sage-Grouse. In fact, the area has been compared to the Serengeti for its spectacular array of wildlife. It has also been compared to Saudi Arabia.
Experts have estimated that there are roughly 20 trillion cubic feet of gas here. That would supply the entire nation’s natural gas needs for about a year. The same geological formation that creates a natural corridor for wildlife also holds rich deposits of natural gas, miles beneath the surface. This country increasing demand for natural gas coupled with new technology is turning this area into a bonanza for the energy industry.
Its no doubt that the activity levels increased. What happened is that we have evolved the technology which has allowed us to extract this natural gas from the subsurface efficiently and economically. That technology didn’t exist five, or ten years ago.
This is by the U.S. Government. Most of the gas leases were granted under previous administrations before the new technology was developed. Now the Bush Administration has directed federal land managers to expedite oil and gas development all along the Front Range of the Rockies in Wyoming, Montana, Eastern Utah, Western Colorado, and Northern New Mexico. Here in the Upper Green River Valley where a gas field known as the Pinedale Anticline is located no one expects to stop the energy boom but they do hope to slow it down.
They say I support Bush, I support energy development but I live here for a reason, this place has a certain quality of life.
The basin already has about 5,200 gas wells but the government is considering drilling permits for up to 10,000.
This is an empty landscape. It has been so since the first Europeans came here and yet 10,000 rigs would completely change it and I’m afraid it might make it an industrial landscape.
In Pinedale, they need only look at an of town known as the Jonah Field for a glimpse of the future.
Before the field, this was just empty. You could look out to the Wyoming Range and not see a drill rig, a condensation tank, nothing was here there were no roads.
There are 470 wells in this area and energy companies want to put in another 3,100. Ted Karasote has been hunting in this valley for many years. And he worries that the energy boom will ruin the sensitive ecosystem.
Many of us feel that given the enormous amounts of profits that are being generated here $20 million from each well that the Wyoming state government and particularly the federal government could mandate more wildlife friendly gas development in this area.
One area of concern is a narrow bottleneck in the wildlife migration route known as Trappers Point. If leases are developed in this area the gas rigs could present a major obstacle to the herds and they already have quite a few.
They have many many fences to cross during the migration and they can go over them or under them. They have highways to cross and in some cases they dont make it.
Since the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for balancing the uses of public lands it is often caught in the crossfire of competing interests. Throughout the west conservationists have long accused the BLM of being too cozy with industry, even dubbing it the Bureau of Leasing and Mining.
The BLM Field Manager in Pinedale says requests for drilling have gone from 75 applications in 1998 to 300 last year.
Since youve been here, how many of those applications have you rejected?
Actually, percentage wise very few but I have changed many.
In what way?
Moved them to a more environmentally acceptable place, put restrictions on them.
The BLM is currently putting together a new land use plan for this area.
Theres a motion on both sides of the issue both from the energy development companies and from the environmental community and our job is to find out what the facts are.
Do you feel caught in the middle?
Always. Were always caught in the middle and thats where were supposed to be.
But conservationists worry that BLM employees are under intense pressure from Washington to fast track energy development.
I think a lot of these people are in the extremely uncomfortable position of not knowing whether they might lose their job if they acted as traditional conservation stewards for the landscape and its wildlife. The energy companies have already crisscrossed the landscape with new roads to reach the drilling site. Enormous trucks stir up dust and scare the wildlife and then theres the noise. In another part of the state, the , residents are outraged at water pollution left by the extraction method used there.
I believe that people would come out by the hundreds of thousands if they understood that their rivers, their streams, their open landscapes, the places that theyve written songs about would change forever.