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Developing Natural Gas

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Geoff O'Gara (Producer): Is America running out of energy? Maybe where you live, but here in the Rockies when it comes to energy we've got an embarassment of riches: coal, oil, uranium, wind, and lately abundant coalbed methane and natural gas.

I'm Geoff O'Gara for FocusWest.

At a time when the world's hunger for energy can spark wars around the globe, the United States looks to the Rocky Mountain west for a home-grown supply of fossil fuel, particularly natural gas.

Dru Bower photoDru Bower (Vice President, Petroleum Association of Wyoming): Of a hundred percent of what the nation uses as consuming natural gas, eighty five percent of that comes from domestic sources.

The Department of Energy estimates that natural gas demand will increase by fifty percent by the year 2025.

Geoff O'Gara: That demand creates enormous pressure on the west's big energy reserves. For example, the high desert of Wyoming's Green River basin -- a vast repository of conventional natural gas and gas trapped in coal seams, known as coalbed methane.

Lance Cook photoLance Cook (Wyoming State Geologist): We think right now that the Green River basin has the potential to produce between 10 and 15 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane. So Wyoming plays a very important and critical role in the nation's gas supply.

Geoff O'Gara: The Green River basin seems in some ways perfect for this chore. Few people live in this harsh setting. No tourist attractions like Yellowstone. It's mostly public land managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. But if you travel the length of the huge basin, from the mountain foothills that cradle the upper Green in the north to the stark landforms at the heart of the Red Desert, and down south to the rough country around Interstate 80, you find vocal opposition to the big push for energy development, on a variety of fronts.

Linda Baker photoLinda Baker (Upper Green River Valley Coalition): What this will do is industrialize what was formerly an important wildlife habitat for pronghorn, antelope, and sagegrouse.

I don't believe that the BLM really knows, or can really assure us, that our wildlife populations will be here in twenty five to fifty years.

Mac Blewer photoMac Blewer (Wyoming Outdoor Council): This Red Desert country is unique in North America. I know of no other landscape which contains such a combination of natural, cultural, and historic values. You have the South Pass Historic landscape. The Oregon, California, and Mormon pioneer trails. You have wilderness-quality lands out there. The largest active sand dune system in North America.

I think we have to be honest with ourselves about what industrialization will do to this area.

Erik Molvar photoErik Molvar (Biodiversity Conservation Alliance): These are the first exploratory pods of a coalbed methane project that is going to be almost 4,000 wells, which is going to carpet the entire Atlantic Rim area, an area that's fifty miles long from north to south and ten to fifteen miles wide. With eight wells per sqare mile, a very high density of roads and pipelines, essentially turning a landscape that today is wild and very important habitat into a landscape that is industrial in nature and has very little habitat value for wildlife.

Dru Bower: We are subject to several permitting, an exhaustive, cumbersome, permitting regulatory requirements that we must go through in order to actually access and develop our leases.

You're looking at anywhere from three to five years before you can get a return on that investment.

Eddie Carpenter photoEddie Carpenter (Wyoming Operations Manager, Tom Brown, Inc.): The people that work in the oil and gas industry -- they live, fish, and hunt in this state. And we know how to balance the environment along with the economic needs of the state, because we all have to live here.

Geoff O'Gara: Almost forgotten in this struggle are the folks in the small communities of the basin, who experienced both the boom and its aftermath.

Dave Perry photoDave Perry (Editor, Rawlins Daily Times): What they see now is a relatively recessed economy that's looking for something. They are aware that test wells are being evaluated and that the beginning is here, but they don't know how far that will go.

Geoff O'Gara: The struggle between energy development and conservation of these wildlands is not new, only more acute as the energy needs of the nation grow and accelerate. With streamlining of government programs and new technology, we can get these ancient fossil fuels out in a hurry. But not without an impact on our ever dimishing remnants of wildlife and wildlands.

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