The view from above

  • Greg Hanscom

 

Former High Country News Publisher Ed Marston used to say that HCN is a lot like a kid who’s just learning to ski: We tend to stay close to the ground.

Our far-flung readers and freelance writers tip us off to the stories in their back yards. Even our coverage of what’s happening high up in Congress and the land-management agencies comes from the perspective of people rooted in the West. This grassroots approach allows us to see regional stories before the big urban news outlets do, and it helps us show how policy impacts communities and the land. But it has its downside, too.

Take the current rush for the West’s oil and gas. As early as 1994, HCN was documenting the gas buildup in southwest Wyoming. The scale of the boom began to come into focus in the spring of 1999, when we sent intern Rebecca Clarren to Durango, Colo., to report on the fight brewing between gas drillers and local landowners who said drilling was trashing their property and contaminating their water. That fall, another intern, Tim Westby, drove to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where the industry was predicting it would drill 15,000 wells over 20 years.

Since then, we have told the story of a Wyoming horse trainer who fought destructive coalbed methane drilling on his ranch. We’ve written about ranchette owners in Montana, who were shocked to discover that the mineral deposits beneath their property had been leased to gas companies. We’ve profiled local people and agency staffers who have resisted irresponsible development, as well as government officials who have altered or ignored the science that shows how damaging oil and gas drilling can be.

We have done little, however, to look at the larger picture — to explain the forces that are driving this boom, or to consider how the West might profit from it.

That’s the reasoning behind this two-part series, "The Boom and Beyond." In the last issue, HCN Northern Rockies Editor Ray Ring followed the money flowing off the gas fields and asked if Westerners are reaping enough from the bounty. In this issue, Associate Editor Matt Jenkins writes about the national and global forces that are spurring this boom, and Jennie Lay, Allen Best and Laura Paskus look ahead at the speculation and development yet to come, as oil and gas reserves dwindle worldwide.

The bonanza is certainly here to stay for a while. But as we wrote in the last issue, no boom lasts forever. We have a responsibility to plan ahead for a life beyond the oil fields. There is no better place than the West to create a sustainable energy future. And there is no time like the present to begin the task.

The stories in this series are still rooted in the West, but as the cover of this issue suggests, we’ve tried to look at them from a larger perspective. In other words: The little skier has taken a trip all the way to the top of the mountain, trying to get a clear glimpse of what lies ahead.

To read HCN’s coverage of the energy boom, go to www.hcn.org/boom.jsp.

If you have a story tip, e-mail us at [email protected].

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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