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Know the West

Leaked natural gas, oil-price ripple effects and a live HCN forum on public lands management.

Hcn.org news in brief.


The oil and gas industry has long claimed there’s no evidence hydraulic fracturing contaminates drinking water. But a major Environmental Protection Agency assessment released in June determined that fracking and horizontal drilling have the potential to do so. The study identified the greatest risks to drinking water, including spills. The study found no evidence that “widespread” pollution of drinking water occurred from these drilling techniques. The number of known cases of well contamination and other impacts to drinking water was small compared to the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 new wells drilled and fracked between 2011 and 2014 and the many more older wells that also were fracked, the study states. Industry groups say this confirms the safety of their operations. But the EPA study concedes that a lack of research may explain why the agency failed to find widespread impacts.
-Elizabeth Shogren 

An open runoff pit containing water used in the fracking process in the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota.
Roger M. Richards

In the oil and gas industry, they say the best cure for high prices is high prices. High prices lead to more drilling, greater production and greater supply. They encourage conservation and dampen demand. When supply then exceeds demand, prices drop, so it’s no longer economically feasible to be drilling wells at a cost of $2 million to $20 million a pop. The drill rigs come down and production declines, creating low oil prices, more driving and hence more demand. It’s a wacky ride, but somewhat predictable. What goes up must eventually come down.
-Jonathan Thompson 


Click to view larger.

12.8 BILLION the amount of natural gas, in cubic feet, leaked from natural gas gathering and transmission systems since 2010

170,000 number of homes that amount could heat for a year 

From nearly 700 “incidents” reported since 2010 to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The reported incidents killed 70 people and injured more than 300. Total costs in lost gas and property damage was nearly $700 million. All that natural gas is about 95 percent methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. Methane can escape into the atmosphere during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process; it’s emitted from processing plants and wells, and large quantities of it can escape when pipelines and other parts of the infrastructure spring leaks or are ruptured.
-Jonathan Thompson

arcology \är’kälƏjē\
A portmanteau of “architecture” and “eco-logy,” used by author Paolo Bacigalupi in his new novel, The Water Knife, to name the urban megatowers of the near future and symbolize “the moment that humanity accepts that the world outside is no longer an inviting and supportive and sustaining place.”
-Brian Calvert


Early in June, High Country News hosted a live discussion on federal control and what that can mean for individuals in a Western community — in this case our home, Paonia, Colorado. Environmentalists, an oil and gas representative and a local rancher all gave their opinions on what works and what doesn’t in this eternal, intractable tug-of-war. You can hear it all online.

Panelists Robbie LeValley, a rancher and Delta County administrator, left, with Pitkin County’s Chris Selden.
Brooke Warren


Cannon Michael, a sixth-generation farmer in California’s Central Valley, recently told U.S. senators about the “disturbing time” he and his family are experiencing because of his state’s multi-year drought. Michael fears farmers won’t get the water they expected this summer. The deal between state and federal officials about how to divvy up the scarce water supplies from the Central Valley Project was revoked because water temperatures are higher than anticipated. Officials are legally obligated to ensure cooler temperatures during runs later in the year of endangered chinook salmon.
-Elizabeth Shogren


You say

Frederick Joy: “Always the poor farmer. Most get taxpayer-funded, subsidized water, and most are actually big farming companies. The only place we should be storing more water is in underground aquifers. Water conservation, drip irrigation, crops that don’t require as much water, replenishing groundwater in Central Valley by draining Lake Powell, and higher water rates would solve most of the problem.”

Kathleen O’Brien Blair: “They’ll privatize water — you just watch.”

Paul Blue Lights Grogan: “Why not just pump it in from the sea? As it goes through the pipeline, it desalts and comes out the other end. Then use salt crystals for building materials in 3D printers.”