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Methane drilling well
Science and Health:
Stripping the West
More on This Story:
Methane Drilling

Coal and Methane Gas Development Areas

As STRIPPING THE WEST shows, our own thirst for fossil fuels will also contribute to future water shortages. In state after state, land is increasingly being opened up to large-scale drilling for oil and gas. It is a policy designed to make the most of America's natural resources. But it may be causing the destruction of our most precious resource: clean water. Take the case of the Powder River Basin in northern Wyoming.

Here as many as 60 million gallons of water a day are being dumped on ranch land. But this water isn't for irrigation — it's a byproduct of drilling for the methane gas that surrounds the coalbeds of the basin.
Transcript Read more about the Powder River Basin.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are more than 700 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane gas beneath the surface of the United States. More than 1 trillion cubic feet of this is seen as "economically recoverable." The map above shows areas of the United States where coalbed methane drilling may soon be a way of life. The five priority coal regions are: Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Plains; Illinois Basin; Appalachian Basin; Colorado Plateau; and the Gulf Coast.

But what are we to do to meet our energy needs? For coalbed methane exploration, the future looks mixed. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit in Alabama ordered the E.P.A. to review its approval of the state's program for ensuring that the underground drilling for coalbed methane does not pollute groundwater.

In the House, yet to pass, a tax credit to coalbed methane producers that was to expire in 2003 is extended for several more years. The Bureau of Mines is currently studying bringing this type of coalbed methane production to many states: Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.

There are many thinkers who have ideas about the best way to manage our nation's resources. Bill Moyers interviews Boone Pickens, one businessman who recognized the market value of water long ago, and advocates privatization.


T. Boone Pickens is the president of Mesa Petroleum, the country's largest independent producer, which he founded in 1956. He founded the United Shareholders Association in 1986, and he clashed with corporate Japan as the largest stockholder in a Tokyo-based corporation. Now CEO of BP Capital, his autobiography, BOONE, was listed for 15 weeks on THE NEW YORK TIMES Best Seller List.

Privatization Database
A project of the Reason Foundation's Privatization Center.This site offers information on trends, cost savings potential, best practices/case studies, articles and links, and more.

High noon at the Ogallala aquifer", February 1, 2001

For Texas Now Water, Not Oil, Is Liquid Gold
The New York Times, April 16, 2001

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