Thursday, September 13, 2007
Although a stereotype is that most coal comes from the mountains of Appalachia, the largest coal-producing state in the nation is Wyoming, especially in the Powder River Basin. With a new push for domestic sources of energy, the government has plans to expand leasing to extract underground coal bed methane, which is a natural gas. This week, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a partial injunction on coal bed methane development in the Powder River Basin. The Court affirmed a lower court ruling that the Bureau of Land Management did not create a sufficiently detailed Environmental Impact Statement; extraction can resume when and if the agency creates a sufficient study. (Northern Cheyenne Tribe v. Norton, No. 05-35408 (U.S. Ct. App. 9th Cir., Sept. 11 2007)).
While the government controls the subsurface minerals in the Power River Basin, farmers and ranchers own most of the surface. Environmental problems with coal bed methane extraction include the pollution of rivers with groundwater, the lowering of the water table, and aesthetic harm of wells and machinery on the surface.
The case highlights our nation’s conflicted view of domestic resource production: We prefer to be less reliant on foreign sources of energy, but dislike the land use injuries caused by mineral extractions.