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Uncovering the (Sky)Truth About Wyoming’s Gas Fields
Robert Katz, 10 Jan 07
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When I think of oil and gas drilling, I start with OPEC – especially Saudi Arabia/Nigeria/Venezuela on the oil side and Russia on the natural gas front. What I tend to overlook is the fact that there’s serious petroleum production happening in the United States, often in areas close to major population centers or wildlife refuges. After spending some time this morning exploring SkyTruth, I don’t think I’ll overlook the impact of domestic petroleum production again.

SkyTruth uses remote sensing and digital mapping technology to promote environmental awareness and sustainable resource management. With innovative technologies such as Google Earth at its disposal, SkyTruth makes scientifically robust information come alive. To better understand what they do, I spent some time browsing through their most recent project, a series of videos, images, and Google Earth downloads about the impact of natural gas drilling in the Upper Green River Valley of western Wyoming.

Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released plans to significantly expand natural gas drilling on the Pinedale Anticline, in the Jonah Field, and in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of western Wyoming. This week, SkyTruth – in partnership with the local Upper Green River Valley Coalition – offered a release of its own. It’s a web-based video and interactive media toolkit that allows the viewer to take a simulated flight over the gas fields – and to see, using time lapse technology, the impacts of historic, current and proposed drilling in some of the fastest-growing gas fields in the United States.

The video is well worth ten minutes of your time. As you pan over the landscape – a nice mashup of Google Earth is at play here – the narrator describes the proximity of natural gas fields to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks as well as to Jackson Hole. You follow the path of migrating wildlife, which leads you into the heart of a fast-growing natural gas field. I never knew what a gas field looked like – 3 to 4 acre drilling pads connected by a spider web network of pipeline and roads. In the Jonah Field, there are more than 500 such pads spread over thousands of acres. Thanks to these tools, I can see the impact of drilling without ever setting foot in the Upper Green River Valley.

Of course SkyTruth and its partners have an axe to grind – they want the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to step up and manage drilling in the Valley to minimize its impact. That gas and oil prices remain high makes it unlikely that exploration will cease; geologists claim that there are economically viable, proven techniques that would lower impact, but without incentives from regulators, companies will take the cheaper, environmentally damaging road.

In terms of making science come alive, SkyTruth is at the cutting edge. They’ve harnessed tools – from GIS and Google Earth to aerial photography and YouTube – to take their case global. Check out the video, download the Google Earth file, and explore for yourself. And keep an eye on SkyTruth – there are bound to be more interesting products coming from them soon.

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