Powder River Country
by Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State University Libraries
Educational Media Reviews On-Line
October 10, 2005
This documentary details the impact on the water supply, inhabitants, landscape, and ecology of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. To extract coal bed methane for producing commercial natural gas, the gas companies pump water from the coal seams, reducing the pressure on the trapped methane, which then can be released with the pumped water, compressed and processed as natural gas. Though it’s projected that some 50, 000 wells will need to be drilled or pumping stations constructed, the energy potential of the methane in the Powder River Basin is the equivalent of one year’s energy needs for the United States. Meanwhile, the rush to mine coal gas methane offers long term problems for the ecosystem: loss of artesian wells and other potable water resources; addition of processing buildings and roads to a once isolated, undisturbed landscape; means of disposal of pumped water high in salt and bicarbonates; destruction of an aquifer that may take from as short as 6 years to as long as 100 or more years to recharge. Opinions from Basin residents and scenes of the landscape are balanced with interviews with gas producers and scenes of trucks hauling gas, waste water, or rumbling their drilling equipment through the landscape.Powder River County is excellently filmed, produced, and edited. The camera and sound work are combined masterfully in contrasting the disparate images the Basin in quiet solitude, with the Basin overrun with pumping sheds, waste water ponds, gas compressors, dirt roads, dust and truck traffic. Though some landowners have been satisfied with payments they have received from the energy prospecting companies for rights to minerals beneath their lands, Powder River Country is a powerful introduction to the real present and future costs of coal bed methane production to residents of the Powder River Basin. It is a call for action to curb the irreversible damage to the ecosystem that some energy companies have negotiated with private citizens in response to their various interpretations of the final environmental impact statement regarding coal bed methane production in the Basin. The video is an excellent insight into the hidden costs of our headlong rush toward energy resource development.