Are Western Communities Getting a Fair Return on Energy Development?
With sky-high energy prices driving new oil and gas exploration in the American West, states are struggling to keep pace with critical infrastructure and revenue policies. Western North Dakota, for example, is in the throes of a raging energy boom, as hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling techniques coax valuable hydrocarbons out of long-dormant oilfields. But as towns like Williston see their populations double virtually overnight and vital farm-to-market roads crumble under 18-wheel trucks, how best to ensure that local communities can survive the onslaught, and to reap rewards that benefit the whole state, long after the boom is over?
Working with Montana-based Headwaters Economics, The Center's Rural West Initiative has published a comprehensive multimedia report online, combining a rigorous economic and policy analysis with a 31-minute interactive video documentary called "An Unquiet Landscape: The American West's New Energy Frontier."
The video feature, reported by the intiative's director, John McChesney, looks at three rural western communities at different stages of the process of energy development: North Dakota, where a recent drilling frenzy has pushed it to the third-highest oil production in the U.S.; western Wyoming, where residents are coping with air pollution and habitat destruction after a decade of oil and gas exploration; and eastern Wyoming, where residents of one of the state's poorest communities pin their hopes on a boom on the local Niobrara formation.
"Energy development is arguably the greatest force transforming the rural West today," says McChesney, who came to direct the Bill Lane Center for the American West's Rural West Initiative after three decades at NPR.
The video report is published in an innovative format, an annotated, interactive player that presents supplementary information at key points in the documentary. "The player combines the benefits of powerful video storytelling with the precision of print and the linked nature of the web," says Geoff McGhee, the Center's Creative Director, who was a co-producer of the video. The team will be sharing the source code for the interactive player under an open source, creative commons license for noncommercial reuse.
The Headwaters report can be downloaded in its entirety from the Rural West Initiative website.