During the portion of my time in Louisiana that I administered the state’s coastal zone management program I attended a coastal zone managers meeting in Florida.
At the conclusion of an afternoon business session a group of us walked down to the beach to look out across the Gulf of Mexico. In an attempt to be humorous, I made the comment that something just didn’t seem right with the view.
When asked what I meant, I replied that there weren’t any oil and gas platforms in sight.
This was a time when most coastal states were vehemently resisting efforts to lease offshore areas for oil and gas development, so none of my colleagues found my remark funny or rational.
Fast forward to today and I can imagine a West Texas rancher making a similar comment as he looks across a windmill-free landscape somewhere in Nebraska or Michigan. While the importance of viewscapes as environmental factors in decision-making is a debatable point, the landscape effects of energy infrastructure is a growing issue – and it isn’t limited to oil and gas.
Some who question claims that solar power is the next comprehensive provider of energy are fond of showing maps depicting how many state-equivalent land areas would be covered by solar panels if solar were to replace conventional electricity generation facilities.
Similarly, those skeptical about cornbased ethanol replacing petroleumbased gasoline envision a landscape planted in corn stretching from sea to shining sea.
It is unlikely that any state’s congressional delegation or regulatory process would let these things happen, but it does point out that a modern economy and lifestyle in a country that is heading toward a population of 400 million people within a few decades, is going to see more land affected by energy production infrastructure growth to go along with the spread of subdivisions, strip malls and golf courses.
Within the oil and gas sector we are seeing increased densities of wells in existing fields as infill drilling is employed to maximize recovery from known resources. Unconventional sources of natural gas – notably coalbed methane and shale reservoirs – require denser well spacings than those in many conventional fields. Then there are service roads, compressor stations and pipelines that are part of the production and transport process.
As the quest for unconventional oil and gas moves into areas not accustomed to drill rigs and production pads – especially those areas now occupied by affluent former urbanites who have retreated to the country – opposition to landscape change will grow.
Whether it is oil and gas wells, windmills, solar panels, fields of switchgrass, coal mines, in situ uranium well fields or oil shale production facilities, landscape and viewscape effects of energy development are inevitable.
Our education process tends to leave students with the impression that the landscape effects of food production through farming are “natural” and acceptable, whereas energy and mineral extraction are undesirable and avoidable activities.
This is an area where those interested in the environmental – including quality-of- view, effects of hydrocarbon, wind, solar, biomass and other energy production activities and infrastructure – should band together to influence the education of our children and the general public, not only about the importance of energy production, but that it is as “natural” a part of our landscape as farms, subdivisions and strip malls.
While many who value the rural image of our nation may not welcome the spread of any of these across the countryside, at a minimum we should work to ensure that the energy production facilities component of the spread is not singled out as unnecessary, and therefore avoidable.
AAPG, through its education program and DEG, should explore alliances and creative approaches to accomplishing greater acceptance of the energy infrastructure necessary to support the economy and lifestyle few Americans appear willing to curtail.