Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment

Cover image for Vol. 36 Issue 2

Edited By: Jeanne Simonelli and Stephanie Paladino

Online ISSN: 2153-9561

What can Colorados floods teach us about energy extraction issues?

Colorado Flooding

A 100-year flood event has caused a growing environmental disaster in Colorado (Read the full article from The Guardian here). Photograph: Jeffrey Barbee/The Guardian

Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin: Understanding Emerging Conflicts and Community Organizing
Thomas W. Pearson

Fracking's Future in a Coal Mining Past: Subjectivity Undermined
Anastasia Hudgins

Hazards So Grave: Anthropology and Energy
Stephanie Paladino, Jeanne Simonelli

The Agri-Gas Fields of Australia: Black Soil, Food, and Unconventional Gas
Kim de Rijke

What can Colorado’s floods teach us about energy extraction issues?
Jeanne Simonelli, Co-editor, CAFE

As flood waters rose along Colorado’s front range on September 13th and 14th, those involved with research into energy extraction in the U.S. and elsewhere added concern about Colorado’s burgeoning gas and oil fields to concern over individual lives and homes. During the 2013 Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Denver last March, we heard representatives from Longmont, Colorado’s activist movement describe how they won a ballot initiative to ban additional hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in that city. With 100 year flood level waters submerging land, oil and gas wells, tanks and pipelines, Longmont friends assessed their losses:

"Longmont fared better than some of our neighbors due to some great action and foresight from our city and utilities. But many people's homes and businesses were badly damaged. Surrounding communities are even worse. We're seeing a lot of wells that were in flood plain areas that were obviously submerged along with everything else in the area. It seems that some things can be shut down remotely, but like all the other damage in the area, it will likely be a long time before we truly know the ramifications of the flood on the oil and gas industry operations in our area. For sure, we are going to have massive water shortages, which will intensify the discussion around using our precious resources for fracking."
September 18 at 2:17pm

Reuters was one of the first news agencies to report on the possible damages (read the full article here). Activists complained of a news blackout and social scientists and grassroots organizations working in other areas slated for fracking and/or its infrastructure wondered about the implications of this disaster for their own flood prone regions.

CAFE’s most recent issue takes a long look at energy extraction issues worldwide. Featured here is the issue’s introduction and three articles describing gas extraction and infrastructure in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Australia. Social science has a great deal to offer about the implications of this kind of industrial development on the individuals and communities who are subject to it. Our work and voices should be heard in order to influence policy in a timely fashion. For as Margaret Mead noted, speaking about nuclear energy 37 years ago:

“These are hazards so grave that every citizen should have a voice in deciding whether this is the road to energy independence we—or anyone—should take….” (Margaret Mead 1976, in Townsend 2013, CAFE 35/1)

Google Earth Image

Land use competition on the Darling Downs: CSG wells (left), a coal mine (centre) and broad acre farming (right). Source: Google Earth (see Kim de Rijke, CAFE 35/1)