High on the list of Very Remote Places on Earth are the Great Sand Hills, a 730-square-mile stretch of sage brush and dunes in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. There is one road in the region, and precious little traffic on it. The main residents are mule deer, coyotes, burrowing owls, and the endangered Ferruginous hawk. But the Sand Hills are also home to bountiful, close-to-the-surface natural-gas resources — a potential treasure trove for energy companies. Calgary-based Star Oil and Gas wants to increase its number of wells from 39 to 179, and Andarko Canada wants to drill about 100 new ones. A decade-old zoning law prohibits development in much of the region, but the possibility of private and public money (government coffers get a cut of the drilling profits) has placed the land-use rules back on the drawing board. Environmentalists worry about the cumulative impact of so many new wells and underground pipelines on the delicate ecosystem.
Get Grist in your inbox