New strategies aim to limit drilling impact in Western U.S.

As pressure mounts from greens and the hook-and-bullet crowd to slow the pace of energy development in the American West, some companies are moving to support conservation research and employ strategies to lessen their impact. One such method, called “directional drilling,” involves the use of high-tech equipment to operate up to 32 wells from one entry point above ground. Another being tested is “adaptive management,” whereby regulatory and industry officials alter plans if drilling activities have harmful impacts on wildlife and habitat areas. Along with a proliferation of new drilling permits — some 5,700 in five Western states in the past year — comes another threat: sprawl. Small towns near energy developments, like Pinedale, Wyo., have seen population surges, which spur spikes in traffic and ugly cookie-cutter sub-developments. Says Pinedale city manager Ward Wise, “U.S. national energy policy is being played out on an epic scale in our backyard.”