I’d do it again in a heartbeat: Coalbed methane development and satisfied surface owners in Sheridan County, Wyoming

Authors: Kathryn Walsh*, Montana State University
Topics: Energy, Resources, Qualitative Research
Keywords: oil and gas development, split estate, surface owners, social acceptability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The geographic extent and surface footprint of onshore oil and gas development in the United States have greatly expanded since the mid-1990s, prompting a new set of academic questions and public debates about the social acceptability of the industry. We explore an under-examined phenomenon in the research on the social acceptability of oil and gas industries, that of landowner acceptance and satisfaction with development. We examine a group of split estate surface owners who hosted coalbed methane development (CBM) during the 1998–2008 CBM rush in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with surface owners and oil and gas attorneys in Sheridan County, Wyoming, we learn that positive post facto assessments of the CBM boom were linked to landowner implementation of diverse but related strategies connected to their private participation in planning for development. We find that private participation during exploration, regarding legal negotiations, and monitoring during development were most closely linked with eventual satisfaction. However, no two surface owners implemented the same strategies, indicating that there are diverse paths to satisfaction. Findings suggest that greater attention be paid to the individual experiences of landowners to further clarify the challenges and opportunities for hosting extractive industries on private lands.

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