Horizontal drilling, property, and access: securing subterranean territories of oil and gas extraction

Authors: Nicholas Schuelke*, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: oil and gas, property, access, Colorado
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies has had a profound impact on the development of oil and gas resources around the globe, especially in the United States. Despite increasing engagement among geographers with the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this form of resource extraction and the various controversies it has engendered, this growing body of scholarship has largely omitted horizontal drilling technology in its investigations. I contend that the spatial impacts and implications of horizontal drilling ought to receive more explicit attention in geographic research. I argue that in many ways horizontal drilling technology has changed spatial relations of property, territory, and access with respect to mineral resources. The lateral extent of horizontal wellbores, often across multiple tracts of mineral ownership, and the subsurface reservoir spaces allocated for production from these wellbores, have created new sociospatial relationships through the transformation of property into extractive territories. I examine two types of controversies over gaining access rights to oil and gas resources through horizontal drilling in Colorado’s Greater Wattenberg Area—competing claims between private capital interests to subterranean spaces of extraction and compulsory pooling of mineral interests. I demonstrate that the multiple spatial and temporal dimensions of both objections to these access rights and proposed regulatory changes to alleviate these controversies reveal the complexity and contestability of securing access to mineral resources through horizontal drilling.

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