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Monday | September 30, 2002

Wyoming governor's race: sleeper upset pick

I elicited some surprise when I wrote Saturday that Wyoming might elect a Democratic governor. That race is my sleeper upset pick.

The issue in WY is not "liberals v. conservatives", it's ranchers v. coal bed methane interests. For a quick look at the coal bed methane issue, check out this NYT editorial. A friend's father is a GOP county commissioner in WY -- a real, hard-core, anti-regulation, life-long Republican. However, he has aligned himself with the ranchers, and as a result, will be voting Democrat (for the first time in his life) in the governor's race. As the op/ed notes:

The sheer invasiveness of methane development has created unusual alliances, alienating not only environmentalists but also bedrock Republican ranchers of the sort the White House takes for granted. The ranchers who do not own the mineral rights under their property have discovered they can't say no when the drillers come knocking at their door.
How invasive is coal bed methane mining?
For starters, to free the gas, huge quantities of water must be pumped from the coal seam. At the surface, the gas is collected in compressor stations that roar like jet engines 24 hours a day, then piped away. The water is dumped in streams and ditches. In a semi-arid region like the Powder River Basin, extra water might seem like a boon, except for two things. The high salt content renders much of the water unfit for irrigation. And the pumping depletes underground aquifers, threatening the agricultural future of the region.

There are other costs. Environmentalists say that in Wyoming alone, the plan would require 17,000 miles of new roads, 20,000 miles of pipeline, 200 large compressors and nearly 5,000 containment pits for the water. The 12,000 wells already developed in the basin have left scars on the landscape. One can only imagine the damage from 77,000 new wells.

Suddenly, rabidly anti-government ranchers, forced to endure jet-engine turbines churning in their front yards, have found that government regulation has its place. The issue has turned state politics inside out, and has even garnered Freudenthal the endorsement of a former state Republican Party chairman and national delegate.

Wyoming's energy industry has had historical free rein in the state. It has now seemingly overreached with the CBM issue, and it may cost the GOP the governorship.

Update: I took down the Wyoming Network Poll -- it's an Internet poll. Freudenthal should take it down from his website. The last poll on this race, from mid-August, had Freudenthal (D) trailing 32 to 27 with a surprising number of undecideds.

Posted September 30, 2002 03:29 PM | Comments (5)


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