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Drilling the West
JULY 2005
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In Learn More the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects. Special thanks to the Research Division.

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 Did You Know?  
 Related Links  
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Did You Know?Did You Know?

There is a good chance if you purchase property in Wyoming (and many other areas in the Rocky Mountain West) you may not be getting ownership of as much of the property as you think you are. An estimated 48 percent of the private land in the state of Wyoming is split estate, meaning one party owns the surface land rights and another the subsurface mineral rights.
Why do the landowners find themselves in this situation?  It's largely the legacy of the Stock Raising Homestead Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1916.

In the 1860s the United States owned millions of acres of western land it wanted to see developed and put into the hands of small independent farmers. To encourage westward migration, the government passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The law allowed men and women to claim up to 160 acres (67 hectares) of land for a nominal filing fee if they lived on and cultivated the land for five years. Settlers soon found that in the semiarid areas of the West 160 acres was inadequate to produce enough crops to support a family. They pressured Congress to face reality and increase the amount of land to which one could lay claim. This set in motion a series of new land grant laws that tried to accommodate the needs of the western pioneers—laws such as the Desert Land Act of 1877 and the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909. This legislation addressed only farming concerns. There remained, though, vast amounts of land that were not suitable for cultivating any commercial crops. These acres were best used for grazing and raising forage crops. To help the rancher, Congress passed the Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916, which allowed a settler to claim 640 acres (259 hectares) of nonirrigable land that had been designated by the Secretary of the Interior as "stock raising" land. At a time when mineral exploration was beginning to escalate, the federal government opted to maintain the mineral rights to the land claimed under that 1916 law.

—Abby Tipton


Related Links

Environmental Working Group
Who owns the West? An investigation by this environmental research group looks at gas exploration on western lands and spotlights five ecologically sensitive areas that are targets for drilling.
Natural Gas Supply Organization
This website provides comprehensive information on topics related to natural gas such as the history of its exploration, how it is extracted, and who uses it.
Energy Information Administration
If you love statistics, log on to this site for a wealth of data related to natural gas reserves, prices, production, consumption, and more!
Coal Bed Methane
Montana State University has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about coal bed methane gas. Visit this website to learn what coal bed methane is, how it is extracted, what its impact is on the land and local aquifers, and why people are concerned about the extraction of this resource.
CBM Clearinghouse
Set up as a centralized clearinghouse for all aspects of coal-bed-methane-related issues in Wyoming, this site contains research reports, maps, photos, and links to other pertinent websites.
Wilderness Society
Come here to learn what some environmental advocates have to say about gas exploration on our public lands.
Upper Green River Valley Coalition
The Upper Green River Valley Coalition advocates responsible, sustainable management of the wildlife, waters, and air quality of Wyoming's Upper Green, a vital portion of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The coalition believes that there is a place for natural gas development in the Upper Green as long as the valley's abundant wildlife and air and water resources are safeguarded and local communities protected.
Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing 262 million acres (106 million hectares) of land and a total of about 700 million acres (283 million hectares) of subsurface minerals.


Bureau of Land Management. Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Jonah Infill Drilling Project, Sublette County, Wyoming. February 2005.
Cleveland, Cutler J. A Preliminary Economic Assessment of "Scientific Inventory of Onshore Federal Lands' Oil and Gas Resources and Reserves and the Extent and Nature of Restrictions or Impediments to Their Development," U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Energy. Available online at www.oilanalytics.org/policy/EPCA_Study(final).pdf.
Miller, Alan C. "White  House Puts the West on Fast Track for Oil, Gas Drilling." Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2004.
U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Energy. Scientific Inventory of Onshore Federal Lands' Oil and Gas Resources and Reserves and the Extent and Nature of Restrictions or Impediments to Their Development. 2003.
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy. Rocky Mountain States Natural Gas: Resource Potential and Prerequisites to Expanded Production. Washington, D.C., September 2003.

NGS Resources

Appenzeller, Tim. "The End of Cheap Oil." National Geographic (June 2004), 80-109.
Jerome, Kate Boehm. Using Energy. National Geographic Reading Expeditions, 2003.
Grupper, Jonathan. Destination: Rocky Mountains. National Geographic Books, 2001.
Mitchell, John G. "In Focus Artic National Wildlife Refuge: Oil Field or Sanctuary? "  National Geographic (August 2001), 46-55.
"Insatiable Appetites: Rising Global Energy Consumption Fuels the Search for Alternatives. " National Geographic (March 2001).
DeWitt, Lynda. "Going Without Gasoline: Kids Rally in Their Sun-Powered Car." National Geographic World (April 2000), 12-13.
Miller, Peter. "A Comeback for Nuclear Power? Our Electric Future." National Geographic (August 1991), 60-89.
White, Peter T. "The Fascinating World of Trash." National Geographic (April 1983), 424-57.
Gore, Rick. "Conservation: Can We Live Better on Less?" National Geographic (February 1981), 34-57.
Matthews, Samuel W. "New World of the Ocean." National Geographic (December 1981), 792-832.
Weaver, Kenneth. "Geothermal Energy: The Power of Letting Off Steam." National Geographic (October 1977), 566-79.
White, Peter T. "This Land of Ours? How Are We Using It?" National Geographic (July 1976), 20-67.

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