Impact of Energy Development on Local Populations

In today’s guest post, Emerson’s Douglas Morris, a member of the alternative energy industry team, explores the impact on local inhabitants as the locations for energy development continue to fan out across the globe.

Emerson's Douglas MorrisLast year I had the opportunity to visit Northwestern China and moderate a panel at a coal chemical conference. I met some great people who were passionate about building the coal chemical infrastructure in China. A little bit about this unique industry: depending on the location, plants manufacturing different end products are planned based upon the 12th 5-year plan. One major facet of this intensive development effort is to manufacture billions of cubic feet of Substitute Natural Gas (SNG) in the northwest Xinjiang region where the coal and infrastructure are particularly suited for SNG production.

The SNG effort is well underway with plants and distribution pipelines being both planned and built. On the surface, it appears that those involved in implementing this complex and capital intensive development will be successful, but based on some recent events, it is clear that in the quest to develop this unconventional energy resource in a formerly undeveloped part of the world requires more than simply good engineering and project execution.

You see the Xinjiang province includes the Uighur Autonomous region where there seems to be growing friction between the traditional population that relied upon farming for subsistence and developers who are excavating coal to support the countries energy demand. Although the area has profited from economic development, there is a clear yearning by some to return to the traditional Uighur rural lifestyle. As the number of entrepreneurs and investors moving to this area continues to increase, there is the potential to exacerbate this tension.

A parallel is occurring in the United States where there is tension developing between long-time residents in Western North Dakota and the oil developers drilling the Bakken range. As temporary workers flood the area and the landscape changes from farming prairie to oil wells and temporary housing, locals have expressed concern about losing their small town lifestyle.

My point is not to make a statement about who is right or wrong, rather, that as the world looks for sources of energy in more remote and harder to reach regions, one must take into account the effects of development on the local population. How these disagreements in China and North Dakota are managed may offer insight into improved methods for developing unconventional energy resources in the future.

Update: Welcome readers of Gary Mintchell’s Feed Forward blog and thanks for visiting!