“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment.” D. H. Lawrence

THE POWDER RIVER BASIN is a magnificent rolling prairie that sweeps from the Black Hills to the Big Horn Mountains. Step back 200 million years into the Jurassic Period and it is the floor of the Sundance Sea. This is the prairie landscape embedded in our collective American memory of wagon trains, Indians, cowboys and the big open range, but that image is under attack. Our Federal policy that promotes energy independence has created a METHANE GAS FEVER that is sweeping the Prairie.

The GRASSLAND was home to the great bison herds and the Sioux people, but in 1866 the US Army established the Bozeman Trail as a short cut to the Montana gold fields. The trail fragmented the Sioux territory, precipitated the terrible Indian wars, and quickly became known as the “Bloody Bozeman”. The wagon ruts of the old trail, still visible today, are a stark reminder of a poorly conceived Federal policy.

The bison are long gone and the POWDER RIVER BASIN is now home to historic battlefields, ranches and a rural way of life. The GRASSLAND not only supplies beef to the nation, but also energy. The Basin boasts one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. Vast open pit coal mines line the highway around Gillette and mile long coal trains cut across the landscape bringing low sulphur coal to feed electric plants around the Country.

With the recent onset of METHANE FEVER the industrial landscape surrounding Gillette is rapidly spreading across the open Prairie. Seemingly over night, bulldozers have created a spider web of roads to connect thousands of wells, roaring compressor stations dot the landscape and in the process of extracting the gas, salt ladened water is being pumped from the ancient aquifer into giant plastic lined reservoirs. Being the West, it is a split estate - landowners own the surface rights to their land while the Federal Government controls the mineral rights. The gold rush mentality of the Energy Companies has created tension among landowners who reap no profit nor control where the Energy Companies build their roads and wells.

Margot Balboni - March12, 2010