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Archive for October, 2009

newaltolookingnorth

Looking North from New Alto

When I was working at Chaco, we would often get visitors who would complain about how hard it was to get there.  They usually focused on the road in and asked why there wasn’t more effort to pave it and make it more accessible to the American public.  After all, isn’t that what national parks are for?  Well, no, I would often respond.  The Park Service mission is preservation foremost and visitor services secondarily, and most of the time concerns about preservation trump concerns about accessibility and interpretation.  There is one interesting exception at Chaco, but for the most part the park is concerned more with preserving the sites than with showing them to the public.

areaclosedsign

"Area Closed" Sign on Peñasco Blanco Trail

Some people were satisfied with this explanation, but many weren’t.  I didn’t have much to say to those who took a more absolutist position on the right of the public to access the parks.  That’s just a basic philosophical difference, and the best we could do was agree to differ.

farmingtondowntownseeyousoon

Downtown Farmington, New Mexico

One thing I often thought about saying, however, was that it might be better to just build a full-scale model of Pueblo Bonito in downtown Farmington (or even Albuquerque).  For a lot of the visitors who come to Chaco, it’s really just a matter of seeing Pueblo Bonito, marveling at it, and going on their way.  They’re the ones who complain about how hard it is to get there; arguments about how the isolation is part of the point carry no water with them.  I never actually said this, but I do wonder if it might be a good idea.  One of the ways in which the two aspects of the Park Service mission are very much in tension is that preservation and visitation are not only different, they’re actually often in direct conflict.  Visitor impacts are among the most serious threats to the preservation of the sites.  Sometimes people deliberately vandalize the sites, carve their names one the canyon walls, or steal artifacts, but even the vast majority of visitors who don’t do anything deliberately nonetheless destabilize the sites just by being there, walking through them, inadvertently touching the walls, and so forth.  The biggest single thing the park could do to improve preservation of the sites would be to limit public access to them.

bonitofromabove

Pueblo Bonito from Above

A full-scale replica of Pueblo Bonito in another location would have a similar effect: drawing the casual visitors away from the canyon and leaving it to the more serious people who are willing to brave the road to get there.  There would be little need to recreate any of the other sites, except perhaps Casa Rinconada; Bonito is what people come to Chaco for.

rinconadalookingnorth

Casa Rinconada, Looking North

It won’t happen, of course, but it’s not as crazy an idea as it sounds.  I was reminded of it by Paul Barford’s recent post on an idea proposed by Trevor Watkins for dealing with the recent disputes among governments over some high-profile antiquities.  The proposal is to make replicas indistinguishable from the originals, then trade both the originals and the replicas back and forth between the source countries and the countries that currently have the objects without telling the public if what they see is original or a copy.  This seems like a bizarre thing to do, and I kind of doubt the source countries will be in favor of it (though they might like a version in which they get to keep the originals permanently and the acquiring countries have to make do with copies), but the proposal notes that there are actually some archaeological sites, particularly the Paleolithic caves at Lascaux and Altamira, that have full-scale replicas, and visitors seem to like them just fine and to even say that they are better than the originals because they allow better visibility of the interesting parts, which in the case of the caves are the cave paintings for which they are famous.  This is kind of an extreme version of the reconstruction of prehistoric sites that was popular in the Southwest in the 1930s, moving beyond that only in that the replicas are not adding on to the originals but are separate entirely.  In addition to being more convenient for visitors, this would also be better for preservation of the original sites.  I think American archaeology might actually be moving in this direction too, with the reburial of Baker Village after excavation, with only the protective capping on the walls visible from the service, being an early indication.

altolowwalls

Low Walls at Pueblo Alto

More directly relevant to Watkins’s proposal, perhaps, is the famous jet frog found in Room 38 at Pueblo Bonito by the Hyde Exploring Expedition in 1897.  Often considered one of the most remarkable Anasazi artifacts known, the frog is made of jet with turquoise inlay forming its eyes and neck, and is intact except for a couple of pieces of inlay on the neck.  Like all the rest of the material found by that expedition, the frog was sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it remains to this day, not on display but somewhere back in the storage cabinets.

chacomuseumjetfrog

Jet Frog Replica at Chaco Museum

There is, however, a jet frog prominently displayed in the museum at the Chaco visitor center.  Although it is not labeled as such, this is an exact replica of the original, right down to the missing inlay pieces.  Since the American Museum is notoriously protective of its collections, this is the best the park could do to show what the jet frog looks like.  This is exactly what Watkins is advocating: exact replicas, put on display without any indication that they aren’t original.  Unlike his proposal, of course, in this case the original and the replica don’t move back and forth, but any real-life implementation of the proposal would probably end up that way.

chacomuseum

Museum of Chaco Culture

What all this goes to show, I think, is that most people who come to archaeological sites and museums to see the wonders of the past aren’t all that concerned with the “authenticity” of what they see.  Indeed, for a lot of people an impressive reconstruction is preferable to an unimpressive original.  We would get some people who really wanted all the sites to be rebuilt to their original state.  (No way that’s ever going to happen, for a lot of reasons.)  There are visitors who only want to see the “real stuff,” but it’s important to realize that that isn’t everybody, and it may not even be a majority.  Many people go to see this stuff as entertainment, and they judge it on that basis.
ResearchBlogging.org
Pepper, G. (1905). Ceremonial Objects and Ornaments from Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico American Anthropologist, 7 (2), 183-197 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1905.7.2.02a00010

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wupatkiballcourtsign

Interpretive Sign at Ballcourt, Wupatki National Monument

Mike Smith points to a new blog, apparently modeled after one of his, reporting on ongoing research at a site in central Mexico.  Looks interesting.  Archaeology is a notoriously conservative discipline in general, and, true to form, it’s been very slow to adopt blogs.  Because of the small blogosphere in archaeology (especially American archaeology), I like to link to archaeological blogs even if they’re not directly relevant to the things I discuss here.  I’ve therefore added the Xaltocan blog to my blogroll, and I’ll be keeping an eye on it.  In the case of Mesoamerican archaeology, of course, the connection to Chaco isn’t as distant as one might think, or as most people thought as of a year ago.

edgeofthecedarstradesign

Interpretive Sign on Trade, Edge of the Cedars, Blanding, Utah

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Mike Kabotie Dies

pefosaltlakemural

Salt Lake Mural by Fred Kabotie at Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest

Via Southwestern Archaeology Today, I see that Hopi artist Mike Kabotie of Shongopovi on Second Mesa has died in Flagstaff of the H1N1 flu.  In addition to being an acclaimed artist in his own right, Mike was the son of Fred Kabotie, who did murals inspired by Hopi tradition for several Park Service facilities in the southwest, including the Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park.  I met Mike once when he stopped by Chaco.  He was a very nice guy and a talented artist.  He will be missed.

Planting Mural by Fred Kabotie at Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest

Planting Mural by Fred Kabotie at Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest

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Sign at Kin Klizhin

Sign at Kin Klizhin

Chaco Culture National Historical Park includes, in addition to the famous archaeological sites in Chaco Canyon itself, four “outlying” great houses located outside the canyon but in close proximity to it and showing considerable evidence of close contact with people there and integration into the system centered on the canyon.  One of these is Kin Klizhin (Navajo for “black house”), which lies just west of the main canyon on a small tributary of the Chaco River known as Kin Klizhin Wash.  The land surrounding Kin Klizhin was originally a detached unit of the park like the land surrounding the other in-park outliers, but over time the park boundaries have been expanded to connect it to the main unit.  This can be seen clearly on the official park map.  Also evident on the map, however, is that Kin Klizhin is not accessible directly from within the main park unit, and it is necessary to leave the park to get to the road that leads to it.

Sign on Road to Kin Klizhin

Sign on Road to Kin Klizhin

The road to Kin Klizhin is a small two-track dirt road that branches off from New Mexico 57, the south road out of the park heading toward Seven Lakes and Crownpoint.  There isn’t a sign right at the junction, but there is a small one a short distance afterward, and there aren’t a whole lot of other roads around there so it’s hard to miss.  The junction comes at the point where 57 curves from going east-west along the San Juan-McKinley county line to going south toward Seven Lakes.

Road to Kin Klizhin

Road to Kin Klizhin

The road to Kin Klizhin is considerably more basic than 57 (which is to say that if you think 57 is the worst road you’ve ever seen, you probably shouldn’t try to go to Kin Klizhin), but it’s generally passable with any sort of vehicle.  After the summer rains it may become washed out in places, so a high-clearance vehicle would be preferable.  Four-wheel drive isn’t really necessary except maybe if it’s actively raining, in which case you probably shouldn’t be trying to do this trip at all.  The road goes over some fairly hilly terrain for a few miles before reaching Kin Klizhin, which is right on the edge of the park boundary.

Kin Klizhin

Kin Klizhin

Kin Klizhin is completely unexcavated, and it isn’t very large as Chacoan great houses go, but it’s one of the better-preserved and more impressive ones.  This is due largely to its tower kiva, which is still in fairly good shape (although a look at the historic photographs at the Chaco Archive shows that it has deteriorated quite a bit in the past century).  Tower kivas are among the more mysterious aspects of the Chacoan system.  The term often gets thrown around a bit loosely, but it is generally used to refer to round rooms that have multiple levels with floors between them.  This is in contrast to the “elevated” or “blocked-in” kivas built into the roomblocks at many great houses both inside and outside the canyon; although those can in some instances be more than one story in height, they always have only one floor.

Interior of Tower Kiva at Kin Klizhin

Interior of Tower Kiva at Kin Klizhin

Tower kivas, which are found mostly at outlying great houses, usually  have two or three levels remaining.  Some have argued that they all originally had four levels, symbolizing the four worlds through which the people passed in some Pueblo origin legends, but this is a rather extreme jump to conclusions given that we don’t actually have any idea what these tower kivas were for.  There’s nothing like them in modern Pueblos.

Hosta Butte Framed by Kin Klizhin

Hosta Butte Framed by Kin Klizhin

Some have argued that the tower kivas were part of a signaling network using line-of-sight relationships between great houses.  A fair amount of data on the line-of-sight relationships has been assembled, but the role of the tower kivas in it is doubtful, and some research by John Kantner has recently suggested that at least in the southern San Juan Basin (where tower kivas are pretty common) they probably didn’t serve as part of a signaling network.  Whatever they were for, tower kivas are certainly impressive, and the one at Kin Klizhin is a good example.  It has collapsed enough that the main parts still standing are the corners, but they are still standing quite high, and from certain angles they look like football goalposts.

"Goalposts" at Kin Klizhin

"Goalposts" at Kin Klizhin

The function of the outliers in general, not just those with tower kivas, is a matter of intense debate and little consensus.  “Inner-ring” outliers like Kin Klizhin are particularly odd.  Were they examples of Chacoan colonization out from the canyon into the surrounding area?  If so, why were the Chacoans moving out?  If not, who was building them, and why?

Earthen Dam near Kin Klizhin

Earthen Dam near Kin Klizhin

These aren’t really answerable questions given current information, but a few possibilities have been suggested.  Kin Klizhin lies in a relatively promising area for floodwater agriculture, in a valley near the canyon with a wash that could be easily dammed to provide a reservoir for water storage.  There is in fact an earthen dam near the great house, although it’s impossible to tell if it’s actually ancient rather than a modern Navajo construction.  (It could also be both; Navajos have been known to use and modify Anasazi dams in many areas.)  One intriguing thing about the area around Kin Klizhin is that despite its agricultural potential it seems to have relatively few small-house sites compared to other outlier communities, which suggests a small population that could have easily produced an agricultural surplus for export to Chaco.

Rim Sherd at Kin Klizhin

Rim Sherd at Kin Klizhin

Like the other outliers, Kin Klizhin gets many fewer visitors than the main sites in the canyon.  This makes it a very peaceful, quiet place to visit.  There are a lot of potsherds and other artifacts lying around near the great house, since fewer people come around and steal them.  A visit to Kin Klizhin isn’t for everyone, and it’s particularly not for the many people who come into the Chaco visitor center furious about the lack of paved roads, but for the adventurous few who are willing to take the effort to get there it’s definitely worth a visit.

Heavily Reduced Walls at Kin Klizhin

Heavily Reduced Walls at Kin Klizhin

And, of course, there are some other interesting ideas out there about Kin Klizhin and its role in the Chaco system, but discussion of them will have to wait for another day.

Tower Kiva Bench at Kin Klizhin

Tower Kiva Bench at Kin Klizhin

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Oil Tanks, Mentone, Texas

Oil Tanks, Mentone, Texas

I seem to have acquired for myself yet another blog.  This one is intended as a place where I can discuss things I read that have to do with energy, which is a topic I’ve become increasingly interested in since I’ve been at school.  I’ve talked about it a bit here, and I do think it’s relevant to what I’m trying to do with this blog, but I think it makes more sense to focus more on archaeology here and shift most of the energy stuff elsewhere.  I’ll still talk about energy-related issues here when they are directly related to Chaco or Southwestern archaeology in general, but for the most part I’ll be limiting discussion of energy to Follow the Energy.  So if you want to keep up with things like my coalbed methane paper, that’s the place to look.  Enjoy!

Trailers and Bloomfield Oil Refinery from Salmon Ruins, Bloomfield, New Mexico

Trailers and Bloomfield Oil Refinery from Salmon Ruins, Bloomfield, New Mexico

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Excavated Room at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Excavated Room at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Via Paul Barford, an interesting post on pay-to-dig programs in the US.  These aren’t extremely common, but they’re out there.  The basic idea is to charge artifact collectors to dig at a site and let them keep whatever they find.  The sites are on private land, so this is all legal, but it’s definitely sleazy and just as destructive of the archaeological record as anything Jeanne Redd did.

Sherd with Checkered Pattern, Kin Klizhin

Sherd with Checkered Pattern, Kin Klizhin

I found this one particularly interesting, given my own interests.  The text on the website is terse and very circumspect, but there are a few details evident from the About page and the pictures.  The sites are described as being in “northeastern Arizona” (hm, sounds familiar…), and judging from the architecture and pottery in the photos, it looks like they’re probably in the White Mountains/Mogollon Rim area, which is known for numerous sites with mixed Mogollon and Anasazi cultural influences.  The Black-on-white sherd in one of the pictures looks like Cibola White Ware, which is common in that area, although it wouldn’t look out of place at Chaco either.

Texas Farm Road 1933 Sign, Mentone, Texas

Texas Farm Road 1933 Sign, Mentone, Texas

Also interesting is this effort by collectors in Texas to move away from looting-in-all-but-name and more toward some sort of collaborative effort with developers to excavate sites with professional methods in a salvage framework.  Salvage archaeology is one of the main things professional archaeologists do, of course, but it’s almost always on public lands or for publicly funded infrastructure projects, where it’s mandated by law.  On private land it’s generally not necessary, and an enormous amount of information is lost all the time when private development occurs in archaeologically rich areas.  Some states have laws regulating this and requiring efforts to reduce it, but Texas has nothing of the sort, and indeed it has particularly strong laws protecting landowners’ rights to their property.  Unlike most other states, at least in the Southwest, Texas doesn’t even have a burial law, so as far as I know there aren’t even any restrictions on dealing with human remains on private property.  In this context it’s pretty interesting to see this effort by collectors, and I think it might be one of the most viable ways for the collecting community to contribute positively to archaeological knowledge.  The leader certainly seems to have a vision for transforming the artifact trade.  It’s going to be hard work to change things, though, especially since the only way to really make a difference would be to create and enforce a very stringent code of ethics among collectors that would force illegally or unethically excavated artifacts off the market.  It’s conceivable that this could be done, but like any collective action problem it’s a daunting challenge.  If it could be done, though, it would definitely be worth the hard work, and I don’t think there are any easier or more plausible solutions on offer, so I wish these folks luck.

Federal Courthouse, Austin, Texas

Federal Courthouse, Austin, Texas

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Solar Panels at Heart of the Sands Nature Center, White Sands National Monument

Solar Panels at Heart of the Sands Nature Center, White Sands National Monument

I’ve never paid much attention to the whole Freakonomics thing, and I don’t intend to start, but I’ve noticed that among the many complaints about the discussion of climate change in Superfreakonomics is its apparent insistence that photovoltaic solar panels are black.  As many people have noted, they are of course blue.  Sometimes they can look sort of black from some angles, but that’s just a trick of the light; they’re still blue.  There are other kinds of non-photovoltaic solar panels, but they’re generally a sort of light brown or gray color.  Still not black.  I don’t have much more to say about this, except that it makes me even less inclined to read the book or take its authors at all seriously, but as a result of my various travels in sunny regions I have a fair number of pictures of solar panels to back up what everyone’s been saying on this, and I figured I might as well put some up.

Various Types of Solar Panels at Natural Bridges National Monument

Various Types of Solar Panels at Natural Bridges National Monument

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The Issues

Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado

Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado

David Gill has a good post on the various issues involved in discussions of cultural property.  He makes a key distinction between recent looting fueled by the antiquities market and disputes over the ownership and display of artifacts acquired by museums long ago, before the passage of the laws that currently regulate these things.  These are related concerns, obviously, but they’re not identical.  His focus is on Europe, but I think the issues he’s talking about are of universal concern.  In the Southwest most of the attention recently has been on the looting issue, analogous to the problems with looting in Italy and Greece that the governments of those countries have been aggressively fighting, with some success in forcing the repatriation of looted artifacts that surface in other countries.  There are parallels to the other issues as well, however, and the vast majority of the artifacts excavated by early expeditions to the Southwest remain in the vaults of museums in New York and elsewhere.  Anyway, the post is well worth a read.

Anasazi Indian State Park Visitor Center, Boulder, Utah

Anasazi Indian State Park Visitor Center, Boulder, Utah

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Kachina Fast Tax, Winslow, Arizona

Kachina Fast Tax, Winslow, Arizona

This is the proposal I submitted for a term paper I am writing for a seminar on land use.  While much more obviously relevant to what I talk about on this blog than the other paper I mentioned, it’s a bit far afield for the subject matter of the course.  The professor liked it, though, and he suggested I try to link it to the “collapse” literature (Jared Diamond, etc.) as an example of a sort of “post-collapse” series of events and processes.  I like that idea, and I’m going to try to see how to tie the specific evidence I’ll be looking at into that broader context.  It should be an interesting project, and I’m pretty excited about it.

In the late prehistoric period, ca. AD 1200 to 1540, the indigenous societies of the American Southwest underwent a series of drastic changes that ultimately transformed them into the Pueblo societies encountered by the first Spanish entradas in the sixteenth century.  While the existence of these changes is well-established, the causes and mechanisms involved remain obscure, and heated debates within Southwestern archaeology over these matters have been going on for decades.  While the general outline of events is a matter of near consensus, the specific details are by no means settled.

Among the most important of the changes in the late prehistoric period was the aggregation of the regional population into a small number of large, compact, and extremely dense nucleated settlements typically consisting of one or two massive roomblocks containing up to a thousand rooms, replacing the previous community pattern of loosely clustered but detached dwellings of a few rooms each associated with community-level integrative public architecture.  This transition occurred in all parts of the Southwest, though at different times and rates in different areas, and by AD 1350 virtually the entire regional population was living in aggregated villages.  These villages took various forms, but one of the most common was the so-called “plaza pueblo” with connected roomblocks facing on and enclosing one or more internal plazas (these are also sometimes called “inward-facing pueblos”).  This type of settlement has been proposed by some researchers as associated with another major change sweeping the Southwest at this time: the rise of the kachina cult.

The kachina cult is a religious tradition involving a variety of deities called kachinas that are worshipped through ritual dances in which masked dancers impersonate the various kachinas.  It is best known today in its manifestation among the Hopi villages in Arizona, which have historically been more open to outside observation than the New Mexico pueblos, but it is thought to have been present in all the pueblos at the time of Spanish contact, and most of the modern pueblos, both eastern and western, still retain it in some form (although a few have apparently abandoned it under Spanish missionary pressure).

Many of the kachina dances at Hopi take place in the public plazas of the pueblos and in square subterranean ritual chambers known as “kivas,” and some researchers have proposed that the widespread adoption of the plaza-centered pueblo form with square kivas accompanied the spread of the kachina religion, which is generally thought to have originated somewhere in the southern Southwest under the influence of Mesoamerican religious ideas.  Unlike some other forms of social organization found in the modern pueblos, such as matrilineal clans, the societies that organize kachina rituals are not kin-based, and they potentially offered a useful way to easily integrate an influx of people from previously separate communities into rapidly aggregating nucleated villages.  Thus, the theory goes, during a period of confusion and change in Southwestern society the kachina religion offered an attractive means of organizing the new communities that were being hastily thrown together under new social conditions (possibly including deteriorating environmental conditions and increased warfare).  The benefits of the kachina societies were such that most or all communities ended up giving them a prominent or even predominant place in community organization, and in many cases orienting the physical layout of the new communities around the needs of the kachina rituals, resulting in the widespread (though not universal) use of the plaza-oriented or inward-facing layout.

In this paper, I propose to test these theories by examining the spatial layouts of communities in the Southwest before, during, and after the spread of the kachina religion.  Using data on both excavated and unexcavated aggregated villages, I will compare the presence or absence of plaza-oriented layouts and square kivas to various other attributes, including date, location, and other evidence of kachina symbolism.  If the theory of plaza-oriented layouts with square kivas being associated with kachina ritual is accurate, this type of layout should correlate strongly with the spread of other types of evidence associated with the cult, such as rock art, beginning in the southern Southwest and spreading north over time.  If this correlation does not hold, however, the importance of the kachina religion to other major changes in the region may be less significant than is often claimed, and other factors may have been more important in determining community layouts.  I will examine alternative explanations and compare their explanatory power to that of the kachina theory given the evidence available.

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Carrizozo Gas Company, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Carrizozo Gas Company, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Today is apparently something called Blog Action Day, which this year is focused on climate change.  I’m not sure exactly how blogging about climate change is supposed to affect anything, but I’m willing to do my part.

Merrion Oil & Gas, Farmington, New Mexico

Merrion Oil & Gas, Farmington, New Mexico

I’ve noticed a number of articles in the mainstream press about the natural gas industry in the past few days.  While none of these is directly relevant to my particular focus on coalbed methane, most of them address what I find the most interesting aspect of gas as a fossil fuel: its ambiguous nature as both a source of greenhouse gas emissions and an alternative to other fossil fuels that produce more emissions.  This makes understanding the ultimate effects, both economic and environmental, of changes in price and quantity of natural gas very complicated.  That’s what I’m going to be exploring in my paper.

Oil Tanks, Artesia, New Mexico

Oil Tanks, Artesia, New Mexico

There are a lot of factors involved here.  One, pointed out by a recent New York Times article and a blog post by one of the article’s authors, is that natural gas itself is composed mainly (80% to 99%) of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas with a considerably higher Global Warming Potential than carbon dioxide (25 times as high over 100 years).  In addition, it is present in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide.  This means that patching up leaks in the natural gas production and distribution system is a cheap and easy way to cut back quickly on emissions and the potential for severe impacts from warming.  (The optimal amount and timing of the cutbacks, however, depends on the overall reduction strategy being used.)  Since gas is a fuel with substantial market value, moreover, patching leaks makes economic sense as well, and can easily pay for itself.  The history of coalbed methane development, with its origins in concerns about the safety of coal miners and ideas about what to do with the gas released by coal mining, shows this as well: during the energy crisis of the 1970s, people began to realize that the gas being vented from mines as a safety hazard could be captured and sold as a profitable sideline to coal mining, which eventually led oil and gas companies to begin drilling directly for it in coal seams with low potential for mining.

Drake Well Service, Farmington, New Mexico

Drake Well Service, Farmington, New Mexico

One of the major challenges in combating climate change is shifting away from reliance on coal for generating electricity.  The US currently gets a little less than half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.  The main reason for this is that coal is really cheap.  Unfortunately, it’s also really dirty; burning coal releases both huge amounts of carbon dioxide and smaller but still dangerous amounts of an astonishing range of pollutants with more direct and deleterious effects on human health.  Perhaps the most serious of these is sulfur dioxide, one of the main sources of acid rain (remember acid rain?).  In one of the major success stories of American environmental protection, sulfur dioxide levels have been drastically reduced by an innovative and very effective cap-and-trade system begun in 1995.  (It’s a little surprising that this system doesn’t get mentioned more in the context of efforts to establish a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions in the US, since it’s basically the exact same policy and it’s worked really well.)  There’s lots of other nasty stuff in coal, though, and efforts to control it have been much less effective.  Another New York Times story points to one problem, which is that aggressive attempts to control air pollution from smokestacks by installing scrubbers to trap pollutants have had the unanticipated side effect of the plants dumping the waste from the scrubbers into local waterways, taking advantage of much laxer regulations on water pollution.  Because of issues like this, and the looming threat of carbon pricing making coal potentially much more expensive, there has been a trend toward gas-fired power plants and a move away from coal.  In some cases this is a matter of designing new plants to run on either fuel, while in others it has been a total switch to gas.  The price of gas has been relatively low lately, which has been a factor in this decision-making process, although the effect of an increase in demand for gas on the price is another thing to consider.

Farmington Daily Times Office, Farmington, New Mexico

Farmington Daily Times Office, Farmington, New Mexico

The current low prices for gas are an immediate concern for gas producers, however, and a recent story in the Farmington Daily Times points out that a lot of wells in the San Juan Basin have been taken out of production.  Seasonal restrictions on gas production on federal lands during the winter to protect deer and elk play a role, but the general economic slowdown and resulting low gas prices are important as well.  Note the wide variety of opinions voiced on what will happen to prices in the spring; this points to the considerable amount of uncertainty in these matters even before adding things like climate change legislation into the equation.  A switch from coal to gas on a large scale would certainly increase gas prices, but how much?  And how would the increase in prices feed back into decisions by power plants on what fuel to burn?  These are complicated issues, and I hope this collection of (admittedly rather random) links has illustrated that.

Oilfield Signs, Mentone, Texas

Oilfield Signs, Mentone, Texas

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