Peer-to-Peer Workshop in White Sulphur Springs, MT

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to attend and support a unique community event in White Sulphur Springs, Montana.  This event was hosted by the Meagher County Stewardship Council, a local community group that formed in response to the potential development of a nearby large-scale underground copper mine called the Black Butte Copper Project.  The Council’s mission focuses on protecting the long-term cultural, economic, and environmental interests of county residents. In support of this mission, the Council decided to invite community leaders from three mining communities—Marquette, MI; Jefferson County, MT; and Stillwater County, MT—for a two-day “peer-to-peer” workshop. 

The peer workshop was firstly a chance for the invited guests to get a glimpse of the life and history of White Sulphur Springs and Meagher County.  To enable this, the Council organized a tour of the community, surrounding area (including the potential mine site), and local businesses. This included discussions with community leaders in White Sulphur Springs around upcoming challenges and opportunities associated with hosting large-scale industrial projects.  Following the tour, the Council organized a town hall event in which the invited guests formed a panel to share their insights and experiences around underground mining. This event allowed city and county residents to hear the real-life lessons from their peers in similar communities. The panel session was a facilitated discussion that was followed by a question and answer session where attendees could voice comments and concerns.  By all accounts, the event was a huge success and resulted in a strong turnout from the community.

The day after the town hall, the Council held a meeting with the invitees and leaders in local government.  This meeting was geared towards furthering the discussion and digging into the feedback given at the town hall.  This allowed Council members the opportunity to explore ideas and suggestions they hope will form the foundation for a Community Benefits Agreement between the Council and Sandfire Resources America.  Community Benefit Agreements are legal contracts between communities and mining companies with the goal of securing long-term benefits to those communities related to natural resource development.

Overall, the peer-to-peer workshop was a rare opportunity for community members to share knowledge and ideas around hosting mining projects.  As part of our work in resource communities throughout the Western U.S., RCRG was thrilled to have the chance to help coordinate this event and continues to support the Council as they move forward.  Below are a few photo highlights from the two days.

—Jackson Rose


Members of the White Sulphur Springs community and Meagher County gathered to hear the speakers talk about their experiences hosting underground mining.

Members of the White Sulphur Springs community and Meagher County gathered to hear the speakers talk about their experiences hosting underground mining.

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The tour of the White Sulphur area included stops at prominent local businesses. Above, the speakers and Council members chat over a beer at 2 Basset Brewery.

The tour of the White Sulphur area included stops at prominent local businesses. Above, the speakers and Council members chat over a beer at 2 Basset Brewery.

The community tour also stopped at the site of the Black Butte Copper Project (at the core sheds above).

The community tour also stopped at the site of the Black Butte Copper Project (at the core sheds above).

Kelli and I seized the opportunity to add to our hard hat photo album, with Black Butte in the background.

Kelli and I seized the opportunity to add to our hard hat photo album, with Black Butte in the background.

AAG 2019 – Washington, DC

The Resources and Community Research Group made a strong showing at the recent AAG annual meeting in Washington, DC. Five members presented their research on diverse topics:

PhD candidate Kelli Roemer won the RGSG Student Poster Competition for her poster entitled “Exploring rural resilience pathways for transitioning coal communities in the U.S. West” (abstract here). This research uses community resilience and transition theory framework to investigate characteristics and processes that encourage or limit community-level transition planning in the context of U.S. communities impacted by a coal-fired power plant closure.

(From left to right) Julia Haggerty, Katie Bills Walsh, Kelli Roemer, Katie Epstein, and Kristin K. Smith

(From left to right) Julia Haggerty, Katie Bills Walsh, Kelli Roemer, Katie Epstein, and Kristin K. Smith

PhD student Katie Epstein’s paper, “(Re)assembling rangelands” (abstract here), explores how high net worth landowners have become highly influential actors in the contested sustainability transitions playing out in rural places.

Graduate student Jackson Rose and MSU professor Julia Haggerty presented a poster entitled “Resource Communities and Community Benefit Agreements: Securing Long-Term Benefits From Short-Term Extractive Projects” (abstract here). The poster reports on work to support a rural community (White Sulphur Springs in Central Montana) as it tries to navigate the negotiation of a Community Benefit Agreement with an international mining company.

Jackson Rose

Jackson Rose

PhD candidate Katie Bills Walsh presented the paper “I’d do it again in a heartbeat: Coalbed methane development and satisfied surface owners in Sheridan County, Wyoming” (abstract here). This work investigates the phenomenon of landowner acceptance and satisfaction with development, specifically among a group of split estate surface owners who hosted coalbed methane development (CBM) during the 1998–2008 CBM rush in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

“Taking the road less traveled: The work of roads in energy impact geographies” (abstract here), a paper by PhD candidate Kristin K. Smith and MSU professor Julia Haggerty, explores the ambiguous effects of extensive investment in road infrastructure related to the Bakken shale play in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

Julia Haggerty & Adrianne Kroepsch (Colorado School of Mines) shared the Professional Geographer award from the AAG's Energy & Environment Specialty Group for their paper “Geographies of Impact and the Impacts of Geography: Unconventional Oil and Gas in the American West” (paper here).



Julia Haggerty and Adrianne Kroepsch accepting the award on behalf of the author team, which included graduate students Kristin Smith and Katie Bills Walsh as well as MSU Earth Sciences professor David Bowen

Julia Haggerty and Adrianne Kroepsch accepting the award on behalf of the author team, which included graduate students Kristin Smith and Katie Bills Walsh as well as MSU Earth Sciences professor David Bowen

IAIA 2019 - Brisbane, Australia

Earlier this month, Jackson and I had the great opportunity to attend the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) 2019 Annual Conference in Brisbane, Australia. IAIA is a network of researchers, practitioners, and professionals who conduct or utilize impact assessments (IAs) in a variety of contexts worldwide. IAs aim to identify future consequences of a current or proposed action—often a development project. Here in the U.S., we’re most familiar with environmental impact assessments (EIAs) that identify anticipated environmental effects of a proposed project and are required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. Social impact assessments (SIAs)—the process of identifying and managing the social consequences of development—emerged as a component of the NEPA process. However, SIA guidelines and principles were first developed internationally as a study that is part of the regulatory approval process for infrastructure and resource extraction projects (Esteves et al. 2012).

At this conference, we learned about impact assessments in their various forms (social, environmental, health, cumulative, regional) and practices in a wide range of international contexts. Jackson and I were also fortunate enough to participate in a two-day course on SIAs and attended a wide variety of presentations focused on both EIA and SIA. Recent examples of IA in the news include controversy over federal authority around EIAs in Canada and a push for both EIAs and SIAs to be made publicly available in an effort towards transparency by the government of Papua New Guinea.  

As graduate students studying rural and resource geography, we are particularly interested in the links between natural resource extraction and community development. SIAs are a unique tool that can aid in offering new insights on the relationship between the mitigation of short-term impacts from natural resource projects and the consequences for post-closure planning. For me, there are exciting new questions about how SIAs can inform community and regional planning for the social impacts of coal-fired power plant and mine closures. For Jackson, SIAs offer up tantalizing new questions on potential outcomes for community development tied to remote mining projects. SIAs are by definition focused on impact mitigation, but they may also present opportunities for rural communities to alter their long-term trajectory. These opportunities are shaped by a multitude of forces including participatory community visioning and community capacity building during the life of mining projects.

In addition to the excellent learning opportunities, IAIA offered a brief visit to the beautiful city of Brisbane. Below are a few highlights of our trip.

—Kelli Roemer and Jackson Rose

The Spectacle and Invisibility of Roads in the Bakken Shale Play

During the fall of 2018, I spent six weeks in western North Dakota collecting preliminary data on a new research project about the role of roads in communities with unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development. Although booms in UOG development often result in significant investments in transportation infrastructure, the scholarship has largely ignored the role that roads can play in either reinforcing or disrupting dependence on natural resource development.

Consequently, road infrastructure prompts contradictory responses – spectacle and invisibility. Traffic and road construction are the some of the most frequently discussed boom impacts by residents and decision makers (Murphey et al 2017). Simultaneously, community members (and researchers) often take for granted the amount of work that goes into constructing and maintaining roads, as well as the environmental, economic, and social impacts of new and upgraded roads (Laurance and Arrea 2017).

I aim to draw attention to this overlooked component of UOG booms. The state, county, and local investments in the road systems throughout the Bakken shale play have been staggering, both financially and in the material changes to the landscape. Roads have created an immense amount of transformation in the Bakken, but exactly how and for whom is an open question that my new research project will explore.

During my time in North Dakota, I interviewed various stakeholders who contribute to shaping the transportation infrastructure in this region. I also spent many hours driving roads, at times with interviewees and at other times by myself. I started carrying county maps with me wherever I went and asking for recommendations about which roads to drive – either to see some of the impacts from UOG development or to explore the twists and turns of the badlands. Below are some of my favorite pictures from my fieldwork.

Kristin K. Smith, Ph.D. Candidate

Environmental Legacies of Wyoming's Coalbed Methane Boom

My dissertation research focuses on understanding the social and environmental legacies of coalbed methane production in the Powder River Basin, WY. Along with interviewing landowners, regulators, attorneys, and industry personnel, much of my time in the field is spent traveling Wyoming’s dusty dirt roads, surveying the landscape for coalbed methane infrastructure and evidence of reclamation. The images below are exemplary of the scenes that I encounter and study. The combination of exploration in the field and compelling conversation with research participants makes this research both personally rewarding and geographically stimulating!

-Kathryn Bills Walsh, Ph.D. Candidate

RCRG PhD Student Kristin Smith Awarded Research Grant

Kristin K. Smith has been awarded the 2018 Student Research Grant from the Rural Geography Specialty Group for her illuminating paper, “Economic Addiction in Rural, Remote Impact Geographies: A Case Study of the Western Area Water Supply Project in North Dakota.” The grant will fund her participation in the Quadrennial British-Canadian-American Conference on Rural Geography in July, 2019.

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Restoration Landscapes of Central Montana: A Field Tour

Matt Comer of the MT BLM and MSU participants in a former crop field undergoing restoration to native range.

Matt Comer of the MT BLM and MSU participants in a former crop field undergoing restoration to native range.

Twelve MSU graduate students and faculty are better-informed and (even) more inspired about their work after spending a week-end in central Montana. Traveling as the “Grasslands Working Group,” we visited land managers and land owners engaged in restoration of the sagebrush steppe and forest ecosystems of the iconic “Charles M. Russell” region.

Seeking to better understand the social, economic, political and ecological dimensions of restoration, we visited ranchers, farmers, and conservationists and the landscapes where they live and work.

We toured agricultural fields undergoing restoration to native plant mixes, water infrastructure and the site of the 2017 Lodgepole Complex grassland wildfire. Our local hosts and guides represented area ranch operations, local conservation districts, the NRCS and BLM, and the American Prairie Reserve.

The MSU Grasslands Working Group acts as hub for network building and knowledge exchange among diverse disciplines and off-campus constituencies. Our broader community of stakeholders includes anyone with an interest in the resilience of Montana’s rural range and grassland landscapes—including sagebrush steppe and mixed grass prairie plant communities and the variety of introduced plant communities among them, such as cultivated crops—and the diverse social and economic systems they support.

RCRG PhD Student Kristin Smith awarded USDA fellowship

Kristin K. Smith is the recipient of a prestigious, multi-year fellowship from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This award supports Kristin’s groundbreaking work examining the experience of communities in the Bakken as they attempt to leverage the current energy boom for long-term prosperity. Kristin’s work operates at the nexus of critical resource geography, political industrial ecology, and economics. Follow Kris on twitter: @kksmith312