Ranching and Coal Bed Methane

Wyoming ranchers Dudley and Marilyn Mackey live in Gillette, Wyo. where they are involved in both ranching and energy work. Marilyn’s family homesteaded the ranch in 1917 and she and Dudley are now the 4th generation on the ranch, running in a partnership with her parents, Marion & Mary Scott.  The Mackey’s run Red Angus cattle and have dryland hay.

They have two children, their son lives on the ranch with his family and their daughter and her family live a couple miles down the road on a different part of the ranch. All of the family is involved and helps in every aspect of ranching. As is the case for many Wyoming ranchers, Dudley also works at the Belle Ayr coal mine and their son works for WPX Energy.

Calves waiting for water on the Mackey Ranch
Mackey’s Red Angus calves are waiting to get water

Marilyn and Dudley bought the ranch in 2000 and they started working with the energy industry on their ranch because of the presence of Coal Bed Methane (CBM). They worked with the CBM companies in designing a pipeline watering system which added additional cattle watering tanks and reservoirs throughout the ranch. This benefited the ranch a great deal during several years of drought with a better water supply for cattle, enabled better utilization of grass and added pasture rotation capabilities.

The pipeline connected to the water tank
The pipeline developed from the CBM wells is connected to the livestock watering tank
Marilyn Mackey is turning off the water so the tank stops filling
Marilyn Mackey is turning off the water so the tank stops filling

One of the biggest reservoirs on the ranch is connected to the pipeline watering system and the runoff from the water tanks feeds back into the reservoir through a grate and travels down a rock path to the reservoir. The rock path is used to prevent water erosion on the pasture.

The cement grate is used to get the extra water back to the reservoir
The cement grate is used to collect water runoff and return it to the reservoir
A rock path that is connected to the grate that the water travels down to get back to the reservoir
This rock path is connected to the cement grate. The water travels down the path to prevent water erosion
Coal-Bed Methane Reservoir
The Coal Bed Methane reservoir on the Mackey Ranch

Some people claim that CBM reservoirs are bad for the soil and the plant life near the water. This isn’t true on the Mackey Ranch. On one of the dried up reservoirs there are Cottonwood trees growing along with other grasses. On the ranch there have been no problems with CBM reservoirs and they have proven to be beneficial.

Dried up reservoir with cotton wood trees growing
A dried up reservoir where new Cottonwood trees are growing

On the ranch the Mackey’s work with five different energy companies: Williams, Pinnacle Gas (now Summit Resources), Red Stone (now Luca Technologies), Yates and Devon. The Mackey’s have had good experiences working with the energy industry. For example, the CBM companies made big improvements to the roads on the ranch, making it easier to travel through the pastures in all kinds of weather. The Mackey’s worked with one of the companies to design and build a water storage system using CBM water for livestock and household use at the main ranch facilities. The CBM water was of better quality and quantity than their existing well and enabled them to plant and water new shelter belt trees as well as improve household lawns and livestock watering systems.

In Wyoming, the energy and agriculture industries are very intertwined. Not every interaction between ranchers and energy companies is positive, but when both parties are able to work together, they can ensure food and fuel production keeps the world running.

Story told by WSGA Intern Brittany Schaneman following a visit with RealRanchers Dudley and Marilyn Mackey – Gillette, Wyo.

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