Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Patricia N. Limerick

Second Advisor

Kristen Averyt

Third Advisor

Maxwell Boykoff

Fourth Advisor

Deserai Crow

Fifth Advisor

Gregory Simon


Northeastern Colorado has recently experienced record oil and natural gas production due in part to the use of the two extractive technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The application of these technologies to the subsurface raises several envirotechnical governance challenges. This dissertation focuses on two that are especially pressing in Colorado: the siting of horizontally drilled multi-well pads in suburban areas and the monitoring of energy companies’ hydraulic fracturing water demands. Part discourse analysis and part on-the-ground examination, this project elucidates how the discursive and material aspects of these envirotechnical governance challenges interact in this most recent chapter of the complex relationship between extractive industries and communities in the American West. Findings contribute new insights to the fields of science and technology studies and political ecology regarding technology’s role in mediating the relationship between humans and nature. In terms of horizontal drilling, I find that governing well pad siting by setback distance establishes a formula for public debate whereby stakeholders invoke exclusively spatial or aspatial policy narratives and solutions. I also find that horizontal drilling enables a new, spatially paradoxical technopolitics of multi-well pad re-siting characterized by shortcomings in procedural fairness. In terms of hydraulic fracturing, I find that the difficulties of tracing hydraulic fracturing water flows reflect classic energy-water nexus regulatory disjunctures, and that resulting uncertainties both drive and limit local public debate on the topic. I also find that existing accounts of the hydraulic fracturing energy-water nexus overlook important hydrosocial factors, such as water administrators’ efforts to render energy companies’ water uses legible to Colorado’s existing water governance systems. I offer these findings in hopes of (a) improving the deliberative quality of these envirotechnical governance debates and (b) raising the profile of understudied “oil and gas patch” communities, such as Greeley, in them.