Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ryan Holifield

Committee Members

Anne Bonds, Alison Donnelly, Glen Fredlund, Kristin Sziarto


Colorado, Drilling technology, Horizontal drilling, Oil and gas, Resource extraction


This dissertation investigates three controversies surrounding oil and gas development in populated areas of the Front Range region of northern Colorado that have emerged as a result of renewed interest in developing unconventional hydrocarbon resources using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. These controversies surround disputes between competing capital interests over rights of access to subsurface hydrocarbon resources, municipal challenges in accommodating oil and gas development in residential areas, and perceptions among more ‘moderate’ residents regarding activism resisting oil and gas development in Colorado and alternative strategies adopted by these residents to oppose hydrocarbon extractive activities in their neighborhoods. Through extensive ethnographic and archival research, I demonstrate that horizontal drilling plays a significant role in shaping these controversies, largely due to the different spatial dimensions of horizontal drilling technology compared to that of vertical drilling. First, I argue that this advancement in drilling technology has increased the ability to access hydrocarbon resources—including those owned by others—which has prompted a reconsideration of processes and regulations granting rights of access to these resources. Secondly, through a comparative study of vertical drilling in the City of Greeley during the 1980s and a contemporary horizontal development project in the Town of Windsor, I demonstrate that the use of these different drilling technologies in residential areas present distinct sets of concerns and responses for these municipalities regarding planning and growth. Finally, I illustrate that suburban and rural perspectives regarding hydrocarbon development in the Front Range are influenced by differences in the spatial aspects of vertical and horizontal development, as well as matters of place and place identity—specifically the area’s location in the region of the American West. Furthermore, matters of social identity and rejection of ‘activist’ characterizations shape resident efforts to resist hydrocarbon development in their neighborhoods. This dissertation connects resource geography with urban geography to illustrate ways in which controversies surrounding resource extraction in surface and subsurface urban spaces are fundamentally shaped by the materiality of resources and the spatial dimensions of extractive technologies.

Included in

Geography Commons