Black Warrior River

Posted by Ellen

When Joe got back to Tuscaloosa this month after his semester in Cuba, he had fish to check up on.

He's a fisherman and also sort of a fish collector; for the past year or so, he'd been raising baby fish from the Black Warrior River, the little bream and other small fry that would normally be thrown back into the river. Joe kept dozens of them in a large aquarium in his living room, and dozens more in a pool in a tiny creek that runs into the Black Warrior near downtown Tuscaloosa. He named them and fed them and got kind of attached to them.

But when he left for Cuba in January, he moved all his fish to the little creek and wished them well. They were on their own.

Happily, they survived the winter, though heavy rains apparently washed them downstream into a different pool. In this picture, Joe was walking along a drainpipe that criss-crossed his creek, trying to see how his babies were doing. They were growing and swimming actively and doing all the right fishy sorts of things.

Joe now is living in Philadelphia, where he has a bowl of goldfish. He's completed all his coursework and will graduate in August from the University of Alabama.

Posted by Ellen

Southwest of Tuscaloosa, near the small town of Moundville, Alabama, the meandering Black Warrior River twists and turns through mostly forested countryside. In this rendering based on satellite imagery, there are little white dots scattered everywhere in the trees and the fields; each dot is at the end of a little spur of road.

These are drilling pads for methane wells.

Methane is the gas that sickens canaries in coal mines. It's what all too frequently makes underground mines explode; wherever there's coal, there's methane. Commercial extraction of coalbed methane, to be sold as natural gas, began in the early 1980s, and the Warrior basin of Alabama was scene of the world's first methane boom; to maximize production quickly, wells were drilled every few hundred feet throughout the region.

After a very few years, the boom went bust. Most wells now sit idle, and many have been orphaned, leaving the cleanup and decommissioning expenses to the taxpayers.

But you can still see the little white dots on the landscape, even from space.