From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 30 - October 24, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

WG&F endorses winter drilling proposal

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) has given its nod of approval for a gas exploration company to continue its drilling program throughout the winter months on big game crucial winter range.

The state wildlife agency recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a trade off in which the company will drill six wells from one pad instead of making six different well pads with all their assessory roads and ancillary facilities.

Questar Exploration and Production Company has requested the BLM provide an exception to its winter range restrictions from Nov. 15 through April 30, 2003, for the Stewart Point 4-33 well pad, from which it proposes to drill up to six directional wells.

The BLM has not yet issued its decision on the Questar proposal, but without WG&F opposition, the chance for approval is much more likely.

WG&F Deputy Director Bill Wichers wrote the letter to the BLM stating that granting this exception could provide a net benefit to wintering wildlife. Although exceptions to winter range stipulations are usually handled by the local WG&F office, Wichers stated: "However, when a local or regional action by the department could be considered potentially contentious, precedent-setting or controversial, department policy requires elevation of the decision to the director's office and division administrations. Such is the case in this instance."

Wichers noted that during the development of the environmental impact statement for the Pinedale Anticline, his agency advocated the use of multiple drill holes on the same pad as a way to reduce total land disturbance.

"We continue to encourage methodologies that decrease habitat losses and seasonal disturbances during field development and production, and we recognize the time needed for drilling six wells on one pad will require working through the winter," WG&F stated.

"In the case of the Stewart Point 4-33 request, directional drilling of up to six wells from one pad, consolidation of access routes to a single road, and centralization of production facilities compared to six individual well sites would result in an estimated 75-percent reduction in surface disturbance," according to WG&F. "If the drilling results in producing wells, it would also consolidate necessary maintenance and monitoring activities for those wells and reduce the amount of area disturbed by these activities during future years of production."

"In this instance, we feel that granting an exception to the winter drilling restrictions could be a net benefit to wintering wildlife, considering the long-term potential benefits from reduction in direct impacts to winter habitat as compared to the short-term winter disturbance from the initial drilling," Wichers wrote, adding that the Questar request "provides an opportunity to help determine the feasibility of drilling techniques that could reduce long-term surface disturbance, protect unique habitat features, and reduce human disturbance throughout the life of the field."

Wichers' letter also pointed out that allowing directional drilling at this bench location could eliminate the future need for road and pad construction in the adjacent broken topography.

Wichers also noted: "This should be considered a one-time exception, and essentially an investment of one winter's disturbance on a specific area in the hope of determining whether a technology exists that can be beneficial overall to wildlife as well as industry, compared to current technology. This single test case should certainly not be considered a precedent for similar or general development during the winter restriction period. Future exception requests must continue to be decided on a case-by-case basis, with considerations again given to expected benefits and detriments."

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