From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 31 - October 31, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Oil & gas estimates exaggerated, report claims

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wilderness Society issued two special reports Tuesday regarding Wyoming oil and gas issues, claiming that the reports raise doubt about the underlying assumptions of the Bush Administration's energy policy for the western states.

"Together, the reports demonstrate that the amount of economically recoverable natural gas and oil in Wyoming's roadless areas is miniscule when compared to U.S. demand, and that, in places where energy development does take place, it often causes habitat fragmentation that extends far beyond the physical structures of the oil or natural gas field," the organization's press release stated.

"The Administration's National Energy Plan to open more public land in Wyoming and throughout the West to natural gas and oil drilling is based on inherently flawed assumptions," said The Wilderness Society's Dr. Pete Morton, lead author of the studies. "If we're going to have an honest public debate over energy extraction from our nation's wildlands, the Administration must stop exaggerating the amount of gas and oil that is economically viable to recover and downplaying the impacts to wildlife and recreationists."

The report on habitat fragmentation utilized a case study in the Big Piney-LaBarge oil and gas field. According to the environmental group, the Upper Green River Basin provides the largest publicly owned block of big game winter range in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

"Unfortunately, more than 3,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in this world-class wildlife area, which is managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management, and permits for 4,500 additional wells have also been authorized. To make matters worse, new subdivisions are further fragmenting big-game habitat and restricting migration corridors in the valley," the press release stated.

The Wilderness Society reported that the overall area of oil and gas infrastructure at Big Piney-LaBarge consumes seven square miles of habitat, but the Wilderness Society scientists found that the effect of that infrastructure is much greater. The entire 166-square-mile landscape of the field is within one-half mile of a road, pipeline corridor, well head, retention pond, building, parking lot, or other infrastructure. One hundred and sixty square miles, or 97 percent of the landscape, fall within one-quarter mile of the infrastructure.

According to the report: "Our results indicate an overall density of 8.43 miles of roads and pipelines per square mile. This is at least three times greater than road densities on national forests in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Colorado and is "extremely high" based on ratings in the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project.

The report stated: "Our results, combined with a review of the scientific literature, suggest that there is no place in the Big Piney-LaBarge field where the greater sage grouse - a potential candidate for the endangered and threatened species list - would not suffer from the effects of oil and gas extraction. And the vast majority of the study area has road densities greater than two miles per square mile, a level estimated to have adverse impacts on elk populations."

The second analysis completed by the Wilderness Society focuses on the amount of oil and natural gas found in national forest roadless areas.

In Wyoming, the study indicated that economically recoverable natural gas and oil on national forest roadless areas would meet U.S. natural gas and oil consumption for roughly 50 days.

The report found that roadless areas of the Bridger-Teton National Forest contain 362 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 2,886 billion cubic feet of economically recoverable gas, representing 79 percent and 61 percent of the technically recoverable oil and gas on the forest, respectively. These figures are based on a low-price scenario. If a higher-price scenario is used, these roadless areas contain 87 percent of technically recoverable oil and 67 percent of natural gas.

The Wilderness Society concluded: "The bottom line is that a careful examination of their flawed assumptions and methods indicates that environmental stipulations do not pose a major roadblock to exploration and development of potential energy resources on public land.

Both of the Wilderness Society reports are available at

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