From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 33 - November 14, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Winter range exceptions granted

by Cat Urbigkit

The Pinedale Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management has already granted at least 14 wildlife winter range exceptions to the winter range stipulations slated to take effect Nov. 15, and just as many more exception applications are pending before the agency.

The BLM's standard stipulation states: "To protect important big game winter habitat, activities or surface use will not be allowed from Nov. 15 to April 30 within certain areas encompassed by the authorization ... Modifications to this limitation in any year may be approved in writing by the Authorized Officer."

The BLM granted to exceptions to Anschutz to allow flaring and facility tie-in work until Nov. 20 on two Mesa wells.

Questar Gas Management received approval for Mesa pipeline construction through Nov 22.

ExxonMobil received four exceptions for flaring and facilities tie-in through Nov. 20 in the Hogsback and Tip Top areas, while EOG Resources received similar exceptions on two wells with the same ending date.

Jonah Gas Gathering Company received approval to work on installing protective guards through Nov. 26 on its Pinedale Anticline pipeline to address a safety issue.

Questar Exploration and Production Company received two exceptions through Nov. 20 for tie-in work on two Mesa wells and site cleanup.

In addition, Questar is the company that has received approval from the BLM to drill wells through the entire winter from a multiple-well site in conjunction with a wildlife study. Keith Andrews of the BLM said Questar has also applied for an exception to stipulations dealing with sage grouse, but that won't take effect until March. Andrews said his agency would probably grant the exception because it is part of a study designed to examine the impacts of development on grouse. The well site is located on the Mesa just outside of the quarter-mile buffer from a grouse lek (breeding ground).

Shell Rocky Mountain Petroleum has eight exception applications pending before the BLM. All the exceptions are for the installation of heat trace and insulation on well sites through Dec. 2. Andrews said these requests would probably all be granted since the activity is so limited.

Veritas was denied its request for an exception through Nov. 27 for its seismic project in the Ryegrass area southwest of Daniel. Andrews said with all the big game animals in the area, the BLM didn't want to grant the company such wide leeway over such a large area.

Veritas came back to the BLM with a revised request on Tuesday, Andrews said, and that request was approved. The company will operate under strict guidelines: given one day to vibe but only in parts of two sections that are on crucial wildlife winter range, four days to pick up their lines and one day to fly a helicopter (on the last day, to pick up the lines). The authorization allows work to proceed through Nov. 20.

Andrews said the BLM struggled with the idea of denying the request, leaving a blank spot in the seismic data, which would probably prompt the need for the company to come back next year to complete the work. Consulting with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Andrews said the consensus was that there would be more sagebrush impacts and traffic out there next year, so it was more prudent to allow the work to continue now for an extra five days.

"They are just so close to being done," Andrews said. "It's better to let them do it and get them out of here," so that issues such as sage grouse nesting don't have to be dealt with next spring.

The BLM's granting of exceptions to wildlife stipulations has received criticisms from environmental groups, but the BLM notes that exceptions can be the appropriate action.

According to the agency, "The term 'guidelines' better describes the intent and use of these mitigation standards than the terms 'stipulations' or 'measures.' "

These guidelines and their wording are matters of BLM policy.

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