From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 4 - April 24, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Jonah supporters overflow meeting

by Cat Urbigkit

More than 300 supporters of western Wyoming's oil and gas industry gathered in Pinedale Thursday afternoon to show their support for continued natural gas development in the Jonah natural gas field.

Operators in the Jonah Field, located 35 miles south of Pinedale, joined other companies in hosting a resource providers barbecue from 3 to 5 p.m., with banquet tables full of food at the Pinedale Entertainment Center.

Although the Bureau of Land Management had planned to hold the public scoping meeting in the Pinedale Library, it quickly became obvious the 300-plus crowd wouldn't fit in the library's meeting room, so the meeting was held at the same location as the barbecue.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather data and identify issues to be examined in an upcoming environmental impact statement for the Jonah Infill Drilling Project. EnCana Oil and Gas Inc., BP America and other natural gas development companies propose to expand natural gas exploration and development operations in the Jonah Field. The proposal involves increasing the well density in a 30,000-acre project area, with a potential for one well per 10 to 20 acres.

Three years ago, the operators were given authority to drill 450 wells in addition to 47 existing wells. The companies now propose to drill 1,250 additional wells from 850 well locations within the same 30,000-acre area, based on a 10- to 20-acre down-hole spacing pattern, so 400 wells would be directionally drilled from existing or new well locations.

At Thursday's public meeting, Roger Biemans, president of EnCana Oil and Gas USA, said, "Jonah is the most important asset to our company," adding that it is the second-highest producing gas field in the state as well.

BLM Pinedale Field Manager Prill Mecham explained that the National Environmental Policy Act mandates a public participation process to identify issues to be addressed in environmental documents examining impacts. She said while the project to be examined was proposed by EnCana, BP and other producers, "It's BLM's process," with the decisions to be made by the federal agency.

EnCana's Robin Smith said what the companies are proposing are 850 new surface locations, with an increase in the down-hole well density. He emphasized that this is not an expansion project, but simply intensified development in the existing field. Smith said there are few gas fields in the world that can be developed at the rate of 1,700 wells on 30,000 acres.

Curt Parsons of Big Piney told the crowd: "The nation needs this natural gas," noting that natural gas in storage in the United States was at an all-time low this week.

Parsons said while people often point out that these are public lands where development is occurring, "The natural gas under these public lands belongs to the public as well."

Parsons urged the BLM to closely examine the socio-economic aspect of the proposal, pointing out that the room was full "of people who want to work.

"We want to be recognized," Parsons said, "for responsibly doing what we do, and that's produce energy for this nation."

Most of the speakers and those attending the meeting work in the oil and gas industry, although livestock producers and business people from Sublette and Sweetwater counties were represented as well.

When speaker after speaker spoke in support of continued development and the importance of the development to the economy, Mecham took to the podium again, stating that the purpose of the meeting was to identify issues, not "to be a pitch for energy development." Mecham urged that anyone with concerns about wildlife or environmental resources to identify the issues they wanted addressed.

Pinedale Mayor Rose Skinner told the gathering that in the last two years, sales tax collections in town nearly doubled, helping the town to fund needed infrastructure.

"I want all of you to be environmentally conscientious, and I do support the Jonah Field," Skinner said.

Petroleum Association of Wyoming President Bruce Hinchey told the BLM to consider the existing conditions in the field in its analysis and to refrain from asking industry to fund various studies that BLM either can't, or won't fund.

Lynn Clark, a small business owner in Rock Springs, said: "This field hits us all in the pocket book. We can all work together. Wyoming is a mineral state and we just have to accept that."

Boulder resident Linda Baker said while she believed it was appropriate that new wells be drilled within the existing Jonah Field, rather than outside the developed area, she advocated the BLM complete its revision of the Pinedale Resource Management Plan before more development is authorized. She also pushed for the gathering of more baseline data on items ranging from air quality to cumulative impacts on wildlife populations.

William Belveal questioned, "What are we going to do about cleaning up the air during flaring?"

Several industry representatives responded to the question, noting their companies are now examining moving to closed systems, known as a clean-completion process.

Craig Ritschel of Shell Rocky Mountain assured Belveal: "You're not the only one that sees that cloud ... It concerns us too. Our industry is addressing that."

The BLM is accepting public comment on the Jonah proposal during this initial scoping phase until May 12. Comments can be sent to Eldon Allison, BLM Project Leader, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale, Wyo., 82941. For more information, check out the scoping notice on BLM's website at nepadocs.htm or call Allison at 307-367-5300.

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