From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 9 - May 29, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Jonah debate

by Cat Urbigkit

Is the Jonah infill-drilling project in a wilderness area or a national park? No, but you wouldn't know that from reading some of the letters commenting on an industry proposal for increased development within a 33,00-acre area of the Jonah II natural gas field.

The Bureau of Land Management has a file of comment letters about half-a-foot thick of people across the nation having their say on the proposal. Both industry supporters and environmental advocates responded en masse and the results demonstrate that some commenters lack knowledge about the area.

One woman wrote: "Wilderness areas are for wildlife, not privateers seeking to line their pockets. No more oil pumps."

Apparently in reference to the Jonah Field being called part of the Yellowstone Ecosystem, another wrote, "our first national park, one of our finest national treasurers, is once again being subjected to rape."

Postcards and e-mails in opposition to the proposal came from across the nation, from Texas and California to Massachusetts and Connecticut.

A joint letter from Defenders of Wildlife, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Natural Resource Defense Council, Wilderness Society, Upper Green River Valley Coalition, Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Wyoming Wilderness Association noted these organizations have some real concerns for the future of the "Valley."

"In essence, 1.2-million acres of the public lands that link the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem together could be converted to a single, continuous, industrial sacrifice zone," the letter stated. The groups proposed that the environmental analysis for the project be postponed until the BLM completes the revision of the Pinedale Resource Management Plan to avoid foreclosing future management options.

The environmental groups scolded the BLM for its "flatly egregious error" in moving the public scoping meeting for the Jonah infill project to the site of an industry-sponsored barbecue.

"To require any members of the public that would like to speak out against the project to do so at an industry-sponsored event is unprecedented and a flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of (federal law's) public-participation mandates," the letter stated.

Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton wrote that her agency is "very concerned" about the effects of development to southwest Wyoming's air quality. Several Sublette County residents raised this concern as well.

Rita Donham of Cora wrote that she is opposed to any further infill development in the Jonah Field. Donham wrote that she is disturbed about "the rapid destruction of previously remote and beautiful landscapes."

Donham cited "irredeemable damage to irreplaceable watersheds and desert systems," and noted, "The wanton destruction that I am referring to, in every case, is caused by the gas and minerals industry."

Donham added, "Our county will be the laughing stock of the nation if we allow some Canadian company to come in, bribe everyone in town, and destroy our land, all the people's land, so they can take their money and leave."

Other residents focused on the economic benefits of the proposal. Pinedale Mayor Rose Skinner called it a "viable" program for future development.

Pinedale's Dave Bell wrote: "In my opinion, there is not a better location in America for a major gas field development. This area being remote, has very low population, with little or no recreational value, and little or no agricultural value, is a desirable location for this development to continue."

Curt Parsons of EOG Resources, which does not have an economic interest in the Jonah Field, wrote: "We should remember that these 'public lands' have been designated for multiple use so that the mineral resources can be developed for use by the public."

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming reminded the BLM that the project calls for infill development of an existing field, not exploration and development of a new area, so producers will be able to use, to a large extent, existing infrastructure and surface facilities in the area.

Dozens of western Wyoming residents, including those in the Eden and Farson areas, signed letters supporting the drilling program, citing the need for jobs. Eden's Aaron McCallister was one who wrote a letter noting that development is not forever. In terms of geologic time, it has very little consequence, McCallister wrote. "And because this earth and this desert have a natural way of healing itself, it is not even an eyeblink that the land and the producing areas are affected."

Duke Energy officials noted that in 2003, it expects its Jonah Gas Gathering company to spend $65 million on projects, with an estimated additional workforce of 160 people for a four-month period, and an estimated additional workforce of 80 people for a seven-month period.

Many letters of support were received that requested the BLM seriously consider the socio-economic impact of the drilling program.

Brian Ault of Ultra Resources Inc. in Denver noted: "Again, a balance must be struck between the effects on the environment and the very real effect on people's lives. Developing domestic reserves of clean, efficient natural gas would certainly be in our country's best interest."

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