From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 25 - September 16, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

WG&F oil and gas impact document revised and okayed

by Cat Urbigkit

The changes begin with the title of the document, then continue throughout the 177 pages adopted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission last week.

When first proposed in July, the WG&F Department's internal document immediately drew the ire of both the energy industry and livestock producers.

Originally entitled, "Minimum recommendations to sustain important wildlife habitats affected by oil and gas development," the document included provisions that concerned various interest groups.

Livestock industry representatives took issue with provisions of the document that were viewed as blackmailing energy companies to buy out livestock producers; that is, pitting one industry against the other. Those controversial provisions have substantially been deleted from the document approved by the commission last week. After the initial reaction, WG&F officials met with members of the oil and gas industry, the agricultural community and conservation groups. Changes then followed.

The new document is called "Minimum recommendations for development of oil and gas resources within crucial and important wildlife habitats on BLM lands."

The document went from an overall negative view of oil and gas development's impact on wildlife to an acknowledgement that in some limited circumstances, mineral development may actually provide positive benefits. Preferences for phased development were removed and replaced with an acknowledgement from WG&F that "complex geological, technical, regulatory and legal issues would preclude this strategy from being used in most, if not all, cases."

Changes were made to the document to recommend that off-site or off-lease mitigation is a voluntary option only.

The document's approach to resource protection follows that of the WG&F Commission's mitigation policy, which is to avoid the impact, minimize the impact, mitigate the impact by providing replacement or substitute resources, and provide financial compensation only when no reasonable alternatives are available to avoid, minimize or mitigate the impact.

The section of the original document that raised the most alarm for the livestock industry was the "wildlife habitat mitigation option list." First on that list was "acquiring fee title properties and association federal allotments" and "these areas would be managed strictly for wildlife after acquisition." This section of the document was deleted.

Conservation easements were listed as the "second option" in the original document, but the document was revised to note conservation easements could be used, with the intent to maintain the easements at least as long as the length of project disruption to habitat function.

The section proposing to purchase and retire grazing allotments was deleted and replaced with a grazing program that would, "if suggested by the permittee," would allow for the paying for private grazing, paying for rest of portions of allotments before turning livestock back onto the allotment, or the purchase of animal unit months to reduce grazing use on important habitats.

The Mitigation Trust Option was amended to be considered an option "only when impacts cannot be avoided, minimized, or effectively mitigated through other means." Directional drilling is no longer considered an "obligatory practice," but an "extremely important tool."

Statements that WG&F finds certain levels of development in certain habitats "unacceptable," have been removed from the document as well.

Additional mitigation prescriptions were revised so that the removal of livestock or reduction of grazing would be an option only "if suggested by the grazing permittee."

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