From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 21 - August 18, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Year-round drilling supported

by Cat Urbigkit

The proposal for a year-long drilling demonstration program on the Mesa near Pinedale by three natural gas lease holders generated a few dozen letters of comment to the Bureau of Land Management, with few statements in opposition to the proposal.

The proposal to drill during the winter was made by Anschutz Pinedale Corporation, Shell Exploration and Production Company and Ultra Resources, Inc., which are referred to jointly as ASU.

Sublette County Commissioner Betty Fear sent a letter notin gthat the commission has encouraged this idea for several years because "the yearly boom-or-bust cycle which is experienced every year is detrimental to the economy and citizens of Sublette County."

Fear continued, "Workers in industry might be more willing to move their families to the area if they knew employment would last year-round."

Fear wrote that year-round drilling might "do away with the current frenzy that occurs from May through November."

Carmel Kail of Pinedale noted that if "year-round drilling is to live up to its promise of contributing stability to the workforce of the operators and stability to the host communities, housing for these workers must be created."

Kail requested that the BLM "rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives as relates to housing the workforce required by the current drilling proposal."

Members of the Pinedale Anticline Working Group recommended that the BLM require the operators to provide both individual and collective estimates of the number of new permanent residents expected to move into the county as the result of the proposed winter drilling, as well as identify which town these residents will move into, with the goal of acquiring more information for use in community-planning efforts.

Bridger-Teton National Forest Air Quality Specialist Terry Svalberg wrote that his agency "is very concerned about the effects this project may have on air quality in southwest Wyoming"and on air quality in nearby wilderness areas specifically. He noted that previous BLM planning documents under estimated the impact on air quality.

Lander's Cathy Purves, who serves as the oil and gas development technical advisor to a national organization, Trout Unlimited, wrote: "Trout Unlimited is disheartened to see three more companies applying for permission to drill year-round, with the request that standard wildlife seasonal stipulations be exempt ... " including stipulations designed to protect sage grouse and big game species.

"The concerns of this precedent-setting decision is that it will be hard to stop,"Purves wrote. "This raises the question at what point does wildlife and its important habitat become no longer significant?"

Among TU's suggested mitigation measures is one suggesting companies post a separate bond to cover the estimated value of the "lost wildlife and fisheries habitat and its economic contribution to the state ofWyoming."

TU advocated requiring companies to use natural gas-fire drigs and strong enforcement of limited road traffic.

Wyoming Wildlife Federation Executive Director David Gowdey wrote that his organization supports "the general direction and intent of this proposal in terms of mitigating the impact of drilling upon wildlife populations. At the same time, we have some concerns about the impact ofyear-round operations on wildlife habitat and populations, and in particular populations of sage grouse, mule deer and pronghorn antelope in the area."

WWF agreed to support the project "with the understanding that we would not support any additional year-round drilling projects or proposals until the results of this project and its impacts upon wildlife habitat and populations have been completed and evaluated."

Duane Zavadil of Bill Barrett Corporation urged the BLM to "put disturbance, stress or any low level of mortality resulting from [exploration and production] activity in the context of everything else that is happening with these populations ... . In this context, the oil and gas activity has a chance of being insignificant, i.e., we may be the least of these animals'problems."

The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments noted it had no objection to the proposal, while the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission called it a "very positive step in the future development of thePinedale Anticline field."

Senators Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi and RepresentativeBarbara Cubin signed a letter together indicating their support for the proposal as well.

Suzanne Lewis, conservation advocate for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, hammered the BLM on its lack of action t oprotect air quality in the region. She wrote that the BLM's "reckless approval of more and more wells in the Pinedale Anticline field" violates several federal environmental laws.

The environmental group requested that disturbances within two miles of sage grouse leks and nesting areas be prohibited.

Bill Spillman of Rock Springs wrote a letter declaring that, in his opinion, "there should be no activity either on the Pinedale Mesa or the Jonah Field during the winter months from Nov. 15 to July 31.

Spillman wrote that "human activity is detrimental towildlife and increases in petroleum or gas development will be detrimental to both the land and wildlife if allowed during the winter-spring months."

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrote that it had been involved in the planning process, and, "To date, we feel our concerns have been addressed."

Yates Petroleum supported the proposal as well, noting "Currently there is an influx of workers in the spring and a mass exodus in the fall. Winter drilling would provide year-round jobs and cure the seasonal influx and mass exodus of workers."

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