From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 4 - April 21, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Working man speaks up for Jonah

by Cat Urbigkit

Most of the more than 700 comments submitted to the Bureau of Land Management on the Jonah infill drilling project supported further development within the field. However, most commenters opposed the preferred alternative, instead asking the BLM to approve the operator's proposed action, to maximize recovery of the natural gas resource.

The majority of the comments were made on forms with personalized statements by supporters of the project, with many from the Sublette and Sweetwater county areas, joined by those from Lincoln, Fremont and Uinta counties. Many of the comments were from those now making a living based on natural gas development activities in the Jonah Field.

Rick Bates of Pinedale wrote, "Because of the gas field, I was able to move back home where there was work to support my family."

Mike Jacobs of Lander wrote: "I am 25 years old with two kids and a wife, just bought a house and the Jonah Field is close to home which makes for short drives to home, more home time and we want to stay here. Our crew picks up trash while driving down the dirt roads and take care of our environment because this is our workplace and we don't want to leave."

Lloyd Winters wrote that he is 36 years old, with two kids and a wife to support, living in Dubois, "where the cost of living increases every year while the average wage remains consistently low." Winters said the Jonah Field provides jobs for himself, his father, brother, brother-in-law and many of his friends, all who live in Dubois.

That's similar to the situation described by Fred Wilkie of Baker, Montana, who works in the Jonah Field, along with his two brothers and two cousins.

Roger Jones of Farson wrote: "As a lifelong resident of southwest Wyoming I have been involved with the oil and gas industry my entire life. Growing up, my family was supported by working various jobs in the oil and gas industry. Since I have started my own family and are providing for them through the oil and gas in this area, it becomes personal that this project continues as the operators' proposed action."

Ron Clark of Pinedale wrote in support of harvesting energy from the Jonah area, adding, "Our continued dependence on the Middle East means to me that every dollar spent on foreign energy is a dollar given to purchase more ammunition to kill our soldiers and support terrorists from the area."

Latinos working in the industry wrote several dozen letters, and a handful of the letters were written in Spanish. An ongoing theme of these comments was the emphasis on safety in the workplace.

Carlos Keelin of Rock Springs commented, "Drilling is a good thing for Wyoming because we are doing it right."

Jose Ortiz of Boulder wrote: "To me, the working class, those wells are my life. Without those wells what would all those people that work at the Jonah Field do? Move away and Wyoming would be one world class zoo."

One Farson man, Fred Bense, who works in the industry expressed concern for some of the restrictions proposed in the EIS. He noted the smaller pad size proposed is "approximately half the size needed to perform our jobs safely and timely. The confined spaces will mean more congestion and increase the possibilities of someone being injured or killed."

Bense continued: "We all depend on this field for our livelihoods. We all have kids to feed and bills to pay. We work extremely long hours in frigid weather without fail because our families depend on us. The restrictions you propose will result in a cut in hours for our workers. The smaller locations will increase the danger to my workers and extra time to get each phase of our jobs completed."

Support for the operators' proposal came from the Sweetwater and Sublette county commissions, Sweetwater Economic Development Association, Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo, Sweetwater County Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and State Representative Kathy Davison.

The Sublette County Commission letter noted, "To not allow procedures that maximize recovery of all gas from the Jonah Field is wasteful and, in light of our nation's growing dependence on foreign sources of energy, is negligent."

Not everyone supported the proposal.

Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project wrote: "If you continue in the current 'wild west" mentality, the BLM sets itself up for a broadside legal attack which could cause major disruption of activities within the field office."

Perry Walker of Daniel called the draft EIS "a singular failure for many reasons and on several levels," calling it a document written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats.

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie submitted about a two-inch stack of comments and critique of the EIS.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council to the BLM to task for the plan's air quality and visibility analysis. WOC pointed out omissions, errors, inconsistencies and numerous other problems related to the air quality analysis. This Lander-based group was joined in its comments by the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, National Wildlife Federation and the Center for Native Ecosystems.

Although the BLM had committed to monitoring NOx emissions from development along the Pinedale Anticline, WOC wrote, "However, the BLM failed to abide by its agreement until this fall when the levels of NOx were suddenly found to be triple that authorized...."

While environmental groups urged the BLM to require directional drilling, the Wyoming State Geological Survey office noted, "Past experience at Jonah with directional wells leads to the conclusion that a very large amount of natural gas will go undeveloped at Jonah."

One commenter from New Jersey wrote, "This is a dirty polluting industry which could be eliminated just by making all vehicles get 10 miles more per gallon and the failure of our politicians to order this and their allowing this environmental pollution to occur is a disgrace."

A couple from Basin suggested, "Shut down any new wells until the pollution problems with the existing ones are solved. There's no profit in protecting the public's health."

A commenter from Chicago proposed the Mesa, Red Desert and Jonah area be incorporated into a state park, including lands all the way to the Colorado border.

Jim Laybourn of Jackson wrote: "In short, the infill project adds insult to injury, and it must not be approved, this area has paid too high a cost already for our nation's wasteful use of natural resources. We must act to curb big oil's dominance over rural areas and the citizens and wildlife that live there."

Ted Kerasote of Kelly called the Jonah "a sacrificial area," while opposing the level of development proposed in the EIS.

John P. Erramoupse wrote about the importance of his family's use of the Boundary grazing allotment, calling it a "very essential and necessary part of our entire ranching operation." Most of the permittees expressed their desire to work with EnCana and other operators in order to protect grazing capacity.

Grazing permittees Don W. Rogers Jr. and Carol Sue Rogers wrote about their Stud Horse Butte allotment: "Cash has been considered as a fair compensation for the permit use. Cash cannot compensate for grass. Cows do not eat cash and neither do people. Loss of these AUMs could set a nationwide precedent. The ripple affect to the future of our nation's food source should be seriously considered."

Rock Springs Grazing Association President John W. Hay III, wrote that his association supported the proposed action, stating that this level of development "is necessary to recover the resource and furnish the energy needs of the region and nation."

RSGA claimed that the BLM provided "overstatement of the resource conflicts in the draft EIS in order to rationalize the preferred alternative."

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