From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 39 - December 21, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Operators propose 250 new pads with year-round drilling

by Cat Urbigkit

Natural gas operators on the Pinedale Anticline want to drill up to 4,399 new wells from 250 new well pads in the next 60 years, according to the recently released supplemental environmental impact statement for the Pinedale Anticline Project Area.

Development would occur year-round in three specific concentrated development areas in this, the nation’s third largest gas field in the United States.

The Bureau of Land Management Pinedale Field Office is accepting public comment on the project SEIS during a 60-day comment period ending Feb. 12, 2007.

Questar Exploration and Production, Shell Exploration and Production Company and Ultra Resources Inc. propose to conduct year-round drilling on their leases within existing natural gas fields, including the Mesa, in Sublette County. The development proposal includes directional drilling that will allow multiple wells to be drilled from a single pad, reducing development impacts.

The operators propose to install a liquids gathering system in the central and southern portions of the PAPA complimenting the existing liquids gathering system in the northern portion of the PAPA, greatly reducing truck traffic. Tier 2 equivalent emission controls would be installed on drilling rig engines, reducing rig emissions by 50 percent. The operators have also offered 3:1 offsite mitigation for wildlife, if necessary.

The project area includes 198,034 acres of federal, private and state land containing an estimated 21 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. The wells are expected to produce for approximately 40 years and the life of the project (i.e., the time from first well is drilled to the last well is plugged and abandoned, and habitat function restored) is estimated at 60 years.

The production of natural gas under this proposal could generate $16 billion in federal royalties, $8 billion of which would go to the State of Wyoming. In addition, year-round access may provide opportunities for a year-round workforce instead of the seasonal boom and bust cycle.

It is estimated that each well drilled puts $4.715 million directly into the local economy (local earnings plus wages to employees). The operators currently estimate that 40 percent of the workers drilling a typical well in the PAPA reside locally.

Since 2000, most natural gas development in the PAPA has been along the Anticline Crest, which is approximately two to three miles wide and centered along the length of the PAPA.

There are currently about 650 producing wells in the PAPA, on about 350 pads. With this development has come about 185 miles of new roads and about 145 miles of new pipelines, in addition to three compressor facilities. Although all of this development was as projected in the original EIS for the development, air quality impacts associated with development have exceeded established thresholds.

The total nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions (472.2 tons/year) for compression are over the NOx analysis threshold (376.59 tons/year) specified in the PAPA record of decision. Total NOx emissions for all emission sources are over the analysis threshold specified in the PAPA ROD (693.50 tons/year).

The proposed action includes year-round drilling and completions within big game crucial winter habitats and would occur in three concentrated development areas within a core area centered on the Anticline Crest.

The Bureau of Land Management has prepared a “preferred alternative” in which, rather than only specifying certain areas of development where year-round drilling could occur, specifies areas where year-round drilling would not occur.

The operators’ proposal requests exemption from BLM stipulations for wildlife, which restrict their development activities within seasonal ranges. BLM has determined that the operators’ proposal could cause significant adverse impacts to the human and natural environments.

Under both the proposal and the preferred alternative, the average number of PAPA drilling and production workers in the three-county region of Lincoln, Sublette and Sweetwater counties for the period 2007 to 2018 would be 15,548.

The decline in the demand for drilling and production workers would begin in 2019, when an estimated 60 percent of PAPA workers (1,960) would be likely to leave the region.

The largest drop in demand for drilling and production workers would occur in 2025, the year drilling ends, when 4,746 workers would be unemployed, of whom 2,948 would leave the region.

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