From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 4 - April 20, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Jonah appeals filed

by Cat Urbigkit

In media events held in two areas of the state last week, environmentalists announced their appeals of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision allowing continued infill development in the Jonah Field, located east of Marbleton.

According to a press release from Earthjustice, the legal firm representing the Upper Green River Valley Coalition’s appeal, growing concerns about local air quality is the main issue.

The release noted that the goal of the appeal is to establish more definite emission limits and firm requirements for cleaner drilling practices.

A second appeal was filed by the Laramie-based Biodiversity Associates, which noted in a press release: “Last month, the BLM had approved the drilling of 64 to 128 wells per square mile in the field, which would makeit the densest gas field in the history of the United States. The project would entail the bulldozing of two-thirds of a vast land area to make way for roads and drilling sites, leaving behind only a ragged remnant of sagebrush habitat between the well pads that would not be able to support even the smallest of native wildlife.”

The appeal could set an important precedent for oil and gas development under the BLM’s obligation to “prevent unnecessary or undue degradation” to lands and resources under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and have implications for other “infill” drilling projects, such as the BP proposal to add 7,700 new wells to existing fields in Wyoming’s Red Desert, according to Biodiveristy Associates’ press release.

“Because of the huge geographic areas in all five Rocky Mountain states that contain tight gas formations, what you’re seeing in the Jonah Field is a good preview of what you may see all over the Rocky MountainWest on a horizon to horizon basis,” said Bob Elderkin, a retired BLM official who formerly worked on Wyoming oil and gas permitting. “The frenzied tight gas and coal bed methane exploration, if allowed to continue as it is presently going, will result in more surface disturbance in the next 20 to 30 years than has occurred in the five Rocky Mountain States in the last 200 years.”

“We haven’t valued sagebrush country in the past, and nowmany kinds of sagebrush wildlife are in trouble,” said Erin Robertson, staff biologistfor Center for Native Ecosystems. “We’re already losing pronghorn antelope and sage grouse in the Jonah Field. We can’t allow the drilling to become so dense that even small animals like the pygmy rabbit and sensitive sagebrush songbirds cannot survive.”

The appeal seeks a limited stay of drilling activities outside of existing well pads, but would allow EnCana to continue to drill directional wells from existing well pads.

“We’re not trying to shut down drilling in the Jonah Field,” said Suzanne Lewis, conservation advocate for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “We just want the gas industry to do it right, minimizing unnecessary destruction by drilling from the existing wellpads using directional drilling. EnCana can still get all the gas using directional drilling without totally destroying the environment. This request is so reasonable and so easy for industry to comply with, it’s incredible that the BLM isn’t already requiring it.”

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