From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 47 - February 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Pinedale Anticline hearing brings out opposition

by Gail Kimberling

More than two dozen people spoke out against the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for a proposal to increase natural gas drilling in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA).

Those who testified ranged from long-time residents to relative newcomers, from scientific experts to those who spoke from the heart.

“I am humbled by the eloquence and expertise shared by the other speakers,” Pinedale resident Phillip Washburn said towards the end of the two-hour public hearing.

Like others, Washburn decried the “exponential ramp-up” of drilling, saying the plan would “seriously compromise” wildlife and air and water quality, and “change this area forever.”

Three alternatives

Conspicuously absent from the speakers Tuesday were representatives of the oil and natural gas industry.

The proposal under discussion is a revision of the Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2000 for the 198,000-acre Pinedale Anticline Project area. There are currently more than 450 producing wells on 348 well pads in the PAPA; each well is expected to produce for 20 years, while the lifetime of the project is estimated at 60 years.

The Supplemental IES contains three alternatives: no action (allowing 228 new wells per year, as originally proposed); a proposal by the Pinedale Anticline Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Project (allowing 232 new wells per year in three consolidated areas); and a preferred option from the Bureau of Land Management (allowing 232 new wells per year in five narrow “moving swaths” inside the PADA). While the no action alternative would cap the number of new wells at a little more than 1,000, the latter two alternatives would allow up to a total of 4,399 new wells and allow year-round drilling, with certain stipulations, as well.

“The alternatives do not support BLM’s mission. The pace of development is too rapid,” Peggy Brown, a Cora resident, stated. A private citizen with a master’s degree in wildlife and a background in the oil and gas industry, Brown called the Pinedale Anticline a “unique oasis” that must be protected from surface pollution.

A representative from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Armond Acri of Jackson, questioned the 60-year lifespan of the project. “No one (in this room) will live to see the end of it,” he said, while noting the slow recovery rate of local soils and vegetation. “We owe it to future generations to see that restoration is clearly defined.”

Acri also called upon the BLM to “do their part” in slowing the recent population declines of wildlife in the Anticline Area.

“We do not oppose energy development. We oppose rushing into development,” Acri said.

Environmental lawyer Evangelos Germeles of Pinedale said the EIS of 2000 and the new SEIS were simply trade-offs. “You can’t fix a deficient EIS with an SEIS,” Germeles said, adding, “The only difference is a spatial difference.”

Germeles also wondered, “Why did the BLM only consider one alternative – that came from the developer?”

Perry Walker, a retired physicist and nuclear engineer living in Daniel, said he was “downright furious with the invasion of Sublette County by the gas guys.”

Addressing the air quality content of the SEIS in particular, Walker said, “It is a litany of distortions of fact by means of omission, inference and spin.”

Walker noted nitrogen oxide levels in the Anticline Project Area have exceeded modeled predictions fivefold, and he also brought up discrepancies in visibility standards and windfield data in the SEIS. “BLM should halt further development expansion until it can accumulate reliable metrics that can portray impacts correctly,” Walker said. “Absent that, the Anticline becomes nothing less than an un-instrumented test range lacking any meaningful impacts-assessment capability.”

Wildlife concerns

Craig Thompson, a teacher in Rock Springs, spoke for the National Wildlife Federation. While the oil industry touts the “world class resource” of natural gas deposits in the Anticline Area, Thompson said it’s important not to forget another world class resource – the area’s wildlife.

“No one use should trump all others,” Thompson said. The National Wildlife Federation seeks to minimize the impacts on wildlife by the proposed activities, Thompson added, and he called for no net loss of wildlife. He asked the developers to “go slow, and develop in the core.” In addition, Thompson said it was important to follow adaptive management practices and “stay light on our feet.”

This sentiment was echoed by Meredith Taylor, a wildlife specialist with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Let’s stop the downward trend in wildlife, and the degradation of air quality,” she said. “Cumulative effects are having huge impacts on western Wyoming … it’s time for BLM to acknowledge these problems and stop runaway development.”

Alison Lyon-Holloran, the conservation programs manager for Audubon Wyoming, spent three years studying the impacts of the natural gas industry on sage grouse in the Anticline Area. She, too, noted the dramatic decline in sage grouse and mule deer populations and said the BLM has “not used the information we have today to make decisions.”

Lyon-Holloran commented on the “holes in the document” and said the BLM “doesn’t go far enough” in defining mitigation and reclamation measures.

Linda Baker, grassroots coordinator for the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, also called for more distinct definitions and guidelines in the SEIS. Though her group supports some part of the document, Baker called the abandonment of winter protection for wildlife “a travesty.”

Saying the BLM “can regulate the manner and pace of development,” Baker suggested staged drilling to soften the impacts on mule deer, sage grouse and pronghorn antelope.

Local rancher Albert Sommers said the impact on livestock operators needs to be considered, as well, and he suggested the establishment of a mitigation fund for livestock operators.

One subject not even broached in the SEIS, Sommers added, is the possible listing of sage grouse as an endangered species. If this happens, Sommers said, the developers “will have to deal with it … it will lie directly at their feet.”

Sommers concluded, “My family has been here a long time. No one has the right to push us off.”

The social factor

“A way of life many of us value is being jeopardized,” Mary Lynn Worl, a Pinedale resident, said as she listed several community problems associated with oil and natural gas development: the impact on medical facilities, increased drug use, overburdened schools.

Elaine Crumpley, a Pinedale science teacher, agreed. She called education “another environmental factor” and said the transient population that comes with oil and gas development brings students to the area who have extra needs and challenges.

“Many have serious problems and huge gaps in their education. We don’t have the programs in place to help,” Crumpley said.

She noted 43 new students have enrolled in Pinedale Middle School since February – a 19.5 percent increase in the student population – and nearly all the new students are from the gas industry. Many, Crumpley added, are living in campers, travel trailers or motel rooms and therefore considered homeless.

“It’s a crime to shortchange our own students,” Crumpley said. “We need a phased development to allow us to catch up to this escalating impact.”

Heartfelt pleas

Possible threats to the livability of the Anticline Area brought emotional testimony from several people during Tuesday’s hearing.

Callie Domek, a resident of the Upper Green River Valley, said, “You cannot deny something is special about this place ... what matters is deeper than money, deeper than oil.”

She asked for developers to work towards sustainable energy alternatives and called upon local residents to “stand up for what makes this place special in the choices you make every day.”

Another Upper Green River Valley resident and ranch caretaker, Lori Vigyikan, said she fears “the essence of this great area is being quickly and irretrievably altered.”

She, too, lamented “those who are making a fortune at our expense,” and pushed for energy alternatives – especially in light of the growing drought in western Wyoming and beyond.

Lifetime Sublette County resident Ty Hoffman told the large crowd gathered for Tuesday’s hearing he was “stunned” by the recent pace of development in the area. He said, “The boom in this resource is the worst thing that’s happened here.”

The final say came from Bob McCarty, a former BLM biologist who worked the Anticline Area 20 years ago. He expressed concern over how the BLM has evolved, and how the agency is driven by outside influences with “the idea we have to get it (gas reserves) now.”

He said, “We shouldn’t be banking on statements that ‘once we finish here we move on to there.’ We’re never finished.”

Speaking with his daughter at his side, McCarty said, “Our children are at stake, our future is at stake. BLM should think very seriously about multiple uses and balancing those uses.”

What’s next

The public comment period for the Draft SEIS has been extended until the Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the proposed drilling project is released in early April.

Written comments can be submitted to Matt Anderson, Project Lead, Bureau of Land Management, Pinedale Field Office, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale, Wyoming 82941.

Once all hearings are completed and the public comment periods close, BLM will complete its findings and make a final recommendation.

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