From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 13 - June 21, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

PXP backs off from Eagle Prospect draft
Instead, company will expand analysis to development, production impacts in leased area
by Joy Ufford and Tiffany Turner

Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) has pulled back from the proposal it refers to as the “Eagle Project” to drill three exploratory gas wells on the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) southeast of Bondurant in the Wyoming Range.

PXP sent a June 11 letter to BTNF Big Piney District Ranger Greg Clark, on whose shoulders the decision rested to approve one of four alternatives in the BTNF draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about PXP’s exploratory activities.

In his letter to Clark which was also forwarded to Gov. Dave Freudenthal, Rusch stated several factors led to PXP’s request to the Forest Service to “not finalize the pending Draft EIS.

“Instead, PXP requests the Forest Service take the unprecedented step to expand its current NEPA review to include an evaluation of impacts associated with development/production from PXP leases in the area of the Eagle Unit,” he wrote.

“While the precise NEPA vehicle still needs to be determined, we expect that this process will entail analysis of various development alternatives that will include an expanded evaluation of impacts associated with production; we will not confine our review to the initial exploration wells.”

Rusch stated that factors leading PXP to discard the current draft EIS and seek a broader analysis of full development and production impacts included “an abiding fear” that PXP “might ultimately encroach on the Wyoming Range,” that the NEPA process “should also evaluate impacts from development and production from the leases at issue (which, he added, PXP had planned to do anyway before development), that the “scope and nature of PXP’s Eagle project is widely misunderstood,” and that “PXP wishes to conduct an evaluation of environmental impacts, including air quality, that is more expansive than NEPA requires at this stage of the project.”

Clark said Tuesday the next step in the process is for PXP to bring another proposal to the Forest Service and from conversations he has had recently with PXP, there could very well be a much larger project and “development scenario.”

“Until we get the proposal it’s hard to say we’re going to do ‘XYZ,’” he said.

It will be up to the Forest Service to carry out whatever analyses are required to evaluate impacts according to agency “standards and guidelines that will apply” for wildlife, soil, water, vegetation and other items and create another draft EIS, probably with another public-comment period. “Previous comments are still valid,” he said.

“There were numerous comments that we should look at field development,” Clark said. “That was loud and clear from a lot of folks…. We can’t take away their leases – we’re not going to do that.”

Gov. Freudenthal responded by reiterating his opposition to drilling in the Wyoming Range.

“While I’m pleased that the company has responded to public comments expressing concerns about drilling in this area, at this point, I’m not sure what Plains Exploration’s next steps will be,” he said. “I remain opposed to their efforts to develop in the Wyoming Range.”

Lisa McGhee, national forests and parks program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council responded to the new PXP stance.

“Citizens who weighed in against the proposal should feel proud that their comments influenced Plains’ decision to slow down development until more studies are prepared,” she said. “However, Plains should know that the people of Wyoming are not going to be satisfied with a proposal that turns a national treasure like the Wyoming Range into an industrialized gas field – no matter how thorough the environmental analysis is – because any new oil and gas development in the forest is unacceptable.

“The outpouring of opposition to this project illustrates the need for federal legislation to protect the Wyoming Range from future leasing and to begin a process by which existing leases like this one could be retired.”

Hoback Ranch resident Heather Mathews said she got involved in the controversial issue because she and her husband purchased their land about the time drilling plans became public.

“I am happy that PXP has finally decided to be forthright about their intentions,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t think they realized what a fight they would be up against, how much and how many people care about this area. Most people were aware that PXP’s president and CEO had stated to its stockholders (over a year ago, I believe) that this would be a ‘Jonah Field in the forest.’ People spoke out, saying more generally that they don’t want drilling in the Wyoming Range or Forest, but also that the Forest Service should be analyzing full-field development instead of just three ‘wildcat wells.’ It is nice that PXP was listening.

“However, the Wyoming Range should be protected from any development, and therefore no matter what kind of analysis is done or how it reads, it will not be accepted by those that have fought the Eagle Prospect. We need legislation to be introduced to protect the Wyoming Range and can only hope that Sen. Thomas’ desire to do that will be continued by either Sen. Enzi or whomever takes Sen. Thomas’ seat. I am happy to hear that the Governor is still standing up for the Wyoming Range and is cautious of PXP’s plans.”

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