From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 28 - October 11, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Is Encana’s Proposedman Camp About Safety Or Money?
Company wants camp on BLM land to house shift workers at Jonah Field
by Joy Ufford

EnCana’s proposal to put a “temporary” 350-person man camp on 15 acres of Bureau of Land Management Land (BLM) land near the energy company’s Jonah Field natural gas operations has raised some eyebrows.

That proposal is even more interesting when a survey of Sublette County property ownership shows that EnCana already owns 480 acres near the small piece of public land it hopes to lease.

EnCana Community Relations Advisor Randy Teeuwen said the BLM land provides the “best option for our workforce.”

“The reason is the private land is fully developed with 10-acre spaced wells,” he said. “From safety and quality of life, we’ve selected a site adjacent to but outside the field. We evaluated both BLM and state land and in working with the BLM we discovered this was the best option for our workforce.”

Teeuwen cited “safety” as the number one reason EnCana has proposed leasing BLM land for the man camp with “efficiency” as another factor.

Some think the issue is about money, though.

“The bottom line is money and always has been,” said Pinedale resident Ellen Lewis in a letter to the editor this week. “It will save (EnCana) money and will take money out of the local community, who provide services, not only for housing, but for food, gas, snacks and retail purchases of all kinds.”

Strong feelings

Diane Alexander is co-owner of Mountain Village Parks (MVP), a man camp two miles south of Big Piney where EnCana’s drilling contractor, Ensign Services, among others, lease MVP land for their own temporary housing and dining “skid” structures.

“In our camp we just rent the space to drilling companies,” Alexander said Monday. “We also have an RV park we rent out to individuals.”

Alexander wrote a letter to the editor this week and is buying newspaper and radio ads to make locals aware of the proposal because the BLM’s public comment period ends Oct. 15, Monday.

“It’s the whole idea,” Alexander said of her opposition. “I was brought up in the old school; the government shouldn’t provide for private businesses. ... It shouldn’t be government competing with free enterprise.”

Alexander discussed the EnCana-BLM land deal, which she admits would pull revenue from their man-camp business. “Revenue will drop,” she said. “I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s sad that the government would go into competition with the locals.”

However, she expects that other MVP revenues can increase if the proposed man camp goes through, by taking in and processing its solid wastes at MVP’s water and sewer treatment facility.

She said that food and water would have to be hauled in to the EnCana-BLM site and sewage hauled out and that there is no electricity available currently without generators.

Her main objection, though, is that she feels it is inappropriate for the energy company to build the proposed camp on BLM land.

EnCana could buy land for a man camp at Sand Draw,which isn’t very far from the proposed site, Alexander said. “That one’s not full either.”

Private business, public land?

“If we knew we could build a man camp on public land we’d have saved ourselves hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Alexander said, referring to the huge investment her family made almost three years ago when they bought the vacated former Exxon man camp property, cleared it and built a new park with up-to-date utilities and infrastructure.

“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to provide them with a place for housing,” Alexander said, adding that taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear any burden imposed by the proposed man camp’s five- to 10-year lifespan.

Teeuwen said anyone can do what EnCana is proposing. “We’re not different than anybody else,” he said, making a comparison between their proposed lease of BLM lands to ranchers’ leasing BLM allotments for grazing – both would pay an annual fee. “Anyone else can apply for a permit too,” Teeuwen said. “It just so happens that Congress has a mandate for the BLM to use public lands in a multiple-use way” and providing energy is “one of those uses.”

It isn’t quite that simple, according to BLM project leader Caleb Hiner. “It would be more difficult for a private individual,” he said of the permitting process and private-enterprise installation of a temporary camp. “These sort of projects are usually associated with resource development.”

A private individual’s business would more likely be considered “a long-term for-profit activity” and the BLM would probably rather sell, rather than lease them the land.

Hiner said EnCana probably isn’t interested in buying the 15 BLM acres because they “have private land available” nearby so wouldn’t want to purchase more.

Setting a precedent

Hiner did some research and found that leasing land to an energy company for a man camp is “not typical” for the BLM. “It’s pretty close to a first,” he added, saying that he hadn’t found anything similar in “the Lower 48.”

Alexander fears that once the door is opened, other energy companies will follow suit and want to build “temporary” worker housing and facilities. EnCana can’t get permitted and “be the only one” out there” she said.

“We need to not set a precedent,” she said.

Lewis agreed in her letter. “This will set precedence for all oil companies and private individuals to be permitted to do the same,” she wrote.

Not a done deal

Alexander has known about this plan for more than a year, since she was invited (through her catering company) to an EnCana meeting to learn about potential opportunities at the new camp.

Hiner confirmed that discussions began last year when the company approached the BLM with the idea. In June, the agency began working on a NEPA document that won’t be completed until after the public comment period. The BLM isn’t required to make this process public, he said, but the agency decided “to notify the public” and offer a 15-day comment period.

After completion of the NEPA document, a decision will be made one way or another, probably before mid-November.

“It’s not a done deal,” Hiner said. “We are moving forward with caution.” The BLM supports projects that benefit the community, Hiner added. “The proposal will be approved or not approved,” he said. “Either one of those is within the realm of possibility.” The BLM is “fairly aware of the consequences of it (the proposal),” Hiner added.

Benefits to community?

The BLM’s Oct. 1 release, published last week, quotes Hiner as saying that “EnCana and the BLM want to create a long-term environment for Jonah Field workers; improve human health and safety for the public; reduce the current strain on community infrastructure and reduce impact to the environment.”

The camp would house up to 350 workerswith dorm-style housing, a dining hall, laundry facilities and recreational “amenities,” the release says, in a drug- and alcohol-free environment and strict EnCana policies.

Another benefit listed is that the camp will fill an immediate need: “Adequate and appropriate long-term housing is not currently available to the current EnCana work force.”

That statement also elicited reaction from Alexander and Lewis.

“This is a lie!” Lewis wrote, explaining that Ensign rents about one-half of MVP’s leased space and that MVP has room to expand, being three-quarters full. “Why should a billion-dollar company be permitted for five to 10 years to build and house employees on our public lands when they already have ‘adequate and appropriate long-term housing’ in the private sector in the county,” Lewis wrote. The Jonah Workforce Facility is not “additional housing,” according to Teeuwen.

“EnCana would like to move a portion of the Big Piney/Marbleton facility into the field in order to have a significant part of our workforce closer to their jobs,”he said. “This will improve workforce and community safety by minimizing commute times and allow workers more time to rest and recover betweenwork shifts.

“The Jonah workforce experience exceptionally long hours and have limited amounts of time to rest, eat and sleep and are subject to being summoned to the jobsite at unusual hours and on very limited notice.”

The plan for Ensign

Teeuwen said Tuesday that all but two of Ensign’s structures will be moved to the new Jonah Workforce Facility. The last two will stay at MVP for Anticline workers. Ensign employees are shift workers with one week on, one week off, for 12-hour shifts, and like to leave for their time off,” he said.

“Home is wherever their families are,” he said. “It’s not like they’re in town now.” If they don’t have to drive from Big Piney into the Jonah Field but are living on site, their drive times and traffic will be cut, he said, giving them more time to “relax and not be on the road.”

Cutting their commute will keep dust down and save fuel, Teeuwen added.

The BLM release also says that by relocating the man camp, the results would be reduced traffic congestion, probable reduction of traffic accidents, less energy consumption, increased on-the-job safety and decreased vehicle emissions.

“(It) should help to reduce the social and economic burden that a large workforce often places on small communities such as Pinedale, Big Piney and Boulder,” the release also says.

Teeuwen explained that statement Tuesday.

“Approximately 150 of the 350 production workers currently reside at an existing facility located in Big Piney while others reside temporarily in rental properties, area hotels and trailer parks in Pinedale, Boulder, Big Piney and Rock Springs, he said. “When these accommodations are not available, workers are relegated to sleeping in personal vehicles or living in and around the area communities.”

Goods and services

These shift workers would probably go to town for items and services not available at the man camp’s remote location, Alexander said.

If you ask them, she said, “they’ll tell you they don’t like it.”

Shift workers will be required to live in the facility,” Teeuwen confirmed.

“Those who work jobs that support 24/7 operations, such as drill rig operators and some truckers, will be required to live in the facility,” he said. “These people work 12-hour days, one week on, one week off. They want a safe, comfortable living environment when they are on site. When they are off work they return to their hometowns and families wherever that might be located.”

The Jonah Workforce Facility will be open around the clock and will feature an “enclosed designated smoking area,” he said. Other needs and services can be filled during time off and the camp will have a commisary. “The workforce facility is not designed forfamilies, ”he said. “The workers who will live in the facility have families in their hometowns throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Home for them is where their children go to school, where they buy their groceries and where they have already established lives.”

Some of those shift workers have their lives here, according to Alexander, who has some that live in her RV park with family and walk over to the man camp as needed.

“It is a long-term workers’ camp,” she said of MVP.

Not withdrawing

When asked why EnCana is “withdrawing from ‘normal’ town life, with neighbors and interactions among the different groups of people living and working in Sublette County,” Teeuwen replied that they aren’t doing that at all.

“EnCana is not attempting to withdraw from ‘normal’ town life,” he said. “Quite the opposite. EnCana employees are firmly established in their communities and contribute to those communities in a variety of ways, including economically and through volunteer activities.

“The people who stay at the Jonah Workforce Facility are shift workers who are in Jonah for one reason – to work. After their two-week shift they return home to contribute to their communities. The workforce facility will actually enhance the local community goals for quality growth, enhanced community character and improved quality of life for existing, fulltime residents.”

Teeuwen said it is unlikely the camp will ever house 350 workers who “don’t live in town now anyway.”

“But we like to plan for whatever eventuality occurs,” he said. “... We need to plan for what we think could be a 10-year scenario.”

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 2002-2007 Sublette Examiner
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Sublette Examiner, PO Box 1539, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3203