From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 31 - October 25, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wyoming Range Protections Don’t Reach Eagle Unit
PXP, BTNF officials tour proposed gas field-development site
by Joy Ufford

While Wyoming’s governor, newest senator and concerned citizens rally to protect the pristine Wyoming Range from energy drilling, the Eagle Unit natural-gas project envisioned by Plains Exploration and Production (PXP) keeps inching along.

“We have never stopped moving forward (with PXP),” said Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) Big Piney District Ranger Greg Clark this week.

Proposals from PXP, new notices of intent and new scoping statements are in the works, Clark said. “That’s on track, still going forward.” In June, the Big Piney District’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning PXP’s proposal to drill three exploratory wells be expanded “to include an evaluation of impacts associated with a possible field-development scenario should the initial exploration phase be successful,” wrote Steven Rusch, PXP vice president of Environmental, Health, Safety and Government Affairs, in an email Monday. Both Clark and Rusch have noted that opponents of the draft EIS were calling for an expanded document. The “Presently PXP and the Forest Service are carefully evaluating a possible field-development scenario that respects the environmental constraints and addresses public concerns expressed by concerned citizens and regulators,” Rusch said this week.

PXP and BTNF officials met up a couple of weeks ago for a tour of the South im Unit, to look at the project area as they work on a master plan.

Intertwined issues

Clark acknowledges that numerous issues around Wyoming Range drilling are “intertwined” including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s proposed legislation and Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s and citizen groups’ opposition to drilling in the range.

However, he said, BTNF and PXP will “proceed... unless legislation changes” the process and Clark said that he isn’t very concerned about proposed protective measures unless they affect his job directly, which is to decide whether or not PXP will proceed on their application to drill on their leased ground.

The draft EIS needs to address full-scale development situations “so people can see what it would look like,” Clark said, adding that the project will not be a “Jonah in the Trees” as depicted by SkyTruth’s computer generated images. “I can guarantee it will not look like the Jonah,” he said.

Sen. Barrasso’s legislation

“Senator Barrasso will introduce his bill to hold off future leasing in the Wyoming Range very soon,” said his press secretary Cameron Hardyon Tuesday.

“While the effort to protect special places in Wyoming began with (the late) Sen. (Craig) Thomas many years ago, Senator Barrasso made it a priority when he took office in June. In recent years the effort has been very much grassroots...and Sen.Barrasso’s staff have been working closely with lease holders and citizen groups about how the plan will play out in the Range.”

Barrasso recently held 32 town meetings around Wyoming where “most of the comments have been very positive about the Wyoming Range and the Wild and Scenic legislation, Hardy said.

His soon-to-be-introduced legislation would prohibit future leasing in portions of the Wyoming Range and allow for a private buy-back program, under which private groups might buy leases and “retire” them so they could not be resold in the future. “I’m sure we can address the Wyoming Range effort more once the bill is introduced,” Hardy said Tuesday.

Governor’s opposition

Last month, the governor again wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns re-stating his firm opposition to “lease and develop oil and gas in the Wyoming Range.”

“As a result of leasing before I became governor, thousands of acres of leasing has been authorized,” he wrote. “These leases will largely be the subject of Senator Barrasso’s legislation. But there are roughly 44,600 acres of leases that are in a sort of limbo.” Those leases, which had been offered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2005 and 2006,were appealed and after the “underlying leasing decisions were found to be legally deficient (by the Interior Board of Land Appeals)” the parcels were remanded back to the BLM, he noted.

IBLA had stated in its decision that the BLM might decide to cancel the leases, the governor said.

“I respectfully request that you direct your respective agencies to cancel the leases in question and reimburse the lease proponents for any costs they incurred,” he told Johanns and Kempthorne. “The leases can then be retired under the legislation that will be proposed by Senator Barrasso.”

“We’re very cognizant and sympathetic and we do listen to the governor,” Clark said Monday.

Jonah in the Trees

In late June, “Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range” posted maps created by SkyTruth at the request of the Wilderness Society “that demonstrate the likely impact of full field development in the northern Wyoming Range by (PXP).”

“The visual representation … again shows why federal legislation is needed to prevent new oil and gas leasing in the Wyoming Range while also moving forward to allow the retirement of existing, non-producing leases in the Wyoming Range,” the text states.

For the SkyTruth analysis, four-acre well pads were placed at 40-acre sites across the “geologically defined ‘Eagle Prospect’” and roads were assigned 35-foot widths and shown as an “initial minimal road network” linking wellpads.

The analysis used 40-acre well spacing, as was used initially in Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline gas field development because XP stated in April 2006 that Eagle Prospect“ mirrors the same geologic aspects of the Jonah Field” and that the company hoped to “develop an ice field right in the middle of the forest.” Shortly after, Gov. Freudenthal wrote that PXP had made statements saying “that this project is functionally a ‘Jonah in the trees.’’”

Slips through cracks

New legislation and gubernatorial opposition to oil and gas drilling in the Wyoming Range cover the 44,600 acres currently “in limbo” and future leases but do not as yet impact PXP’s proposal to drill on its leased parcels, which comprise the 20,000-acre South Rim Unit. The unit is located on BTNF land, which makes Clark the decision maker for approving or denying the application. Because the PXP leases are preexisting, they do not fall into either category for which the governor, citizens and senators seek protections.

Rusch said PXP is working with those concerned.

“PXP recognizes the sensitivity of development in the Noble Basin; we hear and want to address the environmental concerns expressed by concerned citizens and regulators,” said Rusch.

The draft EIS will respect the “environmental constraints” and address “public concerns about intensity and pace of development,” Rusch said.“These plans are forth coming, will be noticed to the public and will be incorporated in to a revised EIS.”

He said that PXP hopes to see a revised draft EIS available for public comment in Spring 2008.

“Also, we are actively outreaching to a number of stakeholders who’ve expressed concern over our project,” Rusch said. “We are listening to their concerns and developing a constructive dialog which we believe will benefit all concerned and ultimately developing trust. PXP is open minded and solution oriented as exemplified by the projects highlighted... at”

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