Volume 7, Number 34 - November 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
County Impact Study Up For Comment
After several months of waiting, Sublette County can now look at the results of the recent impact study ordered by the county commissioners in the hopes of understanding where Sublette County is headed.
Economic Resource Group (ERG) has recently released the draft of the Sublette County Socioeconomic Impact Study (SCSIS) for review. “ERG conducted a socioeconomic impact study for the Sublette County, Wyoming, commissioners to study estimated effects of oil and gas drilling on the local economy over the 20-year life of the BLM's Resource Management Plan and beyond,” Jeffrey Jacquet said.
“Sublette County has experienced dramatic population growth and changes as development began about seven years ago on two of the largest on-shore natural gas fields in the United States.”
“The study includes budgetary analysis across municipalities throughout the county, employment and population projections, analysis on the existing impacted environment including impacts to traffic, inflation, school enrollment, water and sewer services, costs of living, court cases, crime, social and medical services, local culture, and much more,” he added.
The SCSIS, on a broad basis, finds that the BLM’s Resource Management Plan (RMP) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) did not successfully label the current and future impacts that the drilling industry will have on Sublette County and the municipalities within it (the study concentrates on the three largest towns in the county, those being Pinedale, Big Piney and Marbleton) as well as officials and residents of the area needed in order to properly prepare for the coming years.
“As the population of Sublette County has grown, the county and its municipalities have struggled to keep up with the necessary improvements to infrastructure,” the report said.
According to the study, while many things were taken into consideration during other impact studies on the county, including the Jonah Infield Drilling Project (JIDP) Final Environment Impact Statement (FEIS) and the Pinedale Anticline Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) in addition to the RMP DEIS. The impacts and changes expected in the surrounding areas were left to a more vague awareness and prediction than would be needed by the communities in Sublette County to properly take on the upcoming growth and change. Due to the influx of workers and jobs (and subsequent decrease when the gas development and production has finally slowed and the ceased), more specific details and exact numbers are needed.
“...A review of those impacts specific to Sublette County has not previously been generated though the vast majority of impacts occur there,” the SCSIS stated. “Furthermore, assumptions used in the analysis do reflect the effects of rapid growth associated with a surge in well drilling activity.” The SCSIS looked into those numbers and changes that affect just Sublette County and its businesses and residents, not the Wyoming industrial areas in general.
Industry and the county
Using current 2006 economic data available, the SCSIS highlights several key points that industry growth is affecting the most throughout the county. These sections are population, employment and income, economy and revenues, public services and the quality of life in Sublette County.
Although it is difficult to separate the different aspects and impacts on the county by the industry, the study attempts to explain the different areas although many of them overlap.
The population in Sublette County has changed at a considerably different rate than most places in the surrounding state, making Sublette County specific impacts all the more important.
Things are changing in the county differently even than in impacted neighboring communities that supply part of the workforce within Sublette. This population change, however, is not always reflected in study numbers due to the ever-changing workforce that the industry thrives on.
“The population of Sublette County has increased 52 percent since 1990 and 24 percent from 2000 to 2006,” the SCSIS stated. “This contrasts to only a 14-percent increase since 1990 and a 4-percent increase from 2000 to 2006 in the state of Wyoming as a whole. The magnitude of this population increase is most likely grossly underestimated given that the transient population of oil and gas workers is not counted as residents.
“Much of the oil and gas employment is made up of a transient workforce whose population numbers are difficult to estimate. According to the data supplied, during the development phase, 83 of the 156 local employees per well (53 percent) were estimated to be residing in man camps or motels. The difficulties in measuring this workforce means that is often becomes a fluid, unaccounted for pressure on the county infrastructure.”
Employment and Income
Much of the money generated from the industry in Sublette County is being sent state-wide to help fund projects at a larger level. According to the study, most of the mineral revenue gained by the county is “provided primarily through the county gross products tax.”
“Although mineral revenues have helped fund infrastructure and other projects across the state, local governments have benefited modestly from state severance taxes and federal mineral royalties,” it said.
Another issue facing Sublette County with the influx of industry is where any funding must be spent.
“Sublette County and its municipalities currently face large capital projects to address the infrastructure impacts associated with increased oil and gas activities,” the study said. “Basic services such as road and bridge maintenance and adequate water and sewer facilities now consume significant portions of annual budgets. The three largest municipalities in Sublette County have allocated between 60 and 90 percent of their entire annual budgets to capital improvement projects in 2007-2008.”
Public Services and Quality of Life
According to the study, in the six year period (2000-2006) that showed around an $12,000 per year increase to the average home price around the state of Wyoming, Sublette County’s average increased at nearly $24,000 annually.
According to the study, an estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development showed an average median family income for the county at $59,400, which would allow for the purchase of a $225,000 home.
However, with the changes so obviously seen throughout the county, only 16 percent of homes on the market in the county were at or below that price. “This makes locating affordable housing difficult for service employees... who earned on average $22,000 per year as of 2005,” the study said.
The purchasing market is not the only sector of life to see the rare increase, rent is also higher than average in Sublette County – the average cost for “a detached, single-family house in 2006 was 60 percent higher than the average rental price for similar homes across Wyoming.”
According to the study, this price has risen more than 90 percent in Sublette County since 2000.
Based on the different information collected from governments, organizations and individuals, the SCSIS makes several projections for the future of Sublette County and the impacts foreseen by what is currently known.
Using the predictions for the drilling and production in the two large fields in Sublette County (Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Field), the SCIS finds that the labor-intensive period in the county will occur between 2007 and 2018. The study predicts additional development slowing by 2025.
With this peak employment time, the study predicts the “Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employment over the life of the plan begins with an estimated 1,854 FTE employees in 2007.”
“Employment peaks in 2018, with approximately 1,894 FTE development workers and 209 FTE production workers, for a total of 2,103 FTE workers for that year. Employment drops quickly after 2015 as drilling ends,” the SCIS predicts.
The study’s analysis “indicates the drilling and production schedules are important to accurately estimate economic and social effects accruing to Sublette County. The oil and gas industry will profoundly affect the timing and demand for housing – both temporary and permanent and single- and multiple-family.”
The study also shows “population effects are an important part of the socioeconomic analysis and stem directly from changes in employment. Counties require detailed information to plan for increasing service demands for health and welfare, education, policing, emergency services and public works.”
Sublette County Commissioners are currently looking into furthering the study and receiving a more detailed and specific report concerning the impacts and changes expected in the county.
The plan is available for viewing at http://www.ecosystemrg.com/sublette.html.
ERG is accepting all comments on the matter. You can comment directly through an online form at the Ecosystem Research Group Web site at www.ecosystemrg.com/sublette/sublette_comm.html or by visiting www.ecosystemrg.com and clicking on “Project Websites.” Or you can email or mail the comments to: Sublette Comment, Ecosystem Research Group, PO Box 8214, Missoula, MT 59807. If you do not have access to the Internet, please contact County Clerk Mary Lankford about other options for viewing the study.
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