From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 45 - January 31, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Operators Continue Push For Year-Round PAPA Access
Shell, Questar, Ultra voice promised commitments at Chamber luncheon
by Tiffany Turner

As the Bureau of Land Management revamps its Resource Management Plan (RMP) and takes public comment on its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS), Ultra, Shell and Questar have banded together to make a commitment of additional improvements in their Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) oil and gas exploration and development.

According to their recent joint development proposal for the DSEIS, the three have committed to “avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts from natural gas development and production activities” in the PAPA. They developed their plan based on recommendations from federal and state agency wildlife biologists.

“This is a voluntary alliance between ourselves, Shell and Ultra to come up with a long-term plan for the Anticline,” said Questar General Manager in Pinedale Diana Hoff. “We’ve been looking at how things work and how we can do it better and more efficiently. It’s so young in its development, so we are looking for a more efficient way to do things both for resources and for the wildlife and habitat.”

These companies recently held a public meeting with Sublette County Chamber of Commerce members to discuss this alliance and what they are promising in exchange for year-round access to the PAPA.

“We are looking for a way to safely and efficiently develop that resource (natural gas),” said Deena McMullen, senior communications advisor for Shell.

McMullen said the goal is to balance that development of natural gas with the air quality and wildlife “and the people that actually use those areas.”

“We believe that in the long-term, (the proposal) balances those better than the current RMP in place by the BLM,” McMullen added.

According to McMullen and the other company representatives, having to move in and out of seasonal locations on the PAPA creates undue pressure on them and does not allow them to plan for the future or to take on expensive revamping of equipment.

Moving on and off sites also causes more of a human footprint in the area because of the increased truck traffic and larger pads, McMullen said. “We thought there was a better way to do things that we more beneficial to balancing the resources of energy, environment and community,” McMullen added.

The five areas that the collaboration has promised to improve with guaranteed year-round access are minimizing habitat disturbance, reducing traffic and human activity, protecting air quality, benefiting local communities and a mitigation and monitoring fund.

Minimizing habitat disturbance By being allowed year-round access, the operators say they can concentrate the development and allow for larger, contiguous acreage to be left open for wildlife habitat and migration.

McMullen explained that the operators would only occupy “eight percent of the project area at any one time, which leads to the contiguous habitat and sooner reclamation.”

“We will disturb less than 15,000 acres though our roads and our pads,” McMullen added.

The PAPA totals nearly 200,000 acres. This will come from voluntary “No Surface Occupancy” (NSO) of specific leases in the PAPA’s flank areas. The operators have committed to working with Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) and the BLM to suspend or place a time limit on the NSOs. According to McMullen, the NSOs would account for roughly 50,000 project acres.

According to the operators’ letter of intent to the BLM, “The certainty of undisturbed habitat allows for enhanced access for delineation and development activities in certain areas.”

“The concept behind this is large, contiguous open acreage,” McMullen said. “We will do things mostly on-site to leave continuous, open acreage... by protecting the flanks, what we are doing is leaving more acreage open... I think all of our companies recognize the importance of wildlife to Wyoming, sportsmen and the state.”

The new mitigation will also allow directional drilling on multi-well pads, again decreasing disturbance area from pads and new roads. This results in 100 fewer pads than approved by the current RMP.

The operators also offer to do interim reclamation on well pads where no development is planned within two years. The ability to produce from these pads year-round will also allow pads to be reclaimed earlier.

“G&F found it beneficial to the wildlife to cut that drilling phase down,” McMullen said.

Reducing traffic and human activity

Another perk from the larger multiwell pads proposed by the operators with year-round access is a decrease of traffic and road infrastructure and implementation of a Liquids Gathering System (LGS). Questar has already installed an LGS and Shell and Ultra are working on a system as well. The three plan to use “computer-assisted operation” (CAO) to help decrease trips to each pad by allowing them to check pressures and levels from offices and other locations. “Any way you can lessen human activity, the better it is for the wildlife,” McMullen said.

Protecting air quality

Shell, Ultra and Questar are committed to an 80-percent reduction in NOx emissions from the 2005 levels within three and a half years after the SEIS record of decision (ROD).

“The LGS was originally put in place for the wildlife benefits but in turn you see the air benefits,” McMullen said. In addition to the LGS and CAO, the NOx emissions can be lowered by “fit for purpose” drilling rigs, installation of electric-drive compression powered onsite by natural gas and by minimized truck trips.

Benefiting local communities

The trio holds the position that a stable year-round workforce would establish a more stable population and economy compared to the transient workforce seen now with seasonal drilling.

“If we are able to plan for the future, the community can plan for the future,” McMullen said. “Year-round (access) let’s us know where the growth will be and know where we will be expanding.”

Shell, Questar and Ultra hope that creating a stable workforce in the field will in turn create a stable workforce in town as families become more permanent with the continuous work and retain younger generations of Pinedale citizens.

“We hope to attract and retain employees that every employer desires,” Jeff Sells of Shell said. “We won’t have that transient feeling.”

Sells said he also hoped year-round employment would allow crews to be solidified, helping with both the safety in the field and keeping people in town longer, instead of the current springtime event of bringing in all new crews. Year-round drilling will also allow the companies to have a firmer grasp on coming years, which will in turn give the community a better concept of what to expect.

The partners also figure an estimated additional $16 billion will be headed back to the federal government, “half of which comes back to Wyoming.”

“And hopefully you guys will work to see that a lot of that come back to this community,” McMullen added.

Mitigation and monitoring fund

With year-round access, the partners agree to finance a $36 million Mitigation and Monitoring Fund (Fund) to address potential impacts to air, wildlife, livestock, vegetation and reclamation.

The Fund would provide financial support of monitoring and mitigation for the life of the project. The companies agree to provide an original donation of $4.2 million with an estimated yearly contribution of $1.8 million. Annual contributions will be based on the pace of development.

According to the collaboration, “The Fund will be used for mitigation, monitoring, research and analysis associated with potential impacts due to energy development in the PAPA.”

The funded mitigation will be based on goals and objective determined by annual meeting with the BLM, G&F, Department of Environmental Quality and the operators.

“The important part of having mitigation ismonitoring it,” McMullen said.

Why only with year-round access?

The partners have agreed to all of these provisions – if the BLM grants them year-round access to the PAPA and their well pads. According to the group, the immense cost of these undertakings would be too great without the assurance of year-round field production.

“It seems like if you know mitigation is beneficial, you should do it whether it is year-round or not,” was a comment at the recent luncheon.

“We mitigate at this time,” McMullen said, but “the measures proposed in this request to the BLM would not be technically nor monetarily feasible without year-round access.”

“This is a large multi-year commitment,” Sells said. “We’ll end up releasing a large portion of that fleet every fall and picking up whatever the market is in the spring – if you can’t invest in and retain that investment, it’s not economically feasible.”

The partners stated that this commitment would cost them roughly $2 billion to mitigate, which would not be an option with limited seasonal access especially when much of what they would put their money into would not be returned to them. “We’re going on what we know now and what we need to do now,” McMullen said. “We need to move forward.”

Comments, questions, more information

There will be another public meeting on Feb. 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rendezvous Point in Pinedale to further discuss the DSEIS alternatives and to allow for further public comment. The best way to be heard is to make comments to the BLM about the DSEIS.

“The BLM really does like to see you comment on specific parts of the text,” McMullen advises.

The Town of Pinedale is working on its own set of comments. For questions or comments about the town’s stance, check with Pinedale Town Hall.

“The town takes a position of neither pro- nor anti-industry,” said Mayor Steve Smith at the recent town council meeting. “The town is pro town.”

Information on Shell, Ultra and Questar’s mitigation commitment is available at or by calling (877) 526-1007. The Revised DSEIS is on the BLM website at or at the Pinedale Field Office.

The BLM is accepting comments through Feb. 11. Once the final SEIS is out, there will be another comment period followed by a Record of Decision and a 30-day appeal period. Send written comments or resource information to the Bureau of Land Management, Pinedale Field Office, PAPA RDSEIS Project Manager, 1625 West Pine Street, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale,WY. 82941. E-mailsmay be sent to .

For more information, contact Caleb Hiner at (307) 367-5352 or email him at .

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