From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 6 - May 3, 207
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Operators show efforts toward PAPA

by Tiffany Turner

Ultra Resources, Inc (Ultra), Shell Exploration & Production Company (Shell), and Questar Market Resources (Questar) have committed to additional improvements in their Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) oil and gas exploration and development since first coming out with their own Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the area.

According to the recent DEIS supplement, the companies have band together to make a commitment to “avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts from natural gas development and production activities” in the PAPA. These companies developed their plan based on recommendations given to them by 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.”

In the original Mitigation Commitment submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2005, the companies agreed to limit their well pads to 600 to accommodate over 5,000 total wells. This is 100 wells less than the No Action Alternative given by the BLM. The multiple-well pads will run year round in order to allow earlier reclamation. In some cases, reclamation could begin up to a decade earlier than if they were run under a seasonally restricted plan.

“We have more wells off less surface pads, some pads have up to 20-plus wells on them,” Hoff said. “This minimizes roads by about 70 percent and gives us the opportunity to do more things.”

In addition to the multi-well pads and reclamation commitments, the companies have also agreed to use consolidated production facilities and liquid gathering systems (LGS) to greatly decrease human activity and truck flow in the area. Questar has already installed an LGS and Shell and Ultra have agreed to also install one as their mitigation for year-round access. In addition, the companies will be using computer-assisted operation (CAO) to help reduce the number of trips that have to be made to each pad.

“Our gas is piped all the way to the refinery in Salt Lake and is never trucked,” Hoff said. “Our water is piped too, and never trucked. We have decreased by almost 17,000 truck trips since the beginning of operation ... the CAO ... allows us to read pressure and levels from the offices in town and do things from remote locations which also decreases traffic and emissions.”

Ultra, Shell and Questar have agreed to lower emissions by 80 percent from their 2005 levels within three years of the SEIS. This will be done with “fit for purpose” drilling rigs, the previously discussed LGS and CAO, the installation of electric drive compression powered on-site by natural gas and by the minimized truck trips.

“Rigs are now able to walk or skid where there are multiple pads, whereas before it would take 60-80 trucks just to move the rigs 50 feet,” Hoff said. “There are better emissions controls and they typically have technologies that are safer and help to prevent the risks of drilling.”

“Some of this new technology didn’t become available until 2006 and in some cases there was a year and a half wait for it,” Hoff added. “Some examples of what operators are using out there – there is a gas turbine on the Anticline, rigs with tier two engines and rigs that will walk by themselves.”

Reclamation itself, under the agreed commitments, would be in three stages. First, the establishment of a viable seedling cover consisting of indigenous species and comparable species as approved by BLM within one year of the reclamation beginning. Next, the group commits to at least a 50-percent vegetative cover and species composition within five years and at least 80 percent within 10 years.

Additions made to these original commitments include a Pinedale Anticline Operators’ Mitigation and Monitoring Fund (Fund), continued planning, monitoring and research cooperatively with the BLM and Game and Fish, and the voluntary suspension of some leases in the anticline.

“We have taken input and this plan has been refined many times,” Hoff said. “We have taken input from Wyoming Game and Fish and the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) and we have taken comments from public hearings. We have increased our mitigation with the ideas from the public meetings, including the Fund to offset operation costs.”

The Fund, created to provide financial support of monitoring and mitigation for the life of the project, will total approximately $36 million. 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.

“What we focused on most on the habitat issue was to minimize our footprint,” Hoff said.

A large portion of the companies’ commitment comes in an agreement to suspend or commit to a time-limited No Surface Occupancy (NSO) on certain leases to improve the impact on wildlife and habitat. This will keep them either undisturbed or mitigate the usage of the area leaving larger areas open to migration and habitation.

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

According to commitments made in their DEIS, Questar, Shell and Ultra have committed a large amount of resources to the improvement of the PAPA for wildlife and natural habitat. They have created a 10-year plan to continue to work with the community and land to make the oil and gas exploration in the area as beneficial and with as little harm to the area as possible.

“We want to find a balance with the community and our development,” McMullen said. “That balance between development and what an area holds is very important.”

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