From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 103, Number 12 - November 23, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

BLM lease sale offers land north of Daniel
Energy development could extend NW, SE of Anticline
by Julia Stuble

At the upcoming Bureau of Land Management’s December lease sale, over 11,000 acres of Sublette County land will be up for grabs for oil and gas development.

Two large groups of parcels being offered would effectively move energy development northwest and southeast of the Pinedale Anticline. Parcels are being offered north of Daniel, and on the eastern side of U.S. Highway 191 near the Big Sandy Recreation Area. Approximately 4, 240 acres are being offered in sections of Township 35 North, Range 112 West, which is essentially five miles northwest of Daniel Junction and four miles west of U.S. Highway 191. In these parcels, WY-162-160 and -161, land in the Beaver Ridge, Beaver Creek drainage and Webb Draw areas, would be available for development.

Also northwest of Daniel Junction, in the Cow Gulch and Crooked Creek areas, (Township 36 North, Range 112 West), 5,520 acres (parcels -162, -163,-164) are up for sale at the lease auction.

Across U.S. 191 from the concentrated area of the Jonah Field and the southerly end of the Anticline, about 6285 acres are also for sale. These parcels span sections in Townships 27, 28, 28 North and Ranges 106 and 107 West, stretching between 10 and 20 miles south of the Wyoming 351 and US 191 cutoff road. They are located on both sides of the Big Sandy River, but remain north of the Big Sandy Recreation Area.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council, in conjunction with the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, The Wilderness Society, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, has filed a protest against certain parcels up for sale.

The groups are protesting parcels -160,-161,-162,-163 and -164, all in the vicinity of Merna and Cora.

General Argument

The protest notes that all of the lands up for leasing “provide critical habitat for a number of species, ranging from sage grouse, to mule deer, to severely imperiled species” and “many serve as quiet, serene places of natural beauty, and they provide excellent recreational opportunities for hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, backpacking and the opportunity to simply enjoy Wyoming’s open spaces.” Written by WOC’s staff attorney Bruce Pendery, the protest alleges that “explosive oil and gas development on these lands threatens all of the above resources and values, for which BLM has a mandatory ‘multiple use’ mandate to protect.”

WOC’s legal standpoint for protesting the parcels is based on inadequate pre-leasing analysis of impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and noncompliance with several BLM Instruction Memorandums.

Air Quality

WOC highlights insufficient NEPA analysis of impacts to air quality, stating that the documents the BLM relied upon to ensure compliance with NEPA for these parcels are “legally deficient with respect to consideration of pre-leasing options.” The documents relied upon were the Anticline’s environmental impact statement (EIS) and the Jonah Infill EIS, which Pendery points out are “project-level, post-leasing documents.” The Interior Board of Land Appeals has already sided with WOC in court over a protest of the BLM’s April 2006 lease sale. In the issued stay on development, the IBLA stated that in these prelease decisions based on the above documents, “the record show[ed] little, if any, attention was given to air quality issues.”

The protest adds that any reliance on the BLM’s 1988 Resource Management Plan is also inadequate for addressing air quality issues.

In the past, the BLM has given assurances that it will address any circumstances not evaluated at the pre-leasing stage when it reviews Applications for Permit to Drill (APD’s). However, the IBLA has also sided with WOC when the group refuted this asssurance, and placed the burden on the BLM to not rely on claims of future NEPA compliance.

Parcel -160

Specifically, WOC is protesting parcel -160 for being offered for leasing as it is considered crucial big game winter range. According to the protest, this parcel would be in violation of BLM’s responsibility to resolve inconsistencies between BLM’s actions and state agencies. Though the lease holds winter activity restrictions for mule deer, WOC’s protest argues that, as activity on the Pinedale Anticline illustrates, these stipulations are “totally discretionary,” and thus, ineffective at protecting the habitat and being consistent with State policies.

WOC continues to argue for protection of wildlife species with this parcel, as well as in parcel -161, which has stipulations to protect sage grouse spring activities. The protest notes that the stipulation does not provide enough protection for this sensitive species.

Split Estate parcels

The protest also looks to protect landowner’s interests by protesting parcels -160, -162, -163, -164 which are mostly or completely split-estates. WOC’s protest asks that these parcels, northwest of Daniel Junction, not be offered at the lease sale until the owners receive “adequate assurance of compensation and protection.” Again, the protest refutes BLM’s reassurance that this will be taken care of at the APD level, and asks that a stipulation be added to the lease before the sale.

Public Comment

Finally, WOC adds that the “BLM has provided no opportunity for public comment on the protested lease parcels prior to this protest.” They argue that this is in direct opposition to the requirements of the agency under the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, NEPA and FLPMA. The lease sale will take place in Cheyenne on December 5. The BLM is offering a total of 213,819 acres of Wyoming land to oil and gas operators.

The leases can be held for ten years, or as long as they are producing.

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