Volume 104, Number 10 - March 8, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
For citizens against drilling in the forest, the fight is on
Wildcats announced in Wyoming Range near Hoback Ranches subdivision
The Forest Service’s Big Piney District Office has released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) reviewing the effects of three wells in the South Rim Unit. This proposal ends a stalemate over drilling in the Wyoming Range, which had been in a holding period while the Interior Board of Land Appeals is considering several appeals of leases sold by the Bureau of Land Management.
This move, which began when Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) submitted an “application for permit to drill” (APDs) for these Eagle Prospect wells in 2005, is the only one of its kind for the last year.
According to Teresa Trulock from the Bridger Teton National Forest, no APDs were received in 2006 or yet in 2007 for drilling in the forest. PXP wants to drill three wildcat wells from a proposed 4.5 acre site in the South Rim.
Half of the South Rim Unit is private land and includes the Hoback Ranches subdivision, and about half is managed by the Forest Service. The well site is approximately seven miles southeast of Bondurant, and takes up most of Township 36N, Range 113W. It is also about a mile west of Hoback Ranches western boundary.
PXP would access the site on existing Forest Service and county roads from Merna, some of which would need to be reconstructed and realigned. The EIS reports that 1,000 feet of new road would need to be constructed in a 60-day period.
The Forest Service examined a No-Action alternative per National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) stipulations; Alternative B, which is PXP’s proposed action; and Alternative C, which largely accepts Alternative B with some modifications.
The modifications integrated in Alternative C deal with a temporary pipeline that PXP says it may need to construct during production testing. In Alternative B, the pipeline parallels Forest Service, Sublette County roads and State Highway 354 for about 26.4 miles to a tie-in with a Williams’ pipeline on Highway 354. Alternative C cuts the length of this pipeline in half, by routing it away from existing roads and across private lands to a Williams pipeline tie-in about eight miles from where the line diverges from a Forest Service road north of Middle Beaver Creek.
This route allows the pipeline to run parallel to Middle Beaver Creek instead of interrupting it. The Forest Service proposed this change in order to protect a conservation population of Colorado Cutthroat trout, a federally-designated sensitive species. The pipeline will be polyethylene, and run on the surface of the ground.
PXP is under wildlife protection restrictions mandating no activity in elk calving areas from May 15 to June 30. The company also has a requirement not to engage in potentially disruptive to nesting raptor activities from Feb. 1 to July 31.
The company’s timeline for this project includes 60 days of road construction and improvement, which can occur while construction of the well pad is ongoing. Four new miles of road will need to be built. The well pad is expected to take between 10 and 30 days to complete, after which drilling and production can begin.
Each well will take between 85-130 contiguous days to drill, complete, and test, and PXP expects to be able to conduct extended well testing for 365 days. PXP will be drilling these exploratory wells to a depth of about 12,500 feet, and hopes to tap into the Lance Formation, Mesaverde Group and Bacon Ridge Formation for sweet gas.
The proposal notes that during well testing, the initial well pad of 4.5 acres could be increased to 6.5 acres as needed for produced liquids tanks. If these exploratory wells become productive, an underground pipeline and long-term plan for production and maintenance facilities will be examined under later NEPA analysis as it is needed. If PXP determines that a gas field is economically viable in the South Rim Unit, it will submit a development plan for NEPA analysis as well. However, the company predicts that evaluation of the wells could take up to five years.
PXP’s proposal outlines total surface disturbance for these exploratory wells at 95 acres from road developments, pipeline corridor and other activities. The Forest Service’s Alternative reduces this to 59 acres. The volume of water expected to be used during drilling, completion and well stimulation activities is expected to be about 1,300,000 gallons (4 acre-feet) per well. An average family of four uses 1 acre-foot per year. The proposal expects to obtain the water from a groundwater well drilled on site, and some surface water sources within the Hoback River and Upper Green River watersheds.
Both alternatives acknowledge the wildlife species will be disturbed by the proposal and chosen alternative. The Forest Service predicts that wildlife and fish could be “temporarily displaced” for over two months or more “in response to habitat disturbance or the bustle of nearby activity during road construction and pipeline installation.”
Of a more significant impact to wildlife, the Forest Service notes that as the company’s presence would be limited by timing stipulations, they “would not noticeably affect wildlife behavior.”
The fight is on
A grassroots coalition of sportsmen, outfitters and citizens disagrees. According to Gary Amerine, coordinator for “Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range” (CPWR), members of this group and the United Steelworker Union are gearing up for “Round One” of the drilling fight.
Though only three wildcat wells are proposed, CPWR sees this proposal as the first step toward drilling the rest of the Wyoming Range, noting that this proposal breaks the impasse over drilling in the Range. This break may pave the way for future drilling in the mountains, CPWR fears. “If this thing is successful, the pressure to open up other areas would increase dramatically,” Amerine noted in a phone interview. Amerine added that officials of PXP have said they have “hopes this area has the reserves of the Jonah Field.”
“That bothers me,” Amerine said. The group believes drilling would detrimentally affect mountain lifestyles and recreational opportunities in the Range, not to mention wildlife species and environmental impacts.
Amerine, who owns Grey River Outfitters, noted that though he doesn’t have permits to guide in the affected area, about five or six other local outfitters do. Dan Smitherman, who owns Hoback Peak Outfitters, holds hunting permits in the area that could be disrupted by the drilling. “If they drill these wells, it’ll be the beginning of the end for the Wyoming Range,” Smitherman said in a release.
“They’re going to be hard-pressed getting people to take into these areas where this commotion is going on,” Amerine said. “It’s not only the visual impacts, but the noise – there’s going to be more traffic. The wildlife will be disturbed. Elk and deer won’t be staying close to this area.”
Amerine said that CPWR would hopefully be spearheading three open houses about this proposal, which will probably be held in Jackson, Pinedale/Daniel, and Rock Springs. Sending such a widespread message across western Wyoming could grab the attention of non-locals who hunt in the Wyoming Range each fall.
Hunters and recreationists who belong to labor unions are already coalescing to protect certain areas in the state. Mike Burd, Vice President of the United Steelworkers Union, has gone on record saying that taking away places his members can hunt and fish, like the Wyoming Range, is “as bad as taking away our guns.”
Amerine hopes that hosting open houses will get citizens, who can easily get lost in government documents like EIS, some answers. “There is so much to these EIS’s and very little of it tells the whole story while it involves so much data it loses a lot of people,” Amerine explained of the motivation for the open houses. “We hope to have people who can decipher this thing in layman’s terms, so people can ask questions and get answers.” Amerine expects that the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Wilderness Society and the newly-formed Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range will be involved in the public forums. The Wyoming Range is known to be the site of the most successful elk hunts in Wyoming, and over 45 outfitters make their living on the range’s big game populations and fisheries.
The Forest Service expects that a notice for the EIS will be published on March 9, 2007, after which a 45-day public comment period will start. Please check with the Forest Service for the exact ending date of the period, though it is estimated to be April 23, 2007.
Copies of the EIS can be viewed at the Big Piney and Pinedale libraries, or at http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/projects. Comments should be sent to: Greg Clark, P.O. Box 218, Big Piney, WY, 83113
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