From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 15 - April 12, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

SEIS comment period over, responses are varied

by Julia Stuble

From the governor’s office to the streets of Pinedale, citizens’ responses to the Anticline’s supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) have been varied. The official public comment period for the SEIS closed on April 6, but responses have been released up until the closing.

Governor Freudenthal, in a statement on April 7, released the contents of his letter to the Bureau of Land Management’s Pinedale Field Office Manager, Dennis Stenger, which were his official comments on the SEIS. Freudenthal asked for balance between protection of resources and development, but approved the year-round plan. Though public sentiment often loudly decried the proposal, a letter left at Rock Rabbit this week, written by a gas field worker, asked for approval of the SEIS in the name of national security.

On April 2, during a teleconference hosted by the Upper Green River Valley Coalition’s Linda Baker, four experts revealed their conclusions that 4,400 more wells on the Anticline would cause detrimental impacts to air quality and wildlife.

Along with the Wilderness Society, Baker gathered Dr. William Alldredge, a wildlife biologist, Dr. Clait Braun, a sage-grouse biologist, and Cindy Copeland and Megan Williams, both former Environmental Protection Agency employees, to analyze the SEIS from wildlife and air quality standpoints.

SEIS harms resources

In the presentation hosted before the public comment period on the Anticline closed, all four felt that the proposal would harm resources in the Green River Basin. They felt this harm could be alleviated by slower pacing for the development and better analysis of the impacts.

The prolific Pinedale Anticline field currently has 1,139 wells approved. Three major gas companies want to up that number to 4,399 and lift winter restrictions on areas of the Mesa. Those restrictions protect crucial mule deer winter range that has historically been off-limits to human activity. However, the Bureau of Land Management has been pressured to issue exceptions, and has done so multiple times. The SEIS proposes to cluster development into about 18 square miles total, and to roll that unrestricted area across the crest of the Anticline, reclaiming well pads as they go.

That, along with plans for liquid gathering systems and directional drilling, makes this plan environmentally friendly, according to Questar representatives. The environmental contingent disagrees, noting that the proposal is for too much, too fast, especially in light of current ramped-up drilling projects like the Jonah Infill, which approved 3,100 new wells in the Jonah field. Copeland and Williams noted that the modeling predictions in the SEIS violate thresholds in the Clean Air Act, emphasizing degradation of the area’s visibility. The SEIS modeling predicts no exceedances of National or State Ambient Air Quality Standards, which protect human health.

Braun and Alldredge both discussed species that have been negatively impacted by drilling activities. Alldredge spoke of impacts to an alreadyimpacted herd of mule deer that saw a 46 percent decrease in its Mesa wintering herd last year. This year, the numbers stabilized.

Braun is a noted expert on sage-grouse, a species that is being considered for federal protections as its population across the West continues to decline. Braun said that the sage-grouse faces local extirpation in light of this plan, and noted that current protections for the bird are inadequate.

“What there needs to be is a slow-down, a paced approach to development. You can’t expect to be able to do all these areas simultaneously,” Braun said, explaining, “You have to set aside areas for wildlife.” If habitat is not protected for the sagegrouse, Braun said he had little hope that a local population would survive. Alldredge agreed, noting that the mule deer needed usable habitat. Both disputed that reclamation efforts, especially in the short-term, would effectively mitigate the drilling impacts on the populations. Alldredge pointed out that reclamation methods, like re-seeding, bring about grasses and forbs, plants useless to the wintering animals that rely on slower-growing and recovering sagebrush.

Both Copeland and Williams called for new technologies on drill rigs, highlighting old rig engines as significant sources of pollutants.

Governor’s response

Governor Freudenthal challenged the BLM to find a way to develop gas resources while preserving Wyoming’s quality of life. He asked no additional leasing be allowed until the Resource Management Plan is approved, and that thresholds set for wildlife populations by the Game and Fish be followed. However, if protections for wildlife were in place, he was in favor of the year-round drilling plan.

“A successful collaborative effort could provide additional socio-economic benefits to the local communities and the State by leveling out the seasonal drilling, completion and operational fluctuations,” his letter said, continuing, “But equally important is the unmatched opportunity to provide a model for habitat and environmental mitigation which will lead to increased habitat function at the end of the natural gas development play.” Freudenthal asked the BLM to accept if oil and gas companies were willing to suspend leases on the flanks of the Mesa. He also recommended an industry fund for off-site mitigation, and praised the directional drilling and reduction in well pads that the SEIS proposed.

Enviros recommendations

An April 6 press release issued by Baker outlined some key recommendations put together by Bruce Pendery of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, and others. These recommendations for the SEIS echoed the governor’s call for adherence to Game and Fish standards, and asked for confined development to the core area defined by the document. The recommendations also asked for clearly defined mitigation measures, including off-site, and for caps on emissions to protect air quality. Noting that “pilot demonstrations of low-emission alternatives… help little unless BLM mandates their comprehensive use,” Pendery asked that the agency requires cleaner technology when approving the drilling expansion.

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