From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 18 - May 3, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Energy companies raise ante to SEIS

by Julia Stuble

Amid the storm of public protests and agency hesitation with the proposed Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Anticline, the three major operators behind the plan released several additional commitments and clarifications. In an early April letter to Dennis Stenger, the BLM’s Pinedale Field Office Manager, Questar, Shell Exploration and Production and Ultra Petroleum officials enhanced their original proposal concerning mitigation, and elucidated several points.

Though the proposal has already been out for public purview, the BLM has said it can incorporate the changes as it crafts the final decision on the 4,400 additional wells and over 12,000 disturbed acres. The SEIS is most contentious for its proposal to lift seasonal stipulations protecting wildlife for drilling areas.

The three operators have now proposed a joint $36 million fund dedicated to mitigation projects and monitoring, similar in scope and design to the Jonah Interagency Office, funded by EnCana for the Infill approval. “This fund will monitor and mitigate impacts that are directly resulted from our activities around Pinedale,” pointed out Bryan Lastrapes, Shell’s Development Manager.

This fund will be in addition to the expenditures the operators will absorb for reclaiming well pads, meaning that the total reclamation and mitigation cost will total $1 billion, the operators told Stenger. Another important change, developed in conjunction with the BLM, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and per the Governor Dave Freudenthal’s request, is a voluntary suspension of some leases on the flanks of the Anticline.

The operators say the proposal will already be more favorable to wildlife by concentrating development and leaving tracts and corridors open for antelope and deer. This additional commitment “ensures a significant portion of the flanks of the PAPA will be available as undisturbed habitat for wildlife,” their letter stated. Though the operators are unsure what amount of acreage would be freed from leasing with this commitment, Lastrapes commented, “It is very significant relative to the amount of disturbance,” and added it would probably be “well over 20,000 acres.”

The operators also pledged to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to 80 percent of the 2005 levels by 2010, if the decision is made by this year’s third quarter. However, the operators were quick to clarify that this is not a “carrot on a stick,” as they believe has been misunderstood from the SEIS as it stands now.

The “if” the decision is out in the third quarter only indicates the timeline needed to bring the levels down, between two to three years to bring technology on board. If the decision is later, the operators explained, the timeline for bringing down the emissions would have to be pushed back as well. NOx emissions are a concern primarily because they are a key component in the creation of ozone. In the Upper Green River Basin twice in the past two years, ozone levels have spiked above federally regulated standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency is keeping an eye on the area, because a third exceedance of the levels would mean this basin is a “non-attainment area,” requiring stricter standards or preventative measures. Rig engines, either new or modified, are the primary way to reduce these emissions. However, the operators have also pointed out that a previous commitment for a liquid gathering system will eliminate hundreds of thousands of truck trips per year to the project area. Reducing traffic will also lessen the NOx emissions, not to mention wildlife disturbance and municipal problems with access roads, they say.

Will the operators modify the pace of the development?

Although pace has been a key word on SEIS comments from the EPA to the streets, with a basic mantra being “Fewer wells, longer time,” it will stand as is.

The operators have defended their timetable and well numbers, emphasizing that for air or wildlife, the pace is acceptable. “We asked the Game and Fish if it was better to stretch the project out twice as long, or get it developed and get out,” Lastrapes explained.

He also emphasized that though the proposal encompasses 4,400 more wells, the well pads will number only 600. Reducing the well pad number and eliminating the winter stipulations will reduce habitat loss and fragmentation, and will allow reclamation to happen sooner, the operators have claimed.

In a usual field, Tab McGinley with Ultra explained, an operator may drill one well from a pad, get off it, but then be unable to reclaim it immediately because another well may be drilled from the same pad. The SEIS proposes completing all the wells needed from one pad, then fully reclaiming it as soon as they are done.

The letter to Stenger touted the modernity of this proposal, noting that in contrast to the Jonah Field and all others across the nation, the SEIS is “intentionally designed” to “avoid, or in the alternative lessen and minimize, any on-site impacts to wildlife, livestock, habitat and air while improving the socio-economic health of the local and state communities.”

The local communities health will be improved by the ability to forecast for the Sheriff’s, the schools and development planning, the proposal says, because year-round drilling will foster a stable, more permanent, workforce. As the Anticline is the second largest natural gas play in the nation, the BLM estimates that this development would bring in $8 billion to Wyoming.

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