From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 26 - June 28, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

BLM dives into responses

by Alecia Warren

Concerned readers have done their homework, now it’s time for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees to do theirs. Nearly 100,000 letters and e-mails poured into the BLM’s Pinedale Field Office from individuals, agencies, government offices and oil and gas companies who took the time to pore over the 1,000-page Pinedale Resource Management Plan (RMP) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) draft. The document outlines how the BLM’s Pinedale Field Office will address the future development of 1.2 million acres in the Upper Green River Valley of western Wyoming, including activities like oil and gas development and livestock grazing.

Since the public comment period on the draft closed last Monday, Field Office employees like BLM Team Leader Kellie Roadifer faced the task of perusing the letters, most expressing great concern and confusion with many details in the document’s four alternatives. “We got about the number (of responses) I was expecting, I knew all along that a lot of people were very interested in what we were doing,” Roadifer said. After a contractor compiles the letters into similar themes, she said, the Pinedale Field Office plans to go through them all, considering every original comment. The office schedule notes that they need to do so in 13 weeks, and Roadifer said the office staff will do the best they can to be as thorough as possible in that length of time.

Based off of “substantive” comments the office receives, the BLM will release a Final EIS document in December that clarifies details that many people were confused about, like how BLM operations will be conducted, and include data that might have been omitted. The Alternatives might change based on comments received, as well. Although Alternative 1, the “no action” alternative based off the current RMP, will not change, the Field Office has received some new data that might require new details in the other alternatives.

For instance, some commentators north of Cora sent new data from the Game and Fish Department about sage grouse migration, which could result in extended buffer restrictions around sage grouse leks, display areas where the male grouses perform mating rituals, in all of the Alternatives.

Many commenters expressed worry over Alternative 4, the BLM’s preferred Alternative, which would make 1.025 million acres available for leasing. Many readers were concerned that the BLM will lease land in the Upper Green area north of Cora for oil and gas drilling, without adequate protection of natural resources to balance the development.

In particular, critics argued that the alternative’s “no surface occupancy” areas that regulate drilling to occur off site doesn’t adequately protect water, wildlife habitat and open space. Locals also worry about the restriction’s exception, that when a producing well causes drainage of the oil or gas resource, the areas can then become available for surface occupancy.

Unfortunately, Roadifer recently read 45-page letters from oil and gas companies also complaining about Alternative 4, because the companies think the same surface occupancy areas restrict too much development.

To further confuse matters, a large stack of letters from locals also conflicted with the environmental concerns for leasing land on the Upper Green.

“Locals are concerned about maintaining gas production, particularly in the Pinedale Anticline, and continuing that production for jobs and economics for the county and the town,” Roadifer said.

Several other issues garner contradicting comments. Oil and gas companies’ comments, for instance, also conflict with government concerns over whether governments can make development restrictions after leasing land to companies.

“That makes responding all the much more difficult,” Roadifer said. “It makes me want to bundle (the contradicting letters) up and send them back to the solicitors for their opinions.”

Other trends Roadifer noticed among letters she recently read included oil and gas concern about how new restrictions will apply to existing leases.

The most commonly voiced opinion, written in about 60,000 letters, praised Alternative 3, which dubs 65,750 acres as off-limits to development, including the Wind River front area east of Cora and an area of land west of Pinedale. Both of the areas would be available for leasing under Alternative 4.

Local government representatives criticized that the EIS draft doesn’t address the socioeconomic impact of development, outlined in an official comment document the Sublette County Commissioners submitted that was composed by the Town of Pinedale, the Sublette County Commissioners and the Wyoming Governor’s Planning Office, with the help of consultant Ecosystem Research Group (ERG).

The official document also said that the EIS draft failed to discuss other aspects of development like increased traffic, potential damage to historical trails and sites, contamination of water sources, violations of airquality standards and damage to area wildlife.

Roadifer said she hasn’t read the Commissioner’s letter yet, but heard about their complaints, and the office will consider them with others they received.

“I’m pleased with the comments, people spent a lot of time reading a massive document and then writing the comments they sent,” Roadifer said. “That will help us make the final draft as detailed as possible.”

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