Volume 104, Number 36 - September 6, 2007
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Two new Anticline alternatives from BLM
The Bureau of Land Management announced last week that it will include two new alternatives in the upcoming draft of the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) Supplemental Environmental Impact Survey (SEIS).
Alternatives D and E will be added in response to pivotal suggestions from operators and agencies in the 56,000 letters that inundated the bureau during the public comment period following the SEIS draft released in Dec. 2005.
Although the BLM has only released outlines of the alternatives so far, some are already saying the bureau was selective in whose comments it considered, ignoring local government and environmental agencies’ requests to slow development pacing and create a more detailed air quality mitigation plan.
At this point, alternative D is an extension of the 2005 draft’s alternative B, which allowed a development of up to 4,399 wells on up to 12,278 acres, and dropped seasonal drilling restrictions on big game areas to concentrate drilling within a “core” area on the Anticline Crest.
The new alternative would broaden the “core” area, by how much isn’t yet determined, while suspending leases on the East and West flanks of the anticline. Operators would also fund a wildlife matrix to address on and off-site mitigation.
Alternative E would include full field developmentlike the pre-existing action alternatives, but would carry over seasonal drilling restrictions directed in the 2000 Record of Decision.
The BLM will release the new alternatives for public comment in October, said Steven Hall, spokesman for the BLM Cheyenne office.
Hall said he hasn’t seen new alternatives proposed in response to public comments in his five years with the bureau.
“I hope that sends the message that the BLM has listened to concerns from the public,” Hall said. “Typically within a range of alternatives, you’ve covered a pretty wide spectrum and you’re able to select an alternative or pick and choose to come up with a decision that can respond to public comment, but in this instance, there were significant enough changes coming in from the (oil and gas) industry and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GFD) in particular.” Alternative D is derived from a detailed proposal written by oil and gas operators, the GFD, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the governor’s office that they submitted during the December draft’s public comment period, said Vern Stelter, GFD habitat protection supervisor who helped write the proposal.
“This (alternative) would very much decrease the initial impact to wildlife, it would maintain a lower level of impact through development, and it would greatly decrease the impact during the production phase,” Stelter said. “It’s a pretty complex proposal, but it had to be that way for a development of this size and intensity.”
The BLM hasn’t shared to what extent the alternative will mirror the group’s ideas, but the proposal includes consolidating drilling on the core area to minimize areas requiring reclamation as well as the number of roads connecting well pads, Stelter said.
Operators’ agreement to suspend leases for development on the flanks of the anticline would protect crucial winter ranges and sagebrush habitats, as well as prolong development there for a longer period.
Belinda Salinas, manager of environmental, safety and regulatory affairs with Ultra, said operators have agreed to suspend leases on as much as 20,000 acres.
“That’s more than our surface disturbance on the whole anticline, which is somewhere around 15,000 acres,” Salinas said. “The suspension was a big issue that GFD was really asking for, and I think locally a lot of people wanted to see that also.”
The wildlife matrix, which would specify adaptive drilling response to wildlife, would also be supported by a $36 million mitigation fund pooled between the operators.
State agencies like the GFD and DEQwould monitor development annually to ensure operators implemented the plan as written. Combining input from several perspectives improves PAPA for everyone, Salinas said, and she hopes the final draft will be available soon.
“I’ve been anxious to start committing to these mitigation efforts,” she said, adding that until the final SEIS is released, operators can’t implement their plans for directional drilling, which can minimize surface disturbance, as well as a Liquid Gathering System (LGS) that would reduce more than 100,000 trucks trips per year on the anticline. “There’s all that uncertainty, not just for the companies but for agencies and local people, too.”
Hall said he was impressed by how much effort Shell, Ultra and Questar volunteered to minimize impacts.
“It is rare to see a number of operators come together on a proposal like this, and present a consolidated plan to coordinate their activities,” Hall said of the corporations’ offers to implement “I would characterize this as an innovative solution to recover a world-class resource in an area with world-class wildlife.”
Yet the current versions of the alternatives feature a stark absence of accommodations for concerns about mounting socioeconomic pressure and impacted air quality voiced by environmental organizations and local government. One of Pinedale’s primary requests in response to the December 2005 SEIS draft, as stated in a letter from the mayor’s office, called for slower, more staged development to help the community respond to impacts already overwhelming community infrastructure, including law enforcement, traffic, school systems, housing and economic diversity.
“Since the BLM is the agency overseeing and guiding the vast majority of the industrial development in our area, it is the responsibility of the BLM to mitigate some of these social and economic effects, since controlling the pace of industry's development is out of the control of the Town of Pinedale and other Sublette County towns,” the mayor’s letter stated.
A document from the EPA analyzing the draft emphasized the area’s protections under the Clean Air Act as primary reasons to slow development, and the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, an organization working to preserve wildlife in the Upper Green, also sent the BLM a list of recommendations that included limiting the numberof wells and activity at one time to protect air quality.
Chris Mehl, spokesperson for The Wilderness Society, said he was disappointed the alternatives don’t include these opinions so far.
“I think anytime the BLM says ‘we’ve gotto consider more alternatives,’ it’s a good thing,” Mehl said. “But if we’re going to go through this and spend taxpayers’ money, shouldn’t they listen to what the town of Pinedale or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or a lot of other experts are saying?”
Lauren McKeever, assistant to Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith, said she will wait to see the full drafts of the alternatives in October before passing judgment on whether they address local concerns.
“At this point, we can’t really react yet, because it’s premature,” McKeever said. Hall said he was frustrated to hear anyone criticizing the alternatives before seeing their complete versions. “I do hope (the October drafts) give people the opportunity to take a fresh look,” he said. “The key piece at this point is that we want to keep the public as informed as possible as we move toward a decision.”
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