From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 42 - October 18, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

EnCana defends man camp

by Alecia Warren

The owners of Mountain Valley Camps (MVC), a man camp south of Big Piney that leases land to multiple oil and gas companies, held a public meeting in Pinedale and Big Piney last week to discuss concerns about moving the EnSign camp from Big Piney to the Jonah Field.

About 20 people turned out for both meetings, and included representatives of Ultra, Shell, Questar, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and only a handful of the public. EnCana, which contracts EnSign for drilling operations, took advantage of the meetings to give information about the move and its justification for it.

The BLM will decide by the end of October whether the EnSign man camp, currently built to accommodate 240, will move to a 20.5-acre lot – EnCana previously announced only a 15-acre lot – on BLM land in the Jonah Field, and expand its housing space to fit 350.

The man camp would occupy the Jonah lot for the next 10 years of EnCana’s production operations, then be removed for the company to reclaim the land.

EnCana spokesperson Randy Teeuwen said if the bureau approves the move after reviewing responses from the public commentary period that ended on Oct.15, En-Cana would soon construct sewer and electricity infrastructure on the Jonah lot and hopefully move the camp there before the end of the year.

Although Teeuwen insisted the move intends to provide a safer environment for the more than 100 workers commuting between the camp and the field before and after 12-hour shifts, MVC owners Dan, Diane and Riley Alexander have voiced concerns that Big Piney economics will suffer at the loss of the workers’ business.

The Alexanders, who said their own business wouldn’t take a heavy loss from the man camp’s move, argue against the proposal primarily because they say public land shouldn’t be available for private corporations to build on.

“My biggest fear is precedence more than anything, that they’re setting the precedent for anybody to just go for it and build on public land,” Diane Alexander said.

She added that the MVC also received an influx of calls from local businesses like apartments, trailer parks, retail stores and auto repair that fear losing significant business from the workers because of amenities that EnCana will provide at the man camp, such as a convenience store and commissary. Diana McMannis, manager of Napa Valley Auto Supply in Big Piney, said this week that the move would harm her business to a large degree.

“We won’t have the influx of people likewe do right now,” McMannis said, estimating that about 35 percent of the 150 men at the camp stop by her shop between their shifts each week. “I do think (the move) would slow down traffic in town, but it’ll affect everybody in town. The minimart across the street won’t have the business early in the morning before the guys go to work.”

Others at the meetings questioned why EnCana would build on BLM land when the company already owns 480 acres of private land inside the Jonah Field.

Caleb Hiner, planning and environmental coordinator for the BLM, who was present at the Pinedale meeting, said many of these concerns are legitimate and will be considered in the Environmental Assessment (EA) the bureau is preparing for the proposal.

Hiner couldn’t predict if other companies would follow suit and request construction on BLM land as the Alexanders worry, but every request to use public land filters through the same permittee process.

“The thing is with the EnCana worker camp is that it’s temporary; we have a scheduled time when it will go away,” Hiner said. “Typically private businesses [requesting permitted use of BLM land] wouldn’t have a time frame, which is one reason why we’re looking into it.”

Most opinions at the meetings were supportive of the move, he added, and he hopes to look through all public commentary by the end of the week. Teeuwen, who attended both meetings, predicted that, if the man camp moves, the economic impact on Big Piney would be minimal.

Workers who would occupy the camp at its new location would be the same EnSign employees living there now, so local apartments and hotels wouldn’t suddenly face a long list of vacancies.

As the camp provides meals at its dining facility, few men eat at restaurants in town, and even fewer have the energy after 12-hour shifts to frequent bars or pool halls, he said.

During their weeks off, Teeuwen added, the majority of workers visit homes out of county or out of state, so local businesses shouldn’t see much less of the men than they do now.

“The workers still tend to frequent the Quick Stop for gas and cigarettes and to stock up before they go to work, so yeah, we anticipate there might be some economic impact, but the benefits will be far greater in terms of safety than what the economic impacts will be,” Teeuwen said.

From the feedback EnCana has received, he said, locals feel relieved that the hundreds of pickups speeding across highways 191 and 351 would diminish significantly, and would reduce wildlife damage by reducing dust from the roads and the amount of carrion at the side of the highway.

EnCana might own 480 acres of land on the Jonah Field already, Teeuwen added, but in the form of 10-acre well pads currently occupied by wellheads and inappropriate for housing workers.

“We are a permittee for those [BLM] acres in a similar way that a rancher would be getting a permit and paying an annual fee to use public lands,” he said. “It’s really no different than the land that we’re using to drill a well on because we’re paying a fee for the use of that land.”

Some at the meetings questioned why the company didn’t simply bus the men between the camp and the field, but Teeuwen said this would only slightly decrease the amount of traffic, and would still deprive the men of an extra two hours in their days to rest and relax, the lack of which can result in dangerous repercussions on the high-risk rig environment.

“What is one life worth? We want to reduce traffic and keep the community and our workforce safe,” Teeuwen said. “There’s plenty of economic activity in the county and the job’s aren’t going away. Those people working in the Jonah Field, the money they spend in the county, most of it’s still going to be there, just at different times. We’re looking at saving lives.”

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