From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 44 - November 1, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Hoback Rim plans advance

by Alecia Warren

Plains Exploration and Production’s (PXP) analysis for full-field development of its 20,000-acre lease on the Hoback Rim still continues with environmental studies and stakeholder meetings.

But though the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) plans to release a scoping notice next month and an expanded Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the spring, neither the agency nor the energy company could predict how much drilling will eventually occur on PXP’s lease running through part of the Hoback Ranches housing subdivision. “Because it’s exploration, we still don’t know what’s out there,” said Greg Clark, BTNF Big Piney district ranger, of whether producible minerals lie beneath Hoback’s surface. “(PXP) might drill three wells and go home, and never develop any of it.”

The energy company originally proposed drilling only three exploratory wells, dubbed the “Eagle Unit,” in the northern Hoback drainage earlier this year.

When the Forest Service released a draft EIS, however, the public flooded the agency with 19,000 letters criticizing the lack of information on air quality, water purity and wildlife.

One consistent concern stood out above all, said Steven Rusch, PXP vice president of environmental, health, safety and government affairs.

“We interpreted (the comments) as, ‘what happens if the exploratory wells are successful? Why isn’t the document reviewing and analyzing potential full development?’” Thus, PXP requested that instead of finalizing the EIS for the three preliminary wells, the Forest Service supplement the draft with impact analysis for a “master development plan,” or drilling throughout the leasing unit. Although the Forest Service will begin additional scoping, or requesting additional public comments and information, next month, a group of Hoback residents have already raised objections to drilling rigs towering a mile outside their backyards.

Several residents organized Stop Building, Save Bridger-Teton (SBSBT) in 2005, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unitized an area including the upper Bridger Teton National Forest. When PXP began dallying with the idea of drilling in the region, the organization went into overdrive to pursue legal and political avenues of preventing development.

Members have flown to Washington to plead their case, as well as drafted letters to the Forest Service, the governor and Wyoming senators to intervene. They gathered 1,000 signatures in a petition against the development, and convinced Sen. Craig Thomas to fly out and give his support this summer.

Barbara Burris, who has owned property in Hoback Ranches since the early ‘80s and participated in SBSBT’s efforts said she wouldn’t hesitate to “scream and yell” if development occurred near the subdivision.

“I support (PXP) for saying outright that ‘this is what we really want to do,’ but I just don’t think this is a place for industrial development on a mass scale,” Burris said.

After fishing on the New Fork River in recent years, she said, she’s observed drilling rigs encroaching on the fish and game habitats, and can’t imagine the risk of production water penetrating the watershed of the Hoback Rim.

“(My home is) far enough away that the trucks aren’t going to be driving by our place, but it certainly would wreck a lot of wildlife habitat and be damaging to the rivers,” she said. “I could see the smoke from the flaring from here.”

The energy company understands such concerns, Rucsh said.

“PXP’s development practice throughout the country is open to finding creative solutions, and everything’s still on the table at this point to discuss,” he said, and the company is currently pursuing such discussion with stakeholders, or local landowners. “We’re meeting with them one-on-one, and will start developing constructive dialogue which could lead toward a solution that we all could live with.”

Despite predictions from Skytruth, a landscape analysis company that developed a series of maps this summer simulating the rim’s potential development as wells carpeting the region, Rusch assured that the intense development Sublette County witnessed with the anticline and Jonah Field will not occur in this case.

“Folks know what’s happening down south of us; we’re drilling because we believe there may be gas there, and if it is, we’ll propose a modest development plan,” he said. Modesty is guaranteed, he added, simply because PXP is the sole operator of the lease unit.

“If you have five operators and each were operating four rigs, then you’ve got 20 rigs operating — but we’re only one operator, we’re able to better address the intensity issue,” Rusch said. “We understand what (residents’) issues are. When we have stakeholders’ input, and look from a development standpoint at location and constraints of the leases in the Wyoming Range, we’ll put together a project that will address those issues.”

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