From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 7 - February 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Citizens stand against 4,399 more wells on Anticline, no winter stips
At BLM public meeting, no one speaks in favor of increased drilling
by Julia Stuble

In a room lined with posters made by elementary school students that proclaimed, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute,” Sublette County and area residents spoke to Bureau of Land Management officials on Tuesday evening about pollution of a different sort than litter in the forest.

Citizens also told the BLM they were concerned about wildlife population and habitat losses as well as air and water quality problems and socioeconomic impacts. Remarkably, not one citizen who stood to speak about the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to the Pinedale Anticline decision spoke in favor of the increased development.

Of the twenty-so citizens who rose from the packed room to address the BLM officials, all of them spoke out against the SEIS, and asked the agency for varying degrees of drilling slowdowns, or halts in favor of other multiple uses on the federal land. The SEIS was created in response to a request from industry officials from Shell Rocky Mountain Production, Ultra Resources and Questar for approval of more wells, 4,399 to be exact, on the Anticline, as well as removal of winter stipulations for a core drilling area.

Much of the Anticline now has wildlife protection stipulations, with those protecting crucial winter range for deer and restricting year-round drilling, the most prominent, along with protections for sage-grouse habitat. The trio of producers submitted a proposal to the BLM, which the agency analyzed in the SEIS, asking that the winter restriction be lifted for up to 18 acres. In the SEIS, the BLM analyzed three alternatives. The first, No-Action, simply let the Anticline decision stand as is, which allows for 1,139 total wells and 4,485 disturbed acres. The life of the project is predicted to be 45 years, at the pace of 228 wells per year.

The Proposed Action and Preferred Alternative options, one being industry’s proposal, and the other BLM’s modification are basically the same in analyzing the addition of 4,399 more wells to the Anticline document, and allowing about 12,278 disturbed acres. The life of the project is then extended to 60 years.

The BLM’s modification, which accepts industry’s proposal of a rolling 18 acres without winter stipulations that move along the crest of the Anticline as each gets “drilled out”, broke industry’s categories of “Consolidated Development Acres” into five areas of concern, basically separated by wildlife stipulations. BLM Planning and Environment Coordinator Matt Anderson assured the packed Lovatt Room that No Surface Occupancy stipulations to protect sage-grouse and raptors would not be lifted.

Still, the citizens that spoke, asking for more protections for wildlife, air and water quality, and more consideration for socioeconomic impacts to the communities of Sublette County. Though many requests, such as though for socioeconomic mitigation, strayed beyond the bounds and jurisdiction of the federal land management agency, each received vociferous support from the crowd, who applauded strongly after each speaker’s summary of concerns about the SEIS.

“Now is the time for BLM to acknowledge these problems and try to get ahead of them, by slowing down this project and stopping this runaway development of boom and bust,” Meredith Taylor, from the Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC), admonished, while describing declines in wildlife populations and air quality degradation. Taylor noted that WOC declined to protest and sue over the original Anticline document, favoring instead the Adaptive Management process touted by the BLM.

“Unfortunately, history shows that evaporated in failure in [the Pinedale Anticline Working Group]. What we saw was a very committed group make recommendations that the BLM blew off, politics took over, and the rest went down in flames. I’m embarrassed to say that we didn’t appeal that original decision,” Taylor added. “Let’s stop this downward trend in wildlife and this upward trend in degradation for air quality,” Taylor concluded, a statement whose essence was reiterated by other speakers.

Local air quality guru Perry Walker gave his opinion on the air quality portion of the document, telling the agency he had lost faith in cooperative efforts between citizens, industry and regulatory and management agencies, and in the BLM’s adaptive management approach as well.

“We who have watched the BLM and industry collude to destroy the environment that is our front yard, and wildlife that are our neighbors, share growing anger and frustration over our failure to even temper the onslaught,” he said. He described the SEIS as “a litany of distortions of fact by means of omission, inference, and spin.”

Jocelyn Moore, with some faith in the BLM’s Adaptive Management process, asked the agency to ensure they use it, saying, “We need monitoring, but past that is an evaluation, then go one more step and have some recommendations, then let’s implement those recommendations.”

Several members of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition spoke as well. Linda Baker, the Coalition’s Community Organizer, praised the plan for measures to mitigate surface disturbance, like worker bussing, directional drilling, condensate pipelines and others, but added, “these provisions alone are insufficient.”

Baker enunciated the Coalition’s position that drilling could be done “right” and asked for areas, like the shoulders of the Mesa, be put aside for wildlife while the core is being drilled. She added that a slower drilling rate could offset potential air quality degradation from the proposed development.

Bob McCarty, who had been a wildlife biologist with the BLM, vouched for the local office, saying, “The local BLM people have the right idea in their hearts but they’re driven by what is to me an evil idea that we have to get [the gas] now.”

His request for a slowdown, and consideration of future generations, alluded to the same concerns voiced by every other citizen who spoke. Those who stood unequivocally wanted the BLM to protect air and water quality, socioeconomic resources, and have guaranteed protections to maintain viable species of mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse.

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