Volume 105, Number 4 - January 24, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Statewide crowd for BLM meeting
More than 200 people from across Sublette County and Wyoming crammed into the Heritage Room of the Sublette County Library last Thursday night for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) public meeting on the Revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (RDSEIS).
The draft addresses year-round and expanded drilling on the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA), and calls for 4,399 new wells on the 200,000-acre area.
One thing was evident among those who filled the 85 chairs, stood against the walls and crammed into the hallway at Thursday’s meeting: support for the energy companies.
About 75 percent of those present wore company jackets brandishing their affiliation with Shell, Questar and Ultra. Of the more than 40 people who spoke, including the Mayor of Rock Springs, Wyoming Legislature Speaker of the House Roy Cohee, and Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman, less than five criticized year-round drilling, exceptions to wildlife stipulations or any other aspect of the draft.
“I was surprised — I thought it would be a little more balanced, based on what I’d heard about previous meetings,” said Pinedale BLM Field Officer Chuck Otto. The BLM held the meeting only to listen, he said, not to respond to comments.
Otto couldn’t explain why the turnout proved so one-sided, but said he will try to hold another meeting before the end of the public comment period, as many people complained that the room was so packed they couldn’t reach the sign-up sheet to speak.
In the end, though, it might not matterwhich side boasts better representation at public meetings, Otto admitted.
“The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) isn’t a vote-gathering process, it’s a specific analysis proposal,” Otto said of the agency’s method for reviewing environmental impact statements. “Opinions are part of the political factor that we have to consider as we move forward, but from a practical standpoint for the final SEIS, opinions don’t count for much.”
But political figures like Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo still made the trip to Pinedale last Thursday.
Although the mineral boom and its accompanying surge of transient workers have resulted in heightened crime across the state, Kaumo said, year-round drilling will keep workers in Wyoming communities for longer periods, and help them assimilate to local life.
Spokespeople for the energy companies further agreed that dropping seasonal drilling stipulations would create safer working environments by allowing the same crews to work on rigs all year, instead of companies having to train new crews each spring. Operators’ employees also congratulated their companies on volunteering environmentally friendly drilling techniques in the draft’s Alternative D, which the BLM adapted from suggestions submitted by the operators, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GFD) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Cohee, a member of the board of directors for an oil and gas company he admitted as dependent on drilling on the Anticline mesa, joined in heralding the operators’ success. “I recognize the value not only of what the oil and gas industry has done for Wyoming, but also the strides they’ve made in the environmental process over the past 40 years,” Cohee said. “If Wyoming is going to be a mineral-producing state, then all the of the parties need to understand that we need to do this in a responsible manner so our economies can be year-round, not seasonal. We have a very unique process where three competitors have said there’s a way to do this and do it right. When they say they can do it right, I believe them, and I think we should let them do it.”
Vern Stelter, GFD habitation protection supervisor, presented one of the first letters of response on the draft to the BLM at the meeting.
The GFD supports year-round drilling, Stelter said, because Alternative D would result in less detrimental effects on wildlife than the existing 2000 Record of Decision (ROD). The alternative includes provisions like directional drilling to reduce surface disturbance, a liquid gathering system to reduce truck traffic, and a $36 million wildlife monitoring and mitigation fund.
The GFD is disappointed that the BLM left out details on raptor stipulations, Stelter said, but the two agencies will discuss this further before the Final SEIS.
“One of the central guiding principles of us working with the operators on (alternative D) was that whatever plan we came up with had to be significantly and obviously better for wildlife than the existing plan,” Stelter said after the meeting. “We believe we achieved that.”
One of the few criticisms voiced at the meeting came from Linda Baker, spokesperson for the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, an organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, water and air quality in the Upper Green River Valley.
Baker declared that the coalition applauds several wildlife mitigation components of the draft’s new alternatives D and E, but doesn’t support year-round drilling.
“The Jonah Field was drilled with seasonal stipulations intact, and for over 20 years, local residents have honored seasonal protections during the winter all over this valley, which is part of why we started on the Anticline with 50 percent more mule deer and 50-90 percent more sage grouse than we have there now,” Baker said.
“I support maintaining seasonal stipulations together with directional drilling, a liquids gathering system, computerized monitoring, and every form of mitigation that is technically feasible and scientifically defensible, so that we can maintain and increase all of our wildlife on the Anticline.”
Kevin Holdsworth, a Green River resident and author of “Big Wonderful: Notes from Wyoming” about energy drilling’s threat to the environment, criticized expanded drilling at the meeting. Both historical sites like the Lander Cutoff and general recreation areas will suffer from impacts of truck traffic, air pollution and acid rain, he said.
“I’ve been going to the Wind Rivers for 25 years, and I’ve had wonderful experiences up there,” Holdsworth said after the meeting. “My 9-year-old son won’t have that experience, he’ll have a different one. When he asks why, I’ll have to say that for eight years under Bush, the energy industry got to do whatever it wanted.”
David Smith, a Pinedale resident for the past 40 years, said he couldn’t attend the meeting last Thursday, but insisted that support for the extensive drilling in the draft isn’t as universal as it might have appeared last week. “When I was reading through (the revised draft), there would be something good, and then right next to it, something almost 180 degrees opposite,” Smith said of contrasting measures like creating a mitigation matrix while suspending seasonal stipulations to protect big game habitats.
“They’re trying to appease the masses by trying to give everyone a little bit of something, but they’re not giving any sides something they really want.”
Smith also felt the BLM was “caving into” the industry’s wants, he said, by allowing year-round drilling in areas the agency once protected so rigidly.
“The BLM told citizens for years they can’t be on the mesa in the winter, they can’t drive snowmobiles in various places — then when the energy industry wants to come in and drill, the BLM rolls right over and lets them do it and run in big trucks and bulldozers,” he said. “There’s a huge double standard between recreationists and the oil companies.”
Most of all, Smith criticized that the BLM didn’t even make any suggestions for operators to slow the pace of development, though BLM spokespeople have said the pace is determined by the industry market, and not the agency.
“Because of the boom, a lot of local folks have been put to work, bought property, built homes, have good jobs and are raising families, that’s the good side of it,” Smith said. “We’ve got a great mineral resource that can help our historically boom-and-bust economy, if they would slow it down out there.”
When asked about year-round drilling before the meeting, energy spokespeople admitted it would cut short the economic boom that Pinedale has enjoyed, but will only help preserve Pinedale’s environment.
“Part of the feedback we’ve gotten from biologists is that it’s better for wildlife if we don’t extend drilling for decades more,” said Questar general manager Diana Hoff.
Year-round drilling might require dropping seasonal stipulations, but the unfragmented drilling can speed up development by up to a decade and allow quicker reclamation. A constant drilling schedule also allows better planning for installation of LGS pipeline, and would also allow long term contracts for fit-for-purpose rigs that significantly reduce emissions, said John Bickley, Shell development manager.
“We think that by a consistent pace we can drill more efficiently, reclaim and have less impact on both wildlife and habitat,” Bickley said. “The idea here is to get in, develop it, move out and reclaim it.”
But Smith isn’t so easily convinced about the benefits of year-round drilling, and said he hopes everyone scrutinize the revised draft before mailing comments to the BLM. “It’s going to affect everybody much more as time goes on,” Smith said. “The effects might not be immediately apparent today or tomorrow or the next day or the next year, but people have to remember that the decision (the BLM) makes is going to be in place for a very long time.”
People can view the RDSEIS at: http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/pfodocs/anticline/seis.html. The RDSEIS is also available at the Pinedale Field Office. Written comments or resource information on this proposal should be sent to the Bureau of Land Management, Pinedale Field Office, PAPA RDSEIS Project Manager, 1625 West Pine Street, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale, WY. 82941. E-mails may be sent to WYMail_PAPA_YRA@blm.gov.
See The Archives for past articles.
Copyright © 2008 Pinedale Roundup
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Pinedale Roundup, PO Box 100, Pinedale, WY 82941 Phone 307-367-2123