Volume 105, Number 6 - February 7, 2008
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Wyoming Range awaits new SEIS
After more than two years without action, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the suspended 44,720 acres on the Wyoming Range.
Attempting to correct its inadequate environmental analyses that resulted in the lease suspension, the USFS released a Notice of Intent (NOI) for the SEIS on Feb. 4, and will receive public commentary on the scoping process until Feb. 29.
Environmentalists and energy companies anxiously await the Final SEIS, due for release in September 2008, which will be key in deciding whether the suspended leases will become valid, allowing operators to drill in an area that many value for its wildlife habitat and high-use recreation area.
“I guess we’ve just been hanging out there awhile,” said Steve Haydon of the USFS Forest Minerals Staff of waiting to address the status of the leases, which have been suspended since 2006. “I think we just weren’t really sure how to proceed. But in other ways, it’s kind of obvious. We have to redo the environmental assessment.”
The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) ruled to suspend the leases, which were auctioned to energy companies in 2005 and 2006, after the BLM state director reviewed USFS environmental analyses for the area and found them inadequate to predict potential drilling impacts. The IBLA turned the appeals back to the BLM for resolution, which the new SEIS should bring.
The Final SEIS will be submitted to Kniffy Hamilton, supervisor of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming, with suggestions on whether to consent to drilling on the leases. Hamilton will add her own opinion to the documents and pass them on to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for final approval.
“We’ll have to see what was missed in the previous efforts and make sure those are addressed in this effort,” Haydon said.
He laughed when asked what the USFS missed in its first analyses, and admitted he can barely understand the bureaucratic jargon in the IBLA’s decision to know what the USFS did wrong. But the staff will probably just go more in-depth on the usual impacts like air quality and wildlife, he said.
As of last week, the USFS has an entirely new set of details to swim through as it completes the impact document. Denver-based Stanley Energy, or “Stanley,” has proposed drilling 181 wells in the area, with a twist in the proposal.
Stanley specifically requested a lease exchange, in which the company would swap 20,000 of its valid but hard-to-access leases on the Wyoming Range for 5,400 acres of public land that surrounds the 44,720 suspended acreage.
“I guess it was an attempt to help us (by providing more information), but I’m not sure where that information will fit in the process at the moment,” Haydon said, guessing that the proposal will end up in the SEIS, as it directly borders the disputed lease package.
Stanley’s new proposed development would include eight 50-acre well pads with a total surface disturbance of 400 acres. The proposal brought the same opposition from outfitters and sportsmen as proposed drilling in the suspended acreage, as the Wyoming Range is renowned for its elk, moose and deer migration, and remains one of the state’s most popular recreation areas.
Stanley’s target drilling area on the Horse and Beaver Creek drainages hosts some of the top summer outfitting locations in the range, and would surround the pack-in camp for Dustin Child’s Trophy Mountain Outfitters. “When guys book a hunt with me, they’re picturing in their heads that they’re getting away from everything — a pack-in mountain experience with no truck traffic or anything like that,” Child said. “I’ve talked to some of my clients who come with me nearly every year, and they told me ‘we live in a big city and we come here to get away from that — we’re not paying for you to take us on a horseback ride through a developed oil field.’”
Development activity and truck traffic alone would disperse the big game his paid expeditions hunt every summer, Child added, and one 50-acre well pad would sit directly on his top elk hunting spot. Green River resident Mike Byrd spends his days in constant darkness miles underground in a Trona mine, he said, and daydreams about the weekends when he can cart the wife and kids to the mountains for a camping trip, or relax under the sun with his buddies on a hunting expedition, as he has done for the past 40 years.
“I’m vice president of the local Steel Workers chapter, and a lot of our members recreate on the Range year-round,” Byrd said, adding that the Horse Creek Drainage is a typical destination spot in the summer. “As our lives get busier and more stressful, places like the Wyoming Range are going to become more and more special. It’s the only place we can go to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern day life, and if it’s getting smaller and smaller, we can’t do that.”
But Stanley Energy can’t ignore that past drilling explorations guarantee that the 400 acres it’s proposing to drill are loaded with natural gas, said Pete Douglas, owner of Stanley.
“The interesting thing is that there’s supply and demand on both sides of this table,” Douglas said. “There’s an absolute supply of forest, and a huge demand for it, and there’s an absolute supply of natural gas on the North American continent, and there’s a huge demand for that. We recognize that we have to be very, very sensitive.”
The company will only use directional drilling, he said, and will bus its workers to the well pads to reduce truck traffic. The drilling rigs will be soundproof, and powered by clean-burning, natural-gas-powered engines.
“I’m sure we’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Douglas admitted. “Rarely in life does one every satisfy anybody completely.” For now, Wyoming residents can only wait, which Child said he’s willing to do for quite some time.
“It’s kind of a catch-22 — it would be nice to see where we’re going with this — if they’re going to drill, let’s get it over with,” Child said. “But the more time I have to keep the camp and my business going, the better. If the decision is not for five or six years down the road, that will definitely be better for me.”
Written comments on the Wyoming Range leases can be sent to Stephen Haydon, Forest Minerals Staff, Bridger-Teton National Forest, 340 N. Cache, P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001-1888. Send electronic comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write leasing SEIS in the subject line.
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