Citizens for the Wyoming Range critical of Forest Service environmental analysis


Groups decry drilling plan

 By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Date: December 10, 2010

 Conservation groups and sportsmen say they’re dismayed with a draft plan that supports drilling 136 gas wells in the Noble Basin area of the Wyoming Range, a place biologists say is a crossroads for wildlife in the southern portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials on Thursday released a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed energy development. An environmental impact statement is the most stringent level of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The plan, proposed by Plains Exploration and Production Company, calls for the upgrade of 14 miles of existing roads, the construction of nearly 15 miles of new roads, 136 wells from 17 drill pads and the construction of gas and liquids gathering lines and facilities. The project could run for 30 years.

Conservationists argue the project will irreparably degrade habit that supports a wide range of animals.

“If you develop, all that goes away at some level,” said Dan Smitherman, spokesman for Citizens for the Wyoming Range. “If you look at the big picture, there is a tremendous amount of wildlife that will be affected.”

Development would occur in two phases: an exploratory phase with the construction of three wells on one well pad during the course of two years, with 15 miles of roads on public land; and a development phase in which the remaining 133 wells would be constructed on six well pads.

The forest’s preferred alternative included some additional seasonal wildlife restrictions and air quality stipulations, but was otherwise unchanged from the original Plains Exploration proposal, said sportsmen and conservation groups. 

“I’m somewhat disappointed, particularly in the area of wildlife,” Smitherman said. “I didn’t see any substantial difference from what was originally proposed.”

“It’s the [Plains Exploration and Production] proposal with a few minor tweaks,” Smitherman continued, acknowledging that he hasn’t had a chance to review the entire document.

A gas field in Noble Basin could have even more impact on wildlife than other energy developments because of the diverse number of species that use the area, Smitherman said.

“In the Jonah Field and the Anticline, there’s one or two species affected,” he said. “In Noble Basin, you’ve all the ungulates, you’ve got all the raptors, you’ve got all the bears, you’ve got all the small mammals”

Wyoming Game and Fish biologists have documented mule deer, antelope, bear, lynx and elk migrating through the area, Smitherman said.

Officials with Plains Exploration and Production Company did not immediately return calls for comment.

People can submit written comments to Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Jacqueline Buchanan, P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001; and electronic comments to Turn on JavaScript! with the subject line “Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin MDP DEIS.”

The plan is available at Comments are due March 10, 2011. Forest Service officials will hold three meetings on the Noble Basin development in January 2011.