Citizens for the Wyoming Range goes to Cheyenne

Mead meets with group on Wyo. Range drilling plan

By MEAD GRUVER

Associated Press writer

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 12:00 am

´╗┐CHEYENNE — A delegation of people opposed to plans to drill for natural gas in the upper Hoback River drainage got the chance to express their concerns about the project in person with Gov. Matt Mead and a couple advisers.

So far, Mead isn’t staking out a position on the controversial drilling plan.

But he said Tuesday he wants to hear from people for and against the plan by Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production to drill 136 gas wells from 17 well pads.

“When I approach the decisions that we have to make as a state, I want to hear every point of view,” Mead said.

“They brought to my attention some things that I need to be focusing on,” he said. “The first place to start is by meeting with them, see what they have to say. And I was very interested in what they had to say.”

Those who met with Mead on Monday included Dan Smitherman, spokesman for the group Citizens for the Wyoming Range, and Stephanie Kessler with The Wilderness Society.

“We were very encouraged by the questions he asked and the level of understanding he showed,” Smitherman said.

Another member of the group, Sandy Shuptrine, of Jackson, said they told Mead drilling could harm air and water quality and wildlife — things that make northwest Wyoming appealing to tourists.

The group told The Associated Press they would like to see PXP retire the leases either voluntarily or through a buyout. If that can’t be done, they want Bridger-Teton National Forest to set a very high environmental standard for drilling.

Bridger-Teton officials released a draft plan for the drilling in December. Hundreds of people, including many opposed to drilling, have attended recent public meetings in western Wyoming on the plan to drill in the northern Wyoming Range.

Company officials have said they are committed to environmental protection and will follow all scientifically justified measures the government requires to minimize environmental harm.

Two other groups — the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association and Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife — have announced an agreement with PXP in which drilling would occur as planned while the company would retire about a third of its 64,000 acres of drilling leases elsewhere in the area. The deal doesn’t necessarily affect how much drilling the U.S. Forest Service might choose to allow, however.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service has decided not to allow oil or gas leases in a different part of the Wyoming Range than where PXP proposes to drill. A bill signed by President Obama in 2009, the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, likewise prohibits new leasing elsewhere in the Wyoming Range.

Mead and former Gov. Dave Freudenthal spoke at the Petroleum Club in Houston last week about the relationship between the University of Wyoming and the energy industry.

Mead said the Wyoming Range drilling didn’t come up.

“The message in Houston was, ‘Listen, we want it done right in Wyoming, but we want it done,’” he said. “And I’m not accepting the question any more, do you want development or do you want conservation. Because I think we can have both.”