Citizens show up in force to oppose PXP plan
Majority in Bondurant, Pinedale oppose Hoback Basin drilling
Posted: Monday, Jan 24th, 2011
By Joy Ufford, Sublette Examiner
Thursday in front of a packed house at the Sublette County Library,
Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) Supervisor Jacque Buchanan addressed the
public about BTNF’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) process and
hosted a generally impassioned public comment session about Plains Exploration
and Production’s (PXP) proposal to drill up to 136 gas wells in Hoback Basin
along the Wyoming Range, near Bondurant.
The previous night, Buchanan addressed more than 70 people at Bondurant Elementary School on the same subject.
Despite impolite comments at Tuesday’s meeting in Jackson, in Bondurant citizens maintained their dignity while others spoke. That sense of dignity continued Wednesday night with more than 100 at the Pinedale Library for BTNF’s third public meeting about the DEIS resulting from PXP’s proposal to drill natural gas wells on leases in northern Sublette County.
“We have heard really loud and clear from a lot of folks that they want to make comments,” said Buchanan. “The really important part here is that I really need to hear from everybody.”
Work in progress
Buchanan stated both nights the DEIS “is not a perfect document.” For example, the report of the Sublette mule-deer herd’s decline was released as the DEIS was being printed.
“We have already started making changes to (that aspect of the document),” she said.
Consulting company Arcadis, represented by CEO Greg McGowan, compiled the DEIS under BTNF oversight, although PXP paid for it.
McGowan said they examined 21 alternatives and came up with five. Arcadis next is gathering all public comments, of which the recent meetings were a part. Buchanan says she is expecting at least 20,000, which will be sorted into categories.
“It is key and critical – your participation is very important in this process,” Buchanan said.
The comment deadline is March 11.
After the deadline, McGowan and his staff will answer each one in a “comment analysis document” before producing the final EIS on PXP’s proposal.
The decision to choose an alternative then falls to Buchanan and will be released in a BTNF record of decision.
Many questions and comments focused on air- and water-quality concerns, wildlife baseline data, preservation of recreation and lifestyles, PXP oversight and other problems encountered in the county’s current producing fields.
On Wednesday in Bondurant, Dan Smitherman of Bondurant noted the DEIS had no wildlife baselines.
“This document needs to be withdrawn. It needs a supplement,” he said to applause.
Also on Wednesday, questions came up about PXP oversight, enforcement and fines for violations, with many wondering whether the Forest Service would work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to ensure PXP’s compliance and which law enforcement officers would participate.
Arlene Sibley of Bondurant said she kept hearing about the “no action” alternative and asked Buchanan, “What if you found you just shouldn’t do it?”
“That decision is not on the table,” Buchanan replied, citing the fact that the leases already had been approved in the early 1990s. She said “no action” would apply for this specific proposal and PXP could submit another.
Property and homeowners stated their values would decrease and expressed concerns about the polluting effects of PXP’s potential full-field development.
One man asked if there is “any national standard with the most severe requirements” that could be imposed on PXP.
Another speaker, Melanie Peterson, said she is an outfitter and the Merna-Beaver Road, potentially the access to the drilling project, runs by her property. She said she started talking with PXP about a year ago and said, “They actually have quite a lot of experience at this kind of thing. ... There’s a lot worse people that could have this lease.”
Thursday night, some new faces appeared in Pinedale. Buchanan explained again she cannot force PXP to let someone buy and retire its leases, but only included it in the DEIS so people could see PXP has that choice.
“What is the price that you would sell it for?,” a young man in a cowboy hat asked nearby PXP officials.
“We’ve had no offers,” said PXP spokesperson John Martini. “We have to have an offer to know if it’s viable.”
Craig Thompson, chairman of the National Wildlife Federation, took the floor first and spoke of DEIS “inadequacies” and demonstrated how PXP’s development would criss-cross wildlife calving areas and migration routes by ripping a map of the area into pieces to applause.
Concerns also arose about socio-economic impacts.
“What’s going to happen to Bondurant?,” asked Pinedale attorney Evan Germeles, who stressed the legal differences between the rights of property owners and those who lease.
Dave Hohl of Pinedale commented socio-economic impacts of development were studied but that “no mitigation was ever required.”
Hoback Basin’s tendency to hold colder air was brought up by retired BLM employee Tom Curry as a possible factor for worse air quality and more pollution than currently estimated.
Others spoke of routine water and ground contamination taken for granted in current fields as well as after-effects showing now in the New Fork River.
Teenager Jace Jackman of Rock Springs brought six high school buddies, who with their families fish and hunt the Wyoming Range, along to Pinedale to speak on behalf of the region’s youth.
“I just think it’s crazy they (PXP) are going to try and take (the mountains) from the youth,” he stated. “There’s a lot of firsts that happen up in the mountains.”
In closing, Buchanan offered a “personal commitment” she would take the time needed to produce a comprehensive final EIS.
“This is the most important decision I’ve had in front of me in my 22 years,” she said.
For more information, go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/projects/ and click on “2010 NEPA documents.”