NewWest follows up on DEIS release, PXP proposal

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NEW WEST FEATURE

Preservation Deal Announced For Wyoming Range

An energy company strikes a surprising compromise with outfitters and sportsmen.

By Shauna Stephenson, 12-11-10

  The agreement included retiring about 28,000 acres leases at no cost and committing $6 million in funding over the life of the project for things such as baseline monitoring of air and water, wildlife mitigation and community benefits. Photo by Flickr user <a target=
  The agreement included retiring about 28,000 acres leases at no cost and committing $6 million in funding over the life of the project for things such as baseline monitoring of air and water, wildlife mitigation and community benefits. Photo by Flickr user Wyoming: Upper Green River Valley.

Wyoming outfitters and sportsmen announced Friday that they had come to a private agreement with an energy company looking to develop environmentally sensitive areas of the Wyoming Range on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The agreement overshadowed the newly released draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), a long anticipated document that outlined possible options for developing 136 wells in the area. The Wyoming Range, located west of Pinedale, has been a contentious issue for conservation and sportsmen’s groups for the better part of a decade now, as energy companies have announced plans to develop leases.

Less than 24 hours after the DEIS came out, Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a statewide advocacy group for hunters and anglers, and the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, announced that they had reached an agreement with Plains Exploration Company, or PXP, to scale back their project within the Wyoming Range on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. They are now submitting it to the Forest Service for consideration in addition to the alternatives laid out in the DEIS.

“After quite a bit of negotiation, we reached what I consider a very fair compromise,” said Gary Amerine, vice president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. Amerine also runs an outfitting business in the Wyoming Range.

“The bottom line of this is I hope that the Forest Service will take this agreement and make it part of the final (environmental impact statement),” he said.

The agreement included retiring about 28,000 acres leases at no cost and committing $6 million in funding over the life of the project for things such as baseline monitoring of air and water, wildlife mitigation and community benefits. Of that, nearly $4 million would be earmarked specifically for fish and wildlife habitat over the life of the project, and $250,000 would be paid up front for a study on moose in Sublette County. Additionally, surface occupancy would be restricted on about 4,000 acres and more wildlife friendly stipulations would be put in place for areas that did see development.

In return, PXP would get to develop some of their leases in less sensitive areas with the support of the outfitters and sportsmen’s group.

“We felt we got a pretty fair bargain for what we started out with,” Amerine said. “This has been a thorn in a lot of people’s side, but I hope it’s sort of a framework or a blueprint for future development: Let’s talk about it before it happens instead of after it happens.”

The area has been hard hit by energy development. Not far from the Wyoming Range are the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline projects, where intense natural gas development is taking place. The range, however, has largely been spared, due in part to a large outcry by the public. It was also the subject of federal legislation in 2008 with the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which withdrew 1.2 million acres from leasing and established a negotiation table where companies could elect to sell back their leases into indefinite retirement.

In a prepared statement, Scott Winters, spokesman for PXP, said the company was pleased to be part of the collaborative process.

“The individuals that participated in these discussions have a unique knowledge of the forest and the project area,” he said. “We believe the combination of lease retirements, surface occupancy restrictions, and substantial financial commitment to habitat projects PXP is voluntarily prepared to make demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship, and will ensure the impacts of the project are kept to as minimal level as possible.”

The Forest Service was not available for immediate comment on the agreement and it is unclear how it will factor into the environmental assessment process, which will govern the future of the development.

The agreement has been in the works for almost two and a half years. While other conservation groups were aware something was going on, they weren’t sure on the specifics.

David Madison, spokesperson for Citizens for the Wyoming Range, said Friday the group was trying to digest what was laid out in the proposal.

“These folks don’t speak for Wyoming sportsmen and women,” he said. “So why are they negotiating a private deal on public land? Let’s let the public process unfold.”

The project proposed by PXP includes 17 new drilling pads with 136 producing wells, improvement and reconstruction of about 28 miles of roads, construction of gas and produced liquids gathering lines and the associated facilities for production operations, all for the life of the project, which is expected to last 30 or more years. However, much of the area leased is summer range or migration corridors for wildlife such as mule deer, elk and moose.

Madison said given the sensitive nature of the habitat and wildlife within the area, he had hoped the Forest Service would include some more innovative thinking. Instead, he said things appear to be business as usual.

“The general feeling in the groups is pretty profound disappointment that there wasn’t something better in the DEIS,” he said.

Currently, five alternatives are under consideration and open to public comment.