The Last Hurdle

It’s a fact of life in Wyoming: Mistakes by federal agencies can lead to big conflicts with our state and local citizens. Just think of all the time, energy and money that could have been saved if the Forest Service had made the right decision for the Hoback Basin 20 years ago. The oil and gas leases, which caused years of controversy, would have never been issued to begin with and the public wouldn’t have been stuck with paying PXP $8.75 million to purchase and retire them.

Today the Forest Service has a chance to learn from its past mistakes and do the right thing for roughly 40,000 acres of contested oil and gas leases along the eastern front of the Range in places like Horse Creek, Beaver Creek, Cottonwood Creeks and South Piney Creek. It should listen to what Wyoming sportsmen, recreational uses, ranchers, and business owners have been telling them for more than nine years now: Some places are still too special to drill.   

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The Problem:

The fate of 41,000 acres in the Wyoming Range, which were unlawfully offered up for leasing nine years ago, have been in limbo ever since. In 2011, the Forest Service decided it shouldn’t have leased and made a new “no leasing” decision. But, when two companies appealed, the Forest Service withdrew its decision. A new decision, which we hope is the same, is expected sometime in early 2015.

 Unlike PXP’s leases in the Hoback, the leases that cover the 41,000 acres aren’t valid. The Forest Service consented to lease based on outdated information and has the authority now to change its mind. If the Forest Service authorizes the leases, companies will begin advancing drilling projects in the middle of our elk camps, grazing allotments, fishing holes and camping areas. Already, Stanley Energy, a wildcat outfit out of Colorado has floated a proposal to drill 200 gas wells in the Horse and Beaver Creek drainages, west of Merna. The wells would be drilled from 8 well pads, each covering 50 acres—a proposal that former Governor Fruedenthal likened to “mountain top removal.”

 We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past: 

The Forest Service needs to simply listen to what the public has been saying since 2005: the highest and best use of these lands are for hunting, fishing, cattle grazing, recreation and wildlife. The Forest Service can do the right thing. It just needs to decide once and for all: no new oil and gas leasing in the Wyoming Range. This correct decision today will sidestep years and years of needless conflict tomorrow

 And all of it, every single bit, is entirely avoidable.

 The only common sense solution: Forest Service needs to simply listen to what the public has been saying since 2005: the highest and best use of these lands are for hunting, fishing, cattle grazing, recreation and wildlife.  The Forest Service can do the right thing. If it puts this area off limits for leasing today it will sidestep years and years of needless conflict tomorrow.