Upper Hoback could be fracked before EPA rules

'Fracking' planned for Noble Basin wells

Project could be approved before EPA determines whether drilling method is safe.


By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Date: January 5, 2011


Bridger-Teton National Forest officials may permit an energy company to use hydraulic fracturing to drill 136 wells in the Noble Basin area of the Wyoming Range before an EPA study determines whether the technique is safe.

The Bridger-Teton reached that conclusion in a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed energy development, released late last year. An environmental impact statement is the most stringent level of analysis required 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 area is expected to be in production for more than 30 years. Development would occur in two phases: an exploratory phase with the construction of three wells on one well pad over the course of two years, with 15 miles of roads on public land, and a development phase where the remaining 133 wells would be constructed on six well pads.

“Potential impacts from hydrologic fracturing would apply under both Phase 1 and Phase 2,” the document states. “Hydrologic fracturing would be performed to stimulate gas production. ... The main water usage during this project is expected to occur during ‘hydrofracking’ due to the large amount of water needed to fracture the formation.”

The document goes on to say a 2004 Environmental Protection Agency study looked at the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on wells extracting gas from coalbed methane and “concluded no negative impacts have occurred to the quality of water in nearby drinking water wells.

“However, EPA has agreed with concerns voiced since the publication of the 2004 study regarding the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, human heath and the environment and has agreed to complete a new study to investigate the possible relationships between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water,” the document states.

EPA researchers are expected to have preliminary results of the new fracking study by late 2012. Bridger-Teton officials have said they hope to have a final environmental document on the Noble Basin plan finished later this year.

While the 2004 EPA study concluded the amount of fracturing fluid, including chemical additives, used during coalbed methane production wouldn’t affect groundwater quality, the environmental document says more water would be used during the Noble Basin project than is typically used during coalbed methane production.

“The 800,000 gallons of water used per well during stimulation under the proposed action is considerably higher than the maximum average injection volume of 150,000 gallons of fracturing fluid per coalbed methane well,” the document says. “The probability of contaminates reaching aquifers cannot be determined.”

People can submit written comments to Bridger-Teton Forest Supervisor Jacqueline Buchanan, P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, Wyoming 83001; and electronic comments to Turn on JavaScript! with the subject line “Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin MDP DEIS.” The plan is available at www.fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/projects/. Comments are due March 10.

The Bridger-Teton will hold a meeting on the proposed gas field Jan. 18 in Jackson. Representatives from the Forest Service and Plains Exploration will be present to answer questions. The meeting will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Snow King Resort’s Grand Room.