From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 15 - 12/9/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County Won't Mitigate Drilling on Private Lands
Landowners can require mitigation in their lease agreements, commissioners argue
by Rob Shaul

The Sublette County Commissioners are hesitant to use planning and zoning regulations to mitigate impacts from oil and gas development on private lands in Sublette County. This idea was presented to them by Rod Rozier at their regular meeting Tuesday.

Mr. Rozier is the son-in-law of Paul and Bette Hagenstein and lives on the Hagenstein ranch just south of Pinedale. The Hagenstein property borders the Mocroft Ranch, which has had five new natural gas wells drilled on it since last summer.

In a presentation to the commissioners Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Rozier argued that the county should consider developing its own oil and development mitigation standards which would apply to private lands in the county. Fifteen percent, or 30,000 acres, of the Pinedale Anticline Natural Gas Project is private land, said Mr. Rozier. He pointed out that the private lands run primarily along the rivers and other waterways within the project area, and therefore harbor the most sensitive wildlife and other environmental resources that could be impacted by oil and gas development.

The mitigation and protections for wildlife and other resources required on the BLM lands within the project area don't apply to these private lands. During his presentation, Mr. Rozier pointed out that the BLM, in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Anticline Project, urges that mitigation standards be extended to these private lands.

Mr. Rozier acknowledged that on the surface it would seem that individual landholders can require the oil and gas operators to mitigate impacts from the development on their private lands. However, he said this is much more difficult to do in reality because private landowners lack the expertise to know what needs to be protected and what mitigation should be required. In making this argument, Mr. Rozier cited his own experience in negotiating a lease with an oil and gas company. "The company had written hundreds of leases. I did one," he began. "It was very difficult to control the effect from development that I didn't even understand."

In the end, Mr. Rozier recommended the county take one of two actions: develop its own mitigation standards for oil and gas development on private land, or take the recommendations in the BLM's Anticline Draft EIS and apply them to private lands in the county.

County Planner Joanne Garnet told the commissioners that the Planning and Zoning Commission had directed her to look specifically at the issue of siting of wells and possible setback requirements in residential areas. She had not been directed to investigate any other mitigation possibilities.

Commissioner Gordon Johnston was the most open to Mr. Rozier's proposal. "We, the county, have probably been remiss in not having something on this," he said. He noted that private landowners negotiating leases with the oil and gas companies "don't have anybody to turn to" except expensive lawyers.

Betty Fear and Bill Cramer were cooler to the idea. "I think we'd get into the whole thing of private property rights," said Ms. Fear. "If they don't want to lease their rights they don't have to," noted Mr. Cramer.

"I hate the idea of outside agencies impacting private lands," replied Mr. Rozier, "but I draw the line when resources on private lands such as wildlife and water also affect the public."

The Hagenstein's neighbor, Tom Rossetter, also attended the meeting. "Zoning is also about protecting the neighbors," he told the commissioners. Mr. Rossetter added that he didn't lease out his mineral rights, but he's impacted by development on the Mocroft Ranch. "What I'm looking at now is an industrial area right next to me without any control," he said. Mr. Rossetter said he asked the oil and gas companies if they would voluntarily apply the same mitigation controls on public lands to private lands, and only Questar said they would.

Bill Cramer was unmoved. "I would trust private landowners to effect those issues," he concluded.

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The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul