From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 39 - 5/25/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Pinedale Anticline Final EIS Released
BLM recommends "Resource Protection Alternative"
by Rob Shaul

Tuesday, the BLM released the Final Environmental Impact statement for the Pinedale Anticline Natural Gas Project. The agency is recommending that the State BLM Director choose the "Resource Protection Alternative," when he makes his final decision on the project later this summer.

Even under the "Resource Protection Alternative," up to 900 wells could be drilled on the Mesa and elsewhere in the project area.

Rigs and Sage Grouse Restrictions

From the oil and gas operators' perspective, the most controversial aspect of the Resource Protection Alternative is the BLM's recommendation that the total number of rigs operating in the project area at any one period be limited to five, only 2 of which would be allowed to work north of the New Fork River on federal lands at any one time. This would result in approximately 40-60 new wells being drilled in the project area annually.

The BLM estimates that without this restriction, the oil and gas operators would keep 8 rigs drilling in the project area at one time. Thus, the rig restriction could significantly slow the pace of development of the project, and therefore place economic hardship on the oil and gas companies.

Perhaps the second most controversial component of the Resource Protection Alternative is a proposal to reduce the noise from development during the period when sage grouse are strutting on their leks. There are at least 44 leks located in the project area, and the noise restriction would be in place from March 1 to May 15, midnight to 9 a.m. In practical terms, this could mean that drilling rigs, which generally work around the clock, would have to shut down during these hours.

Finally, the current travel restrictions on the Mesa for Big Game Crucial Winter Range would still be enforced. Thus, new wells would not be drilled in these areas from November 1 to April 30, further slowing the pace of development.

"Resource Protection Alternative"

While the BLM's preferred alternative is aimed at enforcing environmental restrictions, the bottom line is that the agency is allowing up to 900 wells to be drilled in the project area. Supporting this number of wells will be over 200 miles of new roads.

It's important to note, however, that though the BLM conducted an analysis for 900 wells, some of the operators believe a maximum of 300 wells will be drilled in the project area.

The BLM is taking public comments on the Final EIS through July 5, 2000. Project Manager Bill McMahan says the agency hopes to have the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the project out by the end of July.

Copies of the FEIS are available from the BLM office in Pinedale.

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Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul