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BLM Readies Two Pinedale Anticline Gas Drilling Plan Alternatives

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming is close to putting two alternatives on the table that may allow natural gas operators in the gas-prone Pinedale Anticline in the southwestern part of the state to coexist with the abundant wildlife.

The alternatives follow BLM's draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), issued late last year (see NGI, Dec. 25, 2006) and its Pinedale Resource Management Plan (RMP), which was issued in February (see NGI, Feb. 19). The SEIS followed a request in 2005 by several producers that requested year-round drilling on about 197,000 acres of the Anticline (see NGI, Oct. 31, 2005).

The SEIS favors expanded gas development and relaxation of seasonal restrictions on drilling by some of the areas of the Anticline in Sublette County, WY. However, in comments to the BLM, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said the SEIS needed stronger air restrictions and more protections for wildlife before they would grant their approval (see NGI, April 23).

The BLM has offered two alternatives that will be unveiled in October. Under one proposal, the agency would include "significant additional protections" for wildlife and wildlife habitat in the region. However, it would waive seasonal stipulations that protect wintering habitat and allow gas drilling on a larger "core" area. This alternative would suspend existing leases on the east and west sides of the Anticline. It also includes a "wildlife matrix" to specify adaptive management techniques for wildlife and a mitigation fund to protect the habitat.

Under a second proposal, BLM would examine full-field development with wildlife stipulations under the 2000 BLM document that had been guiding oil and gas development on the Anticline. The second alternative calls for seasonal stipulations to protect wintering wildlife.

Gas operators appear to favor the first alternative. In comments to BLM, they have indicated they would retire leases on the east and west sides of the Anticline if they could expand their drilling operations in the heart of the gas-prone region. Gas operators also have proposed a $36 million mitigation fund for wildlife habitat rehabilitation.

Both of the alternatives are scheduled to be available for public comment in early October. A comment deadline would be set once the alternatives are unveiled, BLM noted.

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