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BLM Favors Limited Winter Drilling in Pinedale Anticline Area

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Friday released a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SEIS) that recommended expanded natural gas development and the relaxation of seasonal restrictions on drilling in some of the areas of the Pinedale Anticline region in Sublette County, WY.

The SEIS was in response to a proposal submitted by Questar Exploration and Production, Shell Exploration and Production and Ultra Resources and other producers to conduct year-round drilling of exploratory and development wells on their leases within existing natural gas fields in Sublette County.

The Pinedale project area, which covers 198,034 acres of federal, state and private land located south of Pinedale, contains an estimated 21 Tcf of gas reserves, according to the BLM. An estimated 500 wells were drilled in the Pinedale Anticline area at year-end 2005, the agency said.

The BLM recommends Alternative C in the SEIS, which would allow the producers to significantly increase their gas development in the Pinedale Anticline area, adding 4,399 wells over a span of 60 years, said Matt Anderson, BLM's project management for the Pinedale Oil and Gas Exploration Project's (PAPA) SEIS. However, Alternative C -- contrary to the producers' proposal -- would waive seasonal drilling restrictions in just a "fairly small percentage" of the project area, allowing for only some limited winter drilling activity, he noted.

"The operators' proposal requests exemption from BLM stipulations for wildlife, which restrict their development activities within seasonal ranges. BLM has determined that the operators' proposal could cause significant adverse impacts to the human and natural environments," the SEIS concluded.

Anderson said Questar since 2004 has been allowed to drill in some areas in the Pinedale Anticline during winter, and Ultra Resources is drilling some wells in the area this winter as well.

As part of the SEIS, the BLM has identified the need for additional pipeline corridors to transport the additional gas production to processing plants in southwestern Wyoming. Jonah Gas Gathering Co. and Rendezvous Gas Services propose to build pipelines to accommodate the increased gas output, and Questar Gas Management and Mountain Gas Resources are proposing an expansion of the Granger Gas Processing Plant in Sweetwater County, WY, the agency said.

The BLM is seeking public comment on the SEIS through Feb. 12, 2007. The BLM SEIS, which supplements the 2000 EIS and record of decision on the project, can be accessed at http://www.wy.blm.gov/nepa/pfodocs/anticline/seis/. The agency expects to issue a final EIS in late winter, with a record decision to follow soon after, Anderson said.

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