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Western Govs Stress States-Rights For ESA, Say Directional Pad Drilling, Fracking Limit Impact

Among seven resolutions passed on Tuesday, the Western Governors' Association (WGA) adopted strong states-rights stances in two of them, regarding the need for statutory changes in the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and future policies aimed at energy use and development during the conclusion of the association's three-day annual meeting in Jackson, WY.

While the WGA acknowledged it indirectly, another regional organization, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), along with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), separately on Tuesday released a report concluding that wildlife and other conservation concerns are being advanced because of technological advances in oil/gas operations. The report said horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have lowered the industry's surface disturbance by 70%.

WGA advocates changes in the ESA that result in what it calls "broad bipartisan support" while maintaining the federal act's intent of "protecting and recovering" imperiled species. For energy development, production and transmission, the governors want states to be free to develop their own policies that reflect their varying resources.

The eight-page ESA resolution is the result of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's 12-month WGA initiative (see Daily GPIAug. 27, 2015) focused on the federal species protection act in his year of chairing the association, including a provision that federal agencies accept "variability in state approaches for conservation of species, particularly for species with a wide geographic range."

WGA wants federal government recognition that the states are capable of managing species, even ones impacted by future conditions, and they should be viewed as "full partners in all ESA decision," the resolution states. As such, WGA is calling for Congress to amend and reauthorize the 1973 ESA. They want the federal law to cover both "protecting and recovering" imperiled species.

The revised ESA should be implemented through a "full partnership" with states, local governments and private landowners, WGA articulated in its long resolution. With this, the resolution asks for the federal government's role to be the articulation of "clear and quantifiable" recovery goals for species.

"If you want people to support conservation, if you want them to do conservation work as well, you also have to have the appropriate 'finish line,’ showing that the job can be done," Mead said.

Noting that energy policy/development is a major priority for every western governor, the WGA resolution stated that each state takes a slightly different approach. WGA refers to the West as the nation's "energy breadbasket." The resolution also cited the three-year-old WGA 10-year Energy Vision that established six goals, ranging from energy security to making the West an international leader in energy education and development (see Daily GPIJuly 2, 2013).

Another WGA goal, "protecting western wildlife, natural resources and the environment" is addressed in the WEA study, "Gaining Ground: Industry Innovation Reduces Impacts on Sage-Grouse and Big Game," noting that today a single horizontal well can take the place of eight to 16 vertical wells and up to 32 directionally drilled wells can be clustered on one pad.

"Healthy wildlife populations are a major part of the culture and economy of the West," said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA vice president for government and public affairs. "Companies are now able to do more with less to minimize impacts on species and the landscapes they depend upon. Increased use of horizontal and directional drilling have significantly lowered surface disturbance."

WEA officials said the report, done in conjunction with PAW, demonstrated that oil/gas development can coexist with robust wildlife populations, concluding that since drilling advances began in recent years potential impacts have been significantly reduced on the habitat of the sage grouse, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and other big game.

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