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Wyoming Governor Suggests Leasing Study Tainted

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal wants the U.S. Forest Service to redo portions of a draft supplemental environmental impact study (EIS) on possible oil and gas drilling impacts in the Wyoming Range after claiming that a producer was allowed to "guide and fund" the study and privately participate in agency meetings.

The Forest Service is completing a supplemental EIS to determine whether to permit leases on 44,720 acres in and around the Wyoming Range, which is in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The agency had earlier approved leasing activities, but following protests by the governor and environmental groups, the study was launched to determine how drilling could impact the environment.

The governor last year called on federal officials to suspend energy leases issued in the Wyoming Range, and he recommended offering a refund to the producers that were planning to drill there (see NGI, Oct. 22, 2007). Because of protests, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has had to curtail some of its leasing activity in the area (see NGI, March 31).

What concerns the governor now is the Forest Service's relationship with Denver-based Stanley Energy Inc. In a letter last week Freudenthal pointed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Stanley Energy and the Bridger-Teton National Forest officials, which he said was "extremely suspect." The governor wrote to Harv Forsgren, regional forester for the Forest Service Intermountain Region just days after BLM officials "expressed concern" about the arrangement between Intermountain Region officials and Stanley Energy.

The MOU allowed Stanley Energy to respond to public comments, keep correspondence between the national forest officials and Stanley private and force the Forest Service to consider alternatives proposed by the producer. In return, Stanley Energy was to pay for an independent contractor to complete the supplemental EIS.

"It could be suggested that Stanley has purchased a favorable outcome," Freudenthal stated in his letter. "This gesture implicitly acknowledges...Stanley's participation to date has been suspect." The company and its legal team "may have gone belowdecks, but this still looks like a ship built with their timber."

A Forest Service spokesperson said the issues concerning Stanley Energy had been "corrected," and the producer is restricted from certain discussions. Stanley Energy's participation in the Forest Service meetings and telephone calls was said to have ended last week.

The ongoing controversy precedes a Monday (April 28) deadline for public comment on the scoping portion of the draft EIS.

Freudenthal said he wants to see one of several outcomes. One outcome would be to abolish the MOU and redo the supplemental EIS. Another would be to wait for the Bridger-Teton National Forest officials to revise the Forest Plan. A third alternative, he said, would be to wait for the outcome of proposed legislation by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, which would prohibit further leasing in the Wyoming Range (see NGI, Feb. 18).

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