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Conservation Group Wants to Limit New Pinedale Anticline Drilling

June 23, 2008
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A conservation group last week asked a federal judge to halt new natural gas drilling in the Pinedale Anticline of Wyoming, claiming that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees the region, failed to implement monitoring and mitigation that are required under a July 2000 record of decision (ROD). The lawsuit does not seek to prevent gas production from existing wells but the group wants the government to address wildlife issues before new drilling is permitted.

The BLM issued its ROD based on a final environmental impact statement (EIS), and eight years ago it approved up to 700 oil and gas wells to be developed in the Pinedale Anticline area over 10-15 years. The Pinedale Anticline comprises 197,345 acres of federal, state and private land in western Wyoming, which historically has supported greater sage grouse, mule deer, moose, pronghorn antelope and elk. Since the ROD was issued in 2000, BLM has revised the EIS to allow producers to, among other things, conduct year-round drilling (see NGI, Sept. 3, 2007; Feb. 19, 2007).

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) filed the lawsuit against BLM on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership v. Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Case 1:08-cf-01047). Judge Richard J. Leon is to preside in the case. TRCP is a nonprofit that represents "a coalition of leading hunting, fishing and conservation organizations, labor unions and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing."

According to TRCP, BLM committed to adaptive environmental management (AEM), which it said BLM had concluded was "necessary and fundamental" to developing the Pinedale Anticline in an environmentally sensitive manner as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The AEM mechanism...has failed unequivocally," the lawsuit states. "In fact, the AEM mechanism did not even commence until four years after the ROD was adopted. Today, the AEM mechanism has completely collapsed, with most of the relevant working groups not having met for over two years..."

The TRCP is not the first to take the BLM to task about wildlife losses in the Pinedale Anticline. Two years ago the Washington Post published a story about environmental losses in the region (see NGI, Feb. 27, 2006). Federal studies indicate there would be more pollution problems with increased drilling (see NGI, March 31; Feb. 25).

"This is an area with world-class wildlife populations," said TRCP's Katie McKalip "The BLM violations have resulted in severe damage to wildlife across the Anticline."

Officials in BLM's Pinedale office noted that most of the producers work to reduce environmental impacts. Most of the Pinedale Anticline drilling now is by directional means, which allow multiple wells to be drilled from a single pad.

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