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Bill Barring Leasing in Wyoming Range Gets CBO Nod

A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the Wyoming Range Legacy Act -- a Senate bill that would place more than 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range out of bounds to future oil and natural gas leasing -- "would have no significant effect on the federal budget" and would not open currently protected lands to energy development.

"Under current law, CBO anticipates that neither [the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management] will offer to sell mineral leases or other interests in lands that would be withdrawn by the bill within the next ten years," according to the CBO report.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted out the measure, S. 2229, in May (see NGI, May 12). At the time the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), said the legislation would not shut down current production, which includes the prolific Jonah gas field, nor does it address about 44,000 acres of contested leases in the area. S. 2229 was recently rolled into the Omnibus Public Land Management Act.

Under S. 2229, which was introduced in October 2007, no additional mining patents and no additional geothermal or mineral leasing would be allowed within about 100 miles of the range, which is located in western Wyoming, extending 50 miles from the Hoback Canyon south of Jackson to Big Piney. Rising higher than 11,000 feet, the range runs its course between the Greys and Green rivers, separating Lincoln and Sublette counties -- where much of the state's gas production is taking place (see NGI, Oct. 29, 2007).

Barrasso's legislation, which is cosponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), would allow conservationists and sportsmen to buy back and retire leases from energy companies that are willing to sell them.

The measure calls for leaseholders to submit a written request to the Department of Interior (DOI) for the retirement and repurchase of the lease. The lease purchase price would be "based on fair market value, as determined from an appraisal that is agreed to by the secretary and the lessee." The DOI may not use nonfederal funds to purchase the leases. States, private groups and others also would be allowed to purchase the leases for conservation purposes, or the leases may be donated back to the state by the leaseholder.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal has estimated that 1.1 Tcf of undiscovered gas may be in the disputed area, but has said protecting the Wyoming Range from further development would have a "negligible" impact on production because most of the land is already leased for development and would not be affected by the legislation. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated 1.5 Tcf in the disputed area; some previous estimates placed possible reserves in the area as high as 12 Tcf.

Not quite, according to the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The organization's president, Bruce Hinchey, told the Casper Star-Tribune that recent estimates of gas reserves in the Wyoming Range should be viewed with skepticism. And it would take just one high-quality gas discovery in the area for the industry to turn its eyes on the Range, Hinchey said.

The Star-Tribune reported that two advocacy groups, Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range and Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range, have said the CBO and USGS estimates are proof that the legislation "would allow the state to continue producing more than its share of energy resources and protect a special place that defines Wyoming."

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