Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Monday expressed concerns on Plains Exploration and Production Co.'s (PXP) master development plan for Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin, which calls for drilling 136 wells from 17 pads in the Bridger Teton National Forest. Mead sent a letter outlining his concerns to the supervisor for Bridger-Teton in the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

PXP's proposal is in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) phase at the USFS. The comment period on the PXP Noble Basin plan expired last Friday, which was the date of the governor's letter.

The USFS supervisor indicated earlier this year that the Bridger-Teton National Forest will not permit natural gas and oil drilling on 70 square miles of the Wyoming Range (see Daily GPI, Jan. 31). In a decision affecting 44,720 net acres, Supervisor Jacqueline Buchanan wrote that the potential harm to Canada's lynx, mule deer, air quality and recreational opportunities all concerned her.

The governor wrote Buchanan that there must be equal concerns about protecting all of the state's landscapes, not just the "glamorous" ones. "Any decision must include a thoughtful approach," he said.

While reiterating that PXP has "valid existing rights" subject to added data and environmental safeguards, Mead said more baseline data needs to be developed regarding wildlife, along with air and water quality. "It is needed, as well as a comprehensive plan, developed by the USFS together with stakeholders for siting, development monitoring, production and reclamation," he said.

Mead said the DEIS at this point does not "incorporate sufficient baseline data in a number of areas." The proposed drilling area now serves as "an important habitat for big game and fisheries," and he urged the federal agency to work closely with Wyoming's Game and Fish Department to ensure his concerns are addressed.

Wyoming elected officials, including Mead, in the past have urged the USFS to make room for producers that use "environmentally responsible" methods.

Nevertheless, Mead reminded the federal authorities that the area in question provides the headwaters for a critical watershed and "current monitoring objectives, including who will be responsible for these activities, are not adequately addressed in the DEIS."

The issue of air emissions was also raised by the governor, who last week met with the operators and his state environmental agency representatives in the Pinedale Anticline to discuss the recent spike in ozone alerts in and around producing fields. Mead said he supported state regulators' call for more mitigation measures by operators.

"The governor is interested in seeing that additional baseline air quality data is obtained closer to the proposed development site," said a spokesperson for the governor.

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