U.S. Forest Service officials last month terminated a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Stanley Energy Inc. after questions surfaced about the Denver-based company’s influence over a plan to drill in the Wyoming Range.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal in April asked the Forest Service to redo portions of a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on possible oil and gas drilling impacts in the Wyoming Range after claiming that Stanley Energy was allowed to “guide and fund” the study and privately participate in agency meetings (see NGI, April 28).

Bridger-Teton forest supervisor Kniffy Hamilton said last week she canceled the MOU in an effort to convince the public that the Forest Service can do an even-handed job in its analysis of whether to lease acreage for drilling.

“Public trust and confidence are essential to our success as stewards of the Bridger-Teton National Forest,” Hamilton said. “Mistakes were made in administering a proponent-funded environmental analysis, which has compromised that trust. It is critical we take immediate action to regain the public’s trust.”

Stanley Energy had secured bids to lease a portion of the disputed acreage in December 2006. However, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled that the original EIS performed by the Forest Service to justify the leasing was inadequate. The agency then began to work on the SEIS, which had been expected to be completed in April.

With the dissolution of the MOU, Forest Service officials said they would not restart the analysis but instead will use the information already obtained to continue examining whether to allow drilling in the national forest. The SEIS is expected to be issued in September; a final EIS is expected by the end of the year.

“The company and the contractor may now be gone, but the process may still be tainted by a sense of impropriety,” Freudenthal said. “We remain concerned that the Forest Service continues to push that this analysis be completed on a very short time line. Development of the Wyoming Range involves serious questions about air quality, watersheds and wildlife, including such sensitive and threatened species as the cutthroat trout and Canada lynx. It is too critical to address in a hurried fashion.”

Freudenthal’s statement noted the leverage that Stanley Energy appeared to have over the process to complete the SEIS.

“This MOU provided undue access for Stanley Energy to dictate both the details and the outcome of the analysis that will determine the fate of this sensitive block of leases in the Wyoming Range,” said Freudenthal. “The dissolution of the agreement appears to be a good first step, but one that was only necessary because the Forest Service chose to compromise the integrity of the leasing SEIS by allowing Stanley an inappropriate seat at the table.”

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