Draft legislation endorsed by Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal that would create an environmental fund to pay for unexpected impacts from the state’s burgeoning coalbed methane (CBM) development is under fire by the state’s influential oil and gas industry.
In a hearing in Casper Wednesday of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee, energy representatives disputed some of the language of the current bill, which would create a $50 million fund to pay for CBM’s “unintended consequences.” Ironically, the state’s large oil and gas industry apparently has been instrumental in formulating most of the bill’s language.
According to Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, his organization will not support the bill as it now stands because the fund could be used to mitigate “a significant adverse environmental impact on any land, air, water, soil or biological resource.”
He told the committee, “I’m not even sure what a biological resource is…If we are going to do something like this, shouldn’t we do it for all the industries in the state that require a discharge permit for air or water?”
The governor’s office, however, disputed the industry’s concerns. Freudenthal’s energy adviser, Steve Waddington, said the association was trying to kill the bill by highlighting its weaknesses before a full committee was given a chance to consider it. If enacted, the fund would be implemented by Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality.
“There may be things in there that are inconsistent with the intent,” Waddington told the Casper Star-Tribune. “Don’t just use that as a reason to say no. Work with us on the language.”
There was no action on the bill on Wednesday, but according to the governor’s office, the committee may introduce the legislation as a placeholder during the upcoming budget session if a provision for the fund is included in the governor’s budget proposal.
Under the current draft, the CBM fund would provide “a hedge against potential adverse environmental consequences of (coalbed methane) development, including damages downstream from (coalbed methane) production.”
The fund would be a safety net for unforeseen impacts from CBM during the state’s “normal” planning and permitting CBM actions, according to Freudenthal’s office.
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