Hoback headwaters could be fracked

In March 2009, Congress passed as part of an omnibus lands bill the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which put 1.2 million acres off-limits to new oil and gas leasing. The legislation was a monumental achievement; a wide coalition of conservationists, outfitters, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and even Wyoming’s two Republican senators agreed that the range — cherished for hunting, fishing, horseback riding and hiking — should be protected.

The problem was three companies already had purchased leases. While the Forest Service could not retire those leases or prevent drilling, the act encouraged companies to sell the leases back to the government so the lands could be preserved, intact.

Well, one of the companies is refusing to go along. Plains Exploration and Production, based in Houston, is intent on developing a lease it purchased in 1994. The company seeks to drill 136 wells in the upper Hoback basin near Bondurant, not far from the Hoback Ranches residential neighborhood.

Opponents fear that the project, if productive, could be used as a toehold for more development in the area, creating a Jonah Field in the forest. Also troubling, especially for river lovers, is that Plains Exploration, often known by its stock market acronym PXP, plans to use the controversial drilling method “fracking” to extract natural gas.

Illustration of drilling plan. Click to enlarge.

Fracking is a nickname for hydraulic fracturing, a process in which water and toxic chemicals are pumped into a well at high pressure to split open rock and allow gas to flow. The process can contaminate groundwater, as documented in the film Gasland, and has come under increasing scrutiny across the country.

PXP plans to inject 800,000 gallons of water and fracking fluids to initiate the Hoback Basin wells, according to the draft environmental impact statement. “The probability of contaminates reaching aquifers cannot be determined,” the document states.

Inexplicably, the Forest Service appears poised to go along with this, even though the basin is headwaters of the Hoback River, designated downstream as Wild and Scenic and a key tributary of the Snake.

Tonight the agency and PXP are hosting a meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. at Snow King Resort to answer questions about the drilling plan and take input. Those unable to attend can submit comments by e-mailing comments-intermtn-bridger-teton-big-piney@ fs.fed.us with the subject line “Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin MDP DEIS.” (The agency really makes it easy to remember, eh?) The full proposal is available here. Comments will be accepted until March 10.

For more information, visit WyomingRange.org.


Posted under Economy, Environment, Politics, Sports, Wyoming

26 Comments so far

  1. GCA January 19, 2011 10:19 am

    Jim, what legal ability does the forest have to deny their request if they have a valid lease?

  2. D January 19, 2011 10:53 am

    None but they can make it very difficult and expensive to try and operate.

  3. Brad January 19, 2011 12:49 pm

    D is correct. Mineral rights, ruled by the Interior Department, not the Dept. of Agruculture, rule all. It’s what the judiciary calls “stare decisis” when it comes to property ownership. The short translation is whoever owns the mineral mineral rights has the law on their side going in.


    But D is also correct in that the Forest Service (and private land owners needed for access), can gum the works of any exploration activity by restricting, or even prohibiting, surface disturbance. It’s possible, but not likely they could make it economically inefficient for PXP. One thing I would be careful with is throwing around this “136 wells” number. That is worst-case if they find that the Jonah field extends to the Hoback Basin area in commercially producable quantities of gas. Geophysical testing there has shown some promise for this, but is not a slam-dunk until they determine results of several test-wells that come first. When trying to understand what’s goin on here, it is imperative that everyone understand the nearly bullet-proof benefits of mineral ownership. Oh, and definitely attend tonight’s meeting, as I am.

  4. Brad January 19, 2011 12:53 pm

    Oops, just noticed that Snow King meeting was last night. Guess I’ll have to go to Bondurant tonight.

  5. D January 19, 2011 1:27 pm

    Whooooa Brad the Jonah Field 10000000% DOES NOT extend to the Hoback Basin. It does not even extend to Pinedale Anticline. It is a very very specific area and is about 12 miles by 10 miles which is what makes it so unique, and such a great place to develop. The amount of land disturbance compared to the amount of gas produces blows any other area out of the water, and in the big scheme of things, looking at the whole Green River basin the area is so small it’s pretty amazing. The Jonah field has nothing to do with this project or it’s Geology. Neither does the Anticline, the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah are very different geological features as well, depths, pressure, and formations etc, just like this Hoback area is all its own. I see why someone would make that assumption but its not even 1% true. I am in no way in favor this plan but, the 136 well numbers is very much exaggerated. The number one fact is, it’s not profitable to drill if you can get the gas to the Market.

    PS: Jim instead of using Jonah as the bastard child all the time us the PA once in a while ;-) . FYI: You statement that this could become a Jonah Field in the Forest is highly inaccurate. For one they don’t have the leases or the drilling spacing unit to drill 1/50 of the wells in Jonah. But like I said I hope this doesn’t happen this area is one of my favorite places and Reclamation in a National Forest would be very difficult if not impossible.

  6. joe January 19, 2011 4:13 pm

    check out http://www.wyomingrange.org very well written and presented.

  7. Brad January 19, 2011 4:36 pm

    Whoa, D. Although it was more of a toss-off and not the point of my post, you are correct about the geologic disconnect Jonah field/Noble Basin. The closer Pinedale Anticline would have better comaprison, but they are all separate formations. My point was more about the promise of exploitation, as energy companies are always going after the outward reaches of known producing plays. And, even though 3-D seismic surveys show as detailed and complete a picture as you can get of subsurface strata, PXP is till gambling to a significant extent until the first well shows them something. But, with the energy industry ready to rock and roll even more now that oil appears permanently above $90/barrel, and the appetite for gas ever increasing, this project will be hard to stop.

    BTW, Cory Hatch has a pretty good article in today’s NaG about the Noble Basin exploitation, but no summary of what happened at the Snow King meeting. Aside from the Did a meeting take place at SKR? The data on potential pollution is really disturbing, if the specter of fracking doesn’t scare you enough. It’s also sad that neither the EPA, nor state DEQ appears to have enough pull with the Interior Dept.

    136 wells: You’re correct, D. As Hatch’s article indicates, the 136 wells would be from a maximum 17 well pads, acording to the submitted plan. So this would mean multiple directional drilling from each pad, not necessarily 136 derricks popping up in the forest, if there were that many. One thing I question is the commercial viability of this play. PXP must be satisfied with their numbers to risk it, though.

  8. js January 19, 2011 6:07 pm

    About 250 people attended the meeting last night, many of them angry. The PXP honchos did not face the public. The Forest Service took comments but said they would not be part of the public record. People said this is a worthless exercise yet went off, anyway.

    Whitney Royster covered it for the Star-Tribune.

    I just wanted to ask one of the PXP Texans if they’d pump fracking fluids into their favorite bass pond back home.

  9. Brad January 19, 2011 7:13 pm

    Jim, your #8 post deepens the mystery: why didn’t the NaG report on that meeting? That article was just an updated summary. No mention at all of a meeting. Chickens**t oil companies after a controversial prospect make news, in my view.

  10. D January 19, 2011 7:51 pm

    All the info on Fracing fluid has been released so you don’t have to refer to them in scary terms like mister GasLand, and not that scary in a cased hole if you ask me. The problem is when there is an accident and even I will admit this does and can happen which makes this a very risky proposition and unneeded when we have so much gas in other areas of the state that are not so environmentally sensitive. Then again it’s all about where PXP has leases in their eyes.

    I was half joking Brad, figured you knew and didn’t want “anyone” to jump to the crazy ideas/conclusion like then tend to right JS?

  11. js January 19, 2011 8:36 pm

    Brad, I presume that even though the meeting more or less was done by 8:30, it was past the “deadline” of the “news”paper. Look for a recap in the Daily.

    Update — Here’s the link: http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/article.php?art_id=6902

    D, a glance at the long list of chemicals the State of NY has identified in fracking fluids, for example, is pretty scary.

  12. D January 19, 2011 9:21 pm

    Look at the state of Wyoming and then look at the ratios water to chemicals its a very very very small percentage, don’t get me wrong I don’t want anything but natural run off in the Hoback River or any other river for that matter. The Geology 2 miles under the earth is very complicated, but I know at least in Wyoming a well at a depth 13000-foot will not pollute an 800′ deep aquifer if done properly, that’s just the facts.

  13. PS January 19, 2011 10:43 pm

    come on about doing it properly. That is the least of their concerns. It is all about producing gas.
    Whom is the watchdog over these drilling practices making sure that the wells are been properly installed?
    Nobody, they govern themselves!

  14. joe January 19, 2011 11:06 pm

    was leslie peterson for drilling, but with beter oversight?

  15. D January 20, 2011 8:48 am

    Doing it properly produces more gas and is cheaper so if your “Theory” WAS true there is nothing to worry about. You have no idea what you are talking about so I will refrain from wasting my time listing off facts that will make you look silly, contrary to your belief every company I have seen does care about doing properly. I can’t speak specifically to PXP because I have no experience with them so I will not jump to conclusions like you. I am not going to say everything is perfect (its not) and every company is looking out for the environment, but the companies I work with in this area truly do. Like I said above accidents do happen and that why this should not happen in this location, to risky in my opinion. In the end they bought these leases fair and square and it’s the Government management that leased them that is to blame.

  16. danno January 21, 2011 8:20 pm

    Knee jerk reaction of all liberals / commies / greenies to any economic development project is to oppose it. Then they complain that the only job around is flipping burgers or loading chairs.

  17. js February 1, 2011 9:21 am

    Drillers pumping diesel fuel into wells to help break up fracking fluids:

    In Wyoming, gas drillers already have pumped 2.9 million gallons of diesel into groundwater. Keep diesel — and toluene and benzene — out of the Hoback headwaters!

  18. joe February 1, 2011 11:11 am

    i,m against drilling in the hoback and i think the forest service will be too.

    “gas drillers already have pumped 2.9 million gallons of diesel into groundwater”
    or did you mean ground?

    poor journalism

  19. D February 1, 2011 11:25 am

    Come on that’s just not true, and you know it. Show one source that shows 2.9 million gallons of diesel have been pumped into the groundwater.

    From your link:

    COULD & SOME being the Key words:
    “They argue that some of those chemicals could find their way out of a well bore — either because of migration through layers of rock or spills and sloppy handling — and into nearby sources of drinking water.”

    EPA is correct if they are on your side and dismissed if not?:
    “An E.P.A. investigation in 2004 failed to find any threat to drinking water from fracking”

  20. joe February 1, 2011 3:08 pm

    D i guess we don,t deserve a reponse. you would think we would at least get a ” what I really meant to say”. oh well I do think that the forest service is against this because they had a meeting in Jackson so Plains could see all the wack jobs and name callers

  21. D February 1, 2011 7:43 pm

    I am sure Jim will have a response; I just wonder sometimes if he really believes the things he writes.(Honestly?) I am not necessarily for this project but the facts are the facts and lies are bad for both sides. There are no doubt impacts from development, but turn that gas off tonight and we will see who’s for it in the morning. :-)

    But anyways there is a shooting in Jackson all this nonsense is on hold.

  22. js February 3, 2011 3:01 pm

    If you pump diesel into the ground it just goes away, right? It doesn’t eventually seep into an aquifer? Why is it that there are diesel plumes flowing underground in Jackson?

    Damn right I believe what I write. Already there are doubts about fracking fluids contaminating water, and now we learn that diesel also is being pumped into wells. The Forest Service has an obligation to study the possibility of contamination seriously, rather than just saying the probability cannot be determined.

    Any EPA study undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration is suspect. The Forest Service should at least wait until the new EPA analysis of fracking is finished next year.

    I burn gas in my home. I know we need gas. There is plenty of it being drilled in the plains and on the mesa. It seems smart to lay off the forest. Even PXP is trying to get someone to pay a lot of money to buy the leases.

    The NYT article has a lot of finger pointing about whether violations have occurred, and whether companies can be fined retroactively. I’m not interested in that; rather, I’d like to see the Forest Service get this right in advance, and be thorough in making sure the Hoback headwaters are protected from contamination, rather than throwing up its hands and saying it doesn’t know.

    That said, yes, I probably could have worded the previous comment better.

  23. D February 4, 2011 4:05 pm


    I have said from the beginning I am not for this project and there will impacts from development without a doubt. However your statement of “In Wyoming, gas drillers already have pumped 2.9 million gallons of diesel into groundwater.” Is a flat out lie misleading and you know it, which was my point. I am in no way saying that no diesel has ever made its way into the ground water, and you and I can both agree that any is to much. I know you said you could have worded it differently and I accept that, I just want to make sure the truth prevails for all sides involved. This also goes for Fracing and everything else, its far more complicated then just pumping fluid into a hole and hoping that it may not seep into water aquifers. There is over a mile and a half of rock, sand, and other geological formations that separate the production formations and groundwater. I agree that being proactive is the only way to manage development, but just because a film of lies was made about gas development dose not make it bad. I agree the Bush administration EPA results deserve to be second-guessed, as does the current administration. They all have their own agenda and that’s why it’s up to the public to try and see the truth and make good decisions based off fact not fear or lies. Even if we don’t like to admit it we need energy in this country and natural gas is our only real solution, wind solar and other forms are great but they cant touch our countries demand. I respect your opinions and journalism and I respect your passion for our public land, I just hope you keep and open mind to what is true and what is false. Here is a link that will point out the many flaws in the so-called documentary Gasland.

    I am not sure where you got this or were going with this, but I would be interested to know?: “Why is it that there are diesel plumes flowing underground in Jackson?”

  24. ps February 4, 2011 4:11 pm

    I believe js is talking about an old LUST (leaking underground storage tank) site located on the north end of Jackson that back in the day, leaked a fair amount of diesel into the ground.
    But I could be wrong.

  25. joe February 4, 2011 8:55 pm

    well said D yuo just made this a better blog.

  26. ps February 7, 2011 12:27 pm

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