By Jim Stanford on January 18, 2011
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.
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.