Uninterrupted vistas are a prized feature of the Wyoming Range, and one of the factors that led to a landmark agreement between Plains Exploration & Production Co. and two Wyoming-based conservation groups. Some critics, however, say the deal provides insufficient protection to both prized landscapes and wildlife. Photo courtesy of the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
The developer of a natural gas field in southwest Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest has agreed to significantly scale back its project to protect critical big-game habitat, a move welcomed by sporting groups and offering a possible blueprint for future drilling projects in sensitive areas across the West.
Plains Exploration & Production Co. would still drill as many as 136 natural gas wells on 17 well pads across a roughly 20,000-acre section of the national forest. But the Houston-based company has agreed not to apply for any additional drilling permits, regardless of the volume of natural gas discovered in the region, and to pay more than $6 million to protect wildlife habitat and monitor air and water quality in the area.
PXP agreed to these and other terms after more than two years of negotiations with two advocacy groups, the Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. The groups remain concerned about the impacts of drilling on big game and fish, and in recent weeks PXP's drilling proposal had drawn criticism from Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D).
"With this agreement, we've given a company with an existing lease the opportunity to drill, and in return for that we got a substantial mitigation dollar amount," said Gary Amerine, vice president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. "We view this is as a real win-win situation."