CASPER, Wyo. — A proposal to add about 9,000 new natural gas wells in southwest Wyoming is putting sage grouse conservation plans to the test after the U.S. Department of the Interior decided not to list the grouse in a decision made in September 2015, in part because of the conservation plans developed by states like Wyoming.
The proposed project area includes sage grouse habitat, and there are a number of restrictions on development.
The Continental Divide-Creston Natural Gas Project could bring about $1.8 billion in revenue to the state.
The federal Bureau of Land Management recently approved the project, which would cover more than 1 million acres of mostly federal lands.
Some people say there are enough protections, while others worry it’s not enough.
“(The project) is a test,” said Bob Budd, chairman of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a Wyoming conservation team. “It’s a chance to look and see how things work . a chance to do all of the things that we would like to do as far as making sure that we can have development and protect the bird’s habitat.”
Wyoming has led years of efforts to conserve the grouse while maintaining energy development key to the state’s economy, the Casper Star-Tribune reported (http://tinyurl.com/gs868ru ).
Dennis Carpenter, field manager for the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Rawlins office, said any exception must include a viable option.
Dan Heilig of the Wyoming Outdoor Council said there are too many exceptions for roads and well pads in priority areas.
“It raises the question of whether the BLM has the capacity to deal adequately with environmental reviews for that number of wells,” Heilig said. “The same issue is presented to the public. How can the public meaningfully participate due to the sheer magnitude?”
“We are going to be there,” Heilig said. “Participating in a constructive way, working with BLM, and industry and other stakeholders in developing mitigation plans that can achieve conservation gains for sage grouse,” he said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com