Wyoming Range – Drill The Bridger-Teton National Forest? (Part 2 – 50 Acre Wellpads??)

But wait, there’s more… Stanley Energy is also asking for Forest Service approval to drill for natural gas in the Wyoming Range. They want to drill from 8 locations just west of Merna, between Lookout Peak and Prospect Peak. They plan to drill multiple wells from each location, or “wellpad,” which helps reduce the environmental impact…but they expect each wellpad to be 50 acres in size. How big is that? Well, the Pentagon covers 34 acres. Why so big? In the Gulf of Mexico the oil industry drills dozens of wells from a single platform less than 2 acres in size, in water a mile deep, to targets 3 miles below the seafloor.

We thought it would be useful to simulate what 50-acre wellpads might look like in the middle of a national forest. Check out our image gallery showing before-and-after pics of the site. And for the very first time, we’ve also created this simulation in Google Earth. Earth users can download the KMZ file here. Don’t have Google Earth yet? Get it for free and then take a self-guided virtual tour of SkyTruth’s simulation.

Back in October the Forest Service and Stanley signed a memo that some folks — the governor of Wyoming among them — claim gave Stanley too much influence over the decisionmaking process. This revelation has gotten a lot of local ink; check out coverage by the Sublette Examiner and the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Outdoors editor Shauna Stephenson at the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle started her column on this controversy by saying “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m just about sick and tired of this garbage.” The Casper Star-Tribune editorialized that the whole environmental study should start over. The Forest Service admits it made a big mistake and gave Stanley undue influence over the environmental study, but is continuing ahead with it anyway.

Meanwhile, Senator Barasso of Wyoming has carried on the cause of his predecessor, the late Senator Craig Thomas, and submitted a bill to protect 1.2 million acres of land in the Wyoming Range from future gas and oil leasing. The legislation was just approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will come before the full Senate for a vote. With support from the Wyoming’s governor and congressional delegation it’s chances look pretty good. Existing oil and gas leases in the protected area — including those held by Stanley Energy and Plains Exploration and Production — will still be “drillable.” But lease holders will have the option of voluntarily relinquishing those leases, and conservation groups will have the opportunity to buy leases and permanently “retire” them, an option that is normally not allowed. You can contact Senator Barasso to let him know what you think about the Stanley – Forest Service debacle, and his bill to protect a piece of the Wyoming Range.

Wyoming Range – Drill The Bridger-Teton National Forest? (Part 1)

Two recent proposals to drill on National Forest land in the Wyoming Range have generated a lot of controversy and some unusual political action. Plains Exploration & Production Company initially applied to the US Forest Service for permission to drill just three exploration wells in the Hoback Rim area, while simultaneously making statements to Wall Street that they anticipated developing a major gas field comparable to the nearby Jonah Field (now approved for thousands of wells and hundreds of miles of access roads).

“Jonah In The Woods?”

We decided to simulate what the Plains CEO described in the Pinedale Roundup as a “nice little field in the forest.” Our simulation raised a bit of ruckus: local newspapers picked up the story and the apparent inconsistency between what the company was asking from the Forest Service, and what they were telling potential investors. The company withdrew its request for the three-well approval and asked the Forest Service to instead conduct a much more extensive environmental analysis that would allow full-blown development. That analysis should be released for public comment late in 2008.

High Country News also covered SkyTruth’s work, and Peter Aengst of The Wilderness Society had this to say:

The simulation really made the issue more clear and so generated some great press attention. In addition, it helped to spotlight Plains Exploration Company’s likely intentions, which was borne out later when the company admitted in a letter to the Forest Service that they wanted denser drilling with more wells and roads analyzed in the EIS. As our press release made clear, the simulation was especially effective because it utilized Plains own statements and information from nearby gas fields.

But stay tuned, there’s more to the Wyoming Range story…

Upper Green River Valley Time-Series Images

We’ve just added to our time-series of images showing the spread of drilling in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline natural-gas fields, located on public lands in western Wyoming’s upper Green River valley — the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The new images are SPOT XS satellite pics taken in September 12, 2006 and September 27, 2007. We’ve applied a “natural-color” process to these images so that vegetation will appear green and water blue, in keeping with the earlier Landsat images in these series. Drilling is booming in both fields, with new drilling plans released by the Bureau of Land Management last year that will add thousands of new wells to these fields.

Google Earth users, download the KMZ file for the Jonah Field to explore the roads, well pads, and other facilities in this area in 1-meter detail; the Google image was taken in August 2006.

Go here to learn more about drilling in this area and what you can do, and here to read more about SkyTruth’s other work in the upper Green.

Google Earth Now Has Image Dates

Hooray! This is a great addition to the virtual sightseeing capability offered by Google Earth. Their just-released upgrade (version 4.3) allows you to see when the images were taken. As you move your cursor around the screen, the image date appears in the gray-shaded “status bar” at the bottom of the image:

Knowing the date of the imagery makes it a lot more informative. This example shows a large industrial facility (probably for processing natural gas) a few miles southeast of Farmington, New Mexico, in an area of intensive drilling for coalbed methane. The status bar indicates that this image was taken on March 26, 2007.

So get that free upgrade now and start globetrotting. And let us know what places you’re concerned about.

Upper Green River Valley Video Now On EmPivot

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our 10-minute, narrated video tour of natural-gas drilling in the upper Green River valley area of western Wyoming (the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem). It’s a mashup of Google Earth flyover sequences, photos taken from the air and ground, and GIS information that tells the story of the impacts of energy development on this region:
It’s been available for online viewing through YouTube. Now you can also view it online at EmPivot, a new site for environmental videos that provides higher-resolution viewing. Compare the YouTube version of our video with the EmPivot version.

And if you’d like to download the full-screen version for standalone play, help yourself to either the Windows Media Player or the QuickTime versions (warning – very large files, broadband only!). Our Upper Green River Valley image gallery is another resource packed with images and photos, featuring the spread of natural-gas infrastructure across a vast landscape as the booming Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields have grown over the past decade. You can learn more about this, and see some nifty time-series animations of SkyTruth imagery, at the Upper Green River Valley Coalition website.

Another Gigantic Frozen Mudsicle in Colorado?!

Colorado environmentalists who flew up to the head of Garden Gulch in western Colorado on March 19 were hoping to take some aerial pictures of a frozen “waterfall” of spilled drilling fluid that had been investigated by state Department of Natural Resources staff in late February (see our previous posting on the spills that have plagued this area of intensive drilling for natural gas).

Photo by Pete Kolbenschlag / Mountain West Strategies and EcoFlight

Instead, they found something truly astonishing that hadn’t been reported: a 100′ tall tower of frozen mud, apparently caused by severe erosion of soil from dirt roads and pipelines that were being built near the rim on the Roan Plateau. Two backhoes and several trucks are plainly visible in these pictures, taken by Pete Kolbenschlag of Mountain West Strategies during a low-altitude flyover by our friend Bruce Gordon of EcoFlight.

What else is lurking out there? Let us know if anything strange pops up…

Drilling Fluid “Waterfall” in Colorado – Natural Gas Not So Clean

Been hearing a lot lately about how “clean” natural gas is as an energy source. Well… the Colorado Department of Natural Resources just learned about four spills of waste drilling fluids into Garden Gulch, a tributary of West Parachute Creek in western Colorado. There is intensive drilling for natural gas occurring throughout the area around the Roan Plateau. Critics of the Bureau of Land Management’s recently announced plan to allow drilling on top of the as-yet untouched Plateau — including Governor Ritter and Senator Salazar — are worried that this is exactly the kind of thing that will happen, polluting surface water and ground water.

One of these spills, totaling 1.2 million gallons, created a most unnatural wonder: a frozen “waterfall” composed mostly of spilled drilling fluids, according to the DNR. Check out the photos in our image gallery. When this thing thaws out it will run directly into the creek. Bad news for the trout, bad news for fishermen.