Conservationists: Normally Pressured Lance drilling a major threat to Wyoming’s sage grouse, air quality, Path of the Pronghorn migration
For Immediate Release June 22, 2018
Linda Baker, Upper Green River Alliance, (307) 367-3670
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910
PINEDALE, Wyo. – Conservationists today expressed grave concerns over the likelihood of severe environmental degradation due to the massive 3,500-well Normally Pressured Lance (“NPL”) project, authorizing natural gas drilling across 140,000 acres of public land in western Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management published its Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) for the oil and gas drilling proposal this morning.
The proposed development encompasses key wintering habitats used by the entire sage grouse population of the Upper Green River valley, one of the three most heavily populated sage grouse strongholds in North America. “The Normally Pressured Lance Project would industrialize one of the largest and most pristine tracts of prime sage grouse habitat remaining in the region,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and Executive Director with Western Watersheds Project. “This project exemplifies the federal lands managers’ systematic failure to apply the kind of science-based habitat protections needed to minimize oil and gas impacts on sage grouse, and the result could be a death blow to the Upper Green sage grouse population and be a major contributor to the ultimate listing of the species under the Endangered Species Act.”
In addition, a third of the project area has been designated as “Priority Habitat” for breeding and nesting sage grouse. The NPL project would allow drilling sites as close as 0.6 miles from leks, the birds’ traditional breeding and display sites, inside this sensitive zone, and as close as a quarter-mile in other sage grouse habitat areas. It would also permit drilling in identified winter concentration habitats as long as the conversion to an industrial landscape occurred outside the winter season. Scientists have studied the impacts of drilling on sage grouse for several decades in this very valley, and this type of drilling in these sensitive habitats, with the feeble protections proposed to be applied under NPL, has been shown to cause significant sage grouse population declines.
Air quality in the valley, once pristine, has been fouled by pollution from drilling and construction in the neighboring Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Fields. Smog levels for the remote mountain town of Pinedale have eclipsed air pollution in Los Angeles, exceeding Clean Air Act standards, exacerbating health problems for local residents, and forcing residents to stay indoors for days at a time.
“BLM, DEQ, and EPA have greatly underestimated emissions from existing gas fields, and created winter-time air pollution so toxic, that residents’ lungs and hearts are irreparably damaged simply by living and breathing here,” said Linda Baker, Director of the Upper Green River Alliance in Pinedale. “There is no doubt that adding emissions from another 3,500 NPL wells will create pollution levels far in exceedance of human health standards and common decency.”
In addition to sage-grouse and air quality concerns, conservation groups are concerned that Jonah Energy proposes to build the gas field across the Path of the Pronghorn migration corridor, the second-longest mammal migration in the lower 48 states, which stretches from summer ranges in Grand Teton National Park to crucial winter habitat around Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. A scientific study completed in 2014 demonstrated that pronghorns avoid oil and gas development, and mapped the Path of the Pronghorn migration corridor through the Normally Pressured Lance project area. Conservationists had recommended a one-mile setback for wellsites from the migration path, but the BLM proposes no particular protections for the migration in its Final EIS.
“The Path of the Pronghorn migration is a world-class treasure, and the BLM proposes to slap a gas field right across it without providing a clear path through for the migrating animals,” said Molvar. “The Secretarial Order on migration corridors isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if the BLM is unwilling to do its part to shift oil and gas development away from the migration corridor.”
This project will add additional industrial development to a valley already wracked by heavy drilling, fracking, and habitat fragmentation impacts from an additional 838 wells to be drilled in the aging LaBarge oilfield, 4,143 wells drilled or approved in Moxa Arch, 4,399 wells approved for the Pinedale Anticline Gas Field, and 3,600 wells approved for the Jonah Field. The BLM eliminated from consideration an alternative that would have required no net increase in air pollution.
“The oil and gas industry is piling on in the Upper Green River Valley, and every time there’s a drilling boom, the quality of life goes to Hell,” said Baker.
“These are federal lands and federal minerals owned by the American people, and given the massive climate crisis caused largely by fossil fuels, the public interest would be better served by keeping the gas in the ground and saving the critically sensitive wildlife habitats on the surface,” added Molvar.