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October 28, 2008 3:45 am

Forest Service likely to approve proposed well

Written by Tribune Staff

Environmental assessment expected

Gas drilling inside the Shoshone National Forest most likely will begin in about six months.

Windsor Energy Group is seeking to drill an exploratory well, Federal 26-2, just inside the forest's boundary and roughly 7 miles northeast of Clark.

It would be the first well drilled in the Shoshone in decades.

The Forest's Wapiti District Ranger, Terry Root, told people gathered at a public meeting in Clark last week that the U.S. Forest Service has found no reason to reject Windsor's application.

“We have not discovered anything that would cause us to absolutely say this would be denied,” Root said to the 50 or so people at the meeting.

He stressed that the primary question is not whether the well should be drilled. The drilling is allowed under an Environmental Impact Statement crafted by the Shoshone National Forest in 1995.

The point of the public comment period, Root said, is to identify what stipulations and requirements should be placed on the drilling.

“We need you to address your issues and concerns, not your philosophical differences,” he said.

Root said the Forest Service can and has placed serious stipulations on drilling — one driller had to fly everything in and out to the site to reduce its impact. However, he could not recall an instance where an application had been nixed.

The forest's environmental policy coordinator, Marty Sharp, stressed that the U.S. Forest Service will not read public comments as ballots for or against the proposal.

“It's not vote-counting,” he said.

Some at the meeting were frustrated that the well is an inevitability.

“It is our land,” said Belfry resident Betty Scott.

Cody resident Sue Forst said it seemed like the government is protecting corporations at the expense of its citizens.

“I don't want to be foul, but you can imagine what I'm thinking we're being,” she said.

Windsor was the company behind the 2006 gas blowout just about a mile down the road from the proposed drilling site.

Soil and groundwater were contaminated when the well's casing ruptured — sending natural gas, drilling fluids, and condensate bubbling up to the surface from below.

Root said the Forest Service is well aware of the 2006 blowout and is looking to “do everything that's reasonable to make sure that doesn't happen again.”

As one of those steps, Windsor will be keeping heavy mud on site to plug the well if pressures get out of control.

During the 2006 blowout, it took more than a day for heavier mud to be trucked in from Utah to stop the blowout.

Windsor is being bonded at $25,000 at the state level, and $150,000 at the national level for any potential problems, such as a spill.

“Is that a joke?” Forst asked. “How can you clean up anything with that?”

Windsor has said it will spend millions of dollars cleaning up its blowout at the Crosby 25-3 rig.

Ole Lear, a petroleum engineer with the Bureau of Land Management, assured the audience that the BLM would be keeping close tabs on Windsor's operation inside the Forest.

“It has to meet our standards,” Lear said.

Part of that process involves testing the rig's ability to withstand subterranean pressure — up to 5,000 pounds.

“There's no ‘just about' or ‘close enough,'” Lear said.

Local Windsor employee Rick Johnson said he had heard that the blowout occured with 2,000 pounds of pressure.

If there is ever a problem, Lear said, “We will shut down operations until we feel it's fixed.”

However, he said that even with strong precautions in place, blowouts are always a possibility.

“They are not everyday occurances, but they do happen,” he said.

Root said the Forest Service will almost certainly be conducting an Environmental Assessment of the site rather than granting a Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act.

An Exclusion, given for “actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment,” would require less time and analysis.

It would take three to four months while an Environmental Assessment takes roughly six months.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other environmental groups have asked for the Policy Act's highest level of analysis — an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Root cautioned that Environmental Impact Statements are “very lengthy, very expensive.”

With some 34 exploratory wells drilled in the Forest in the past, he said the cost would quickly add up.

“You might think to yourself if you're a taxpayer, do you want to pay $300,000 to $400,000 every time someone says,

‘I want to drill an exploratory well?'” Root said.

Powell resident David Haire, chairman of the Clark Resource Council, said the driller should pick up the tab for any environmental analysis.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition's Hilary Eisen said that since no wells have been drilled in the Shoshone since the 1970s, this new well merits the added scrutiny of an Impact Statement.

However, Sharp said the Forest Service typically conducts an Environmental Assessment to determine if a full-blown EIS is needed.

Those at the meeting asked if it was possible for Windsor to reach the gas reservoir from the existing Crosby 25-3 pad — and avoid creating a new site in the Forest.

Windsor said it was “not impossible,” but Root said that won't play into the Forest's decision.

“Whether or not it's technically feasible is not a reason to deny the application to drill,” he said. “If they say, ‘We don't want to do that,' that's the end of the conversation.”

Root said the public comment period is meant to identify specific areas of concern for the Forest to look at — such as the project's potential impacts on soil, groundwater and health.

Public comments will be accepted through Nov. 16. They can be sent by mail to 203A Yellowstone Ave., Cody, WY, 82414, by fax to 307-527-6921, or by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

More information on the proposed drilling is available on the Shoshone National Forest's Web site .