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December 13, 2011 8:53 am

Energy company halts plans for Shoshone National Forest well

Written by CJ Baker

An energy company has halted plans to drill a well inside the Shoshone National Forest’s boundary northwest of Clark — at least temporarily.

Windsor Energy Group had proposed to drill an exploratory gas well about seven miles northwest of Clark back in 2008. Shoshone officials were about a month away from releasing a draft environmental assessment of Federal Well 26-2 when they learned last week that Windsor was suspending the project.

Chip Krohn, a geologist with the Oklahoma City-based Windsor Energy Group, said in a Monday interview that the company was re-evaluating its plans for property.

“We’re just looking at the economics of our total field and the economics of that specific well in relation to our development there,” said Krohn.

He said the company will take a few months to decide whether to let its mineral lease lapse or re-apply for a drilling permit.

“Right now we don’t have any plans to drill right now,” Krohn said.

The notice from Windsor that they were suspending the project “kind of blew us away, but we hadn’t heard anything from them for years, literally,” said Terry Root, the Shoshone’s District Ranger for the area.

A Windsor representative had told the Tribune last January that the company was still interested in the exploratory well, but hadn’t been kept up to date on the project’s timeline by Shoshone officials.

After initial indications the assessment might be finished as soon as the summer of 2009, the expected release date had been pushed back several times as forest officials made sure to take a “hard look” at the proposal. The draft assessment was all but ready for a public release in January, Root said, having already been edited.

But it was while federal Bureau of Land Management staffers were doing some final checking that they noticed Windsor’s state application to drill the well had lapsed in July of 2009. While that permit could easily be renewed, the BLM notified the Forest Service staff of the issue, who got in touch with Windsor.

“We contacted them and said, ‘We’d like to know, are you guys still interested in doing this — before we go forward with all this work’?” Root recounted. Soon after, Windsor followed up with the email saying the project was being suspended. The news was announced Dec. 7.

The announcement was welcomed by environmental groups and area residents who have opposed the project, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Clark Resource Council.

“Clark Resource Council is very relieved that Windsor Energy has withdrawn their plans for drilling on the Shoshone National Forest,” said Council Chair Christina Denney in a statement. “Clearly the complex hydrology and geology of the Line Creek drainage coupled with the serious contamination already present makes this area inappropriate for oil and gas development.”

The contamination referenced by Denney is from a different well, Crosby 25-3, which sits about a mile from the proposed Federal 26-2 site. The Crosby well blew out in 2006 when the well casing apparently ruptured, sending contaminants into soil and groundwater. The materials in the shallow groundwater aquifer have largely dissipated, but a plan is still being finalized for how to clean up contaminants in the deeper aquifer.

That history had drawn added scrutiny, including from Park County commissioners, about groundwater protections for the proposed rig.

Root said Windsor had provided a good safety plan for Federal Well 26-2.

“They didn’t say what they did or didn’t do last time (at Crosby 25-3), but they did provide us a safety plan that we asked for,” he said.

When asked about the objections from environmental groups, Krohn said the decision to step back from Federal Well 26-2 “is not really related to that opposition.”

The company wasn’t going to be blocked by the Forest Service, either.

“It had nothing to do with the bureaucratic process, because we were ready to hit the street with it (the environmental assessment) ... and our proposed alternative would have allowed them to drill,” Root said, adding, “We felt like whatever impacts (there would be) could easily be mitigated.”

Now, with the project suspended, the nearly-complete environmental assessment will not see the light of day.

“It will just be slapped in a file and the lease will come out of suspension ... and that will be the end of it,” Root said. The assessment could be used again if the proposal is renewed, depending on how similar the proposal is and when it’s filed.

Root said the Forest Service and BLM did a lot of work on the proposed well over the last three years: analyzing the site, monitoring it, examining the cumulative effects of nearby wells in the area and looking at possible impacts to endangered species and soil and water. Despite the project being so far into the process, Root would not call the halt frustrating.

“I’m glad that we found out when we did as opposed to going through the rest of the process,” he said, noting public comment periods, responses to comments, plan revisions and then potentially lengthy appeals that could have followed.

Federal 26-2 was only the second well proposed on the Shoshone in decades. The other, Scott Well No. 2 northwest of Dubois, was OK’d earlier this year by forest officials. That was despite opposition from several environmental groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, who oppose new drilling in the Shoshone.

In July, Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander denied appeals of the Scott Well’s approval from the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a third group called GravelBar and an individual Dubois resident. The decision was not appealed further.

The real battle over oil and gas development on federal lands is effectively won or lost when the government decides which lands to make available for development — a process that often takes place years before a company applies to drill. As soon as the mineral rights are leased, the company holds the right to drill. The federal review process generally determines what restrictions are appropriate, not whether drilling can take place.

Shoshone spokeswoman Susie Douglas said it has been at least 20 years since the last well was drilled on the forest by an oil and gas company.

“It’s just not economically viable for them,” Douglas said.

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2 comments

  • Comment Link December 13, 2011 12:45 pm posted by TN

    This should really make all the greenies up on Line Creek happy.One day the oil & gas revenues won't be here,then you all can pay more taxes to make up for the lost revenue.

  • Comment Link January 30, 2012 8:20 am posted by Reylene Mufich

    Once that part of the forest is open,virtually ALL the Shoshone will be open such exploration,then drilling. It's fragility and proximity to Yellowstone would deem this one of the biggest legal acts of environmental terrorism we will see in U.S. history.

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