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Major Oil And Gas Expansion Moves Forward Slowly, Informs Public

The graph lays out the difference between active leks within an oil and gas project area versus a controlled area.
Rawlins Bureau of Land Management

Oil and gas development has yet to take off in recently-expanded natural gas fields in Carbon County. The Continental-Divide Creston (CDC) project makes way for about 9,000 new wells west of Rawlins, but several years into the project, only about 50 of those are producing.

The Rawlins Bureau of Land Management held its second annual open house to review the project. BLM's wildlife biologist Mary Read explained how the agency monitors sensitive species in the area including sage grouse, raptors, and mule deer. The agency released a monitoring report last month detailing how impacts to the species are analyzed. For instance, Read explained studies show oil and gas development, by itself, isn't necessarily the cause of wildlife issues. A mule deer collaring study showed fences and I-80 interrupted migration patterns.

Annette Treat, BLM's project leader for CDC, said one thing has changed recently for the project. A directive from the BLM made compensatory mitigation optional. That's when a mineral producer minimizes impacts of a project by investing in conservation elsewhere.

"If they can mitigate other ways to avoid the impacts that's our preferred method and we try to do that through the planning process," Treat said, which includes adaptive management.

Treat said the annual meeting wasn't held in response to a particular event, but about keeping the public informed to CDC's progress. About 15 citizens showed up to Rawlins' field office. A handful raised concerns about the work BLM does generally including whether it focuses too much on economic gain over environmental impacts and if it's done proper environmental review for projects like this.

BLM staff pushed back saying a lot went into minimizing the environmental impact. After the meeting, Treat said in response, "the questions were good. They challenged us. We definitely had a learning curve in the room as far as understanding of what our roles are."

Other citizens said they were excited about the development and the economic boost. Rawlins local Scott Thayre said the project could give the town a leg up.

"If we look where we are at now and our minerals cycle with coal not being where it once was and the state legislature kicking around… yeah, it could be something that could really help the rest of the state," Thayre said.

BLM staff said about 200 more wells are permitted right now within the Continental-Divide Creston project.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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