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Massive Oil and Gas Project Receives Long-Awaited Approval

Image leading the Converse County Oil and Gas Project Record of Decision Document
Bureau of Land Management

The U.S. Department of the Interior has issued a record of decision allowing the Converse County Oil and Gas Project to move forward.

The decision paves the way for 5,000 new oil and gas wells to be drilled, though not immediately. Construction and development will require site-specific review and approval.

The record of decision will allow the new wells to be drilled on 1,500 multi-well pads across 1.5 million acres over a period of 10 years. The total estimated new surface disturbance for the proposed action would be about 53,000 acres of 3.5 percent of the project area. The action also specifies year-round development with exceptions to time limitation restrictions that serve to protect non-eagle raptors.

Five companies officially proposed the project back in 2014: EOG Resources Inc., Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Northwoods Energy, and Devon Energy.

The final decision, signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, reads, "I have determined that the analysis contained within the Final Environmental Impact Statement is adequate for the purposes of reaching an informed decision regarding the Converse county Oil and Gas Project."

The signature is a welcome one for many in Wyoming. In November, a state legislative committee met with local and state leaders emphasizing the importance of receiving approval for the project ahead of the Biden administration.

"We all know elections do have consequences and we need this in place," said Randall Luthi, Gov. Mark Gordon's Chief Energy Advisor, at the time.

The risk, according to lawyers involved, would be that a Biden administration could delay the project by years.

Wyoming's federal delegation also voiced support for the project's approval, including Rep. Liz Cheney, "This long-awaited Record of Decision ensures that oil and gas will continue to play an essential role in Wyoming's economy as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic."

Gov. Mark Gordon also said the project sets the framework for hundreds of jobs and ensures proper safeguards for wildlife in the project area. "I look forward to seeing this project and year-round drilling come to fruition in Wyoming," he said in a press release.

Not everyone is thrilled. Western Watersheds Project, an environmental group, said in a press release it's begun to weigh litigation options to determine whether to pursue a court challenge.

"This decision is an eleventh-hour attempt to lock in the Trump administration's energy dominance agenda for the next three decades in northeastern Wyoming, a blank check that the oil industry will be able to cash in for pre-authorized fossil fuel for the next thirty years," said Molvar, wildlife biologist and executive director.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, the project is expected to generate roughly 8,000 jobs and up to $28 billion in federal revenue. As of Dec. 18, Wyoming's rig count sits at 4.

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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