It will soon be impossible to get oil and gas leases on 24,000 acres of the Wyoming Range. Conservation non-profit the Trust for Public Land bought out existing leases within the Wyoming Range to maintain the area for wildlife and recreation. It’s the second time the groups have done this in the western part of the state – bringing the total number of retired acres by the trust to 80,000. Chris Deming, a project manager with the Trust for Public Land, who helped lead the way for both acquisitions.
CD: Last week, the Trust for Public Land helped protect another 24,000 acres in the Wyoming Range from oil and gas development. Working with Stanley and Mountain Energy, we successfully came up with a business solution to a conservation problem. In that, we avoided more oil and gas development in the Wyoming Range which is an area that has been of concern over the proposed drilling as far back as the mid-1990s.
CM: What’s problematic about this area as far as energy development and why does wildlife and other factors supersede that?
CD: Starting in the mid-90s, the residents of northwest Wyoming were concerned about the impacts to wildlife, their recreational pursuits be it hunting, fishing or horseback riding, the impacts of the proposed oil and gas drilling to water and the impacts to air quality. You may have heard of the Red Desert to Hoback corridor. The collaring work and the data that has been discovered through that effort shows that much of the Wyoming Range is the summer habitat for many of those mule deer and large ungulate that travel south to north through that corridor. Those residents really galvanized around this area and helped voice their concerns over the proposed drilling which has affected the positive conservation outcome over the last 15 years.
CM: Was there proposed drilling there, were there leases that were owned, was there active oil rigs or anything else... or was that all held off?
CD: There’s a combination of all of the above. When the Wyoming Range efforts started, one of the things that was critical to any protection work being done was the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. Starting in 2007, the late Senator Craig Thomas introduced legislation that was carried forth and approved with the support of Senator Barrasso and Mike Enzi which designated an area of about 1.2 million acres in the Wyoming Range for future protection. Within that 1.2 acres, no future oil and gas lease permits would be let and any existing valid leases were eligible to be acquired by organizations like the Trust for Public Land, handed back to BLM [Bureau of Land Management] to be relinquished and retired in perpetuity.
CM: Is this the second part of the retirement? Has there already been some part of the Wyoming Range that was retired or is this the first time something like this happened in the Wyoming Range?
CD: This is the second time. The Trust for Public Land got engaged in 2010 in an effort to acquire nearly 56,000 acres of oil and gas leases from PXP, a Houston-based oil and gas company. We moved forward with that… and through a successful fundraising effort, Save the Hoback campaign, we were able to acquire PXP's leases in the Wyoming Range at the end of 2012.
CM: So, I’ve heard you say this is a business solution to a conservation problem a few times… can you elaborate on what that means
CD: We are not an advocacy organization. We have been very successful in working with oil and gas companies, such as PXP and now Stanley Energy and Mountain Energy to, in essence, acquire their oil and gas leases using private dollars, to compensate them for their investment in that area. In lieu of drilling, we were acquiring those leases from them and handing them back to BLM to be retired in perpetuity.
CM: I think the perpetuity part sounds pretty clear, but is there any way that this land in the future could be used for oil and gas or is it now illegal?
CD: That was a Congressional legislation that was approved in 2009. It is part of legislation… only way that that could be undone is if future legislation unwound what was done and put in place.
CM: How was this possible. Where did the money come from to be able to do this?
CD: The recent acquisition by Stanley and Mountain energy leases was thanks to a generous grant from the Wyss Foundation enabling us to move forward with the acquisition and retirement of those leases.
CM: So, what are the next steps for actually getting this land retired?
CD: After our acquisition on July 3rd, we’ve been working with BLM Wyoming to relinquish and retire the leases that we just acquired from Stanley and Mountain Energy. We anticipate that the completion of the retirement of these leases will happen within the next 30 days.
CM: Great, well thanks for making time for me today, Chris -
CD: I appreciate it, thanks for your time.