After seven years on the back burner, a major oil and gas development near Pinedale has completed its final step and is weeks away from drilling. Jonah Energy's Normally Pressured Lance project obtained its Record of Decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The project aims to construct 3,500 wells over 10 years near Pinedale, 96 percent of the project is on public land.
But the project's location is still an ongoing concern for conservationists with roads and well-pads intersecting sensitive habitat for sage grouse and migrating game. Upper Green River Alliance’s (UGRA) Linda Baker says directional drilling won’t be fully utilized to avoid pronghorn migration corridors and seasonal protections aren’t enough to protect sage grouse breeding grounds. She said the project will result in significant population losses for both species and will impact air and water quality.
But Jonah Energy’s Paul Ulrich said the project has focused on sustainable energy development alongside mitigating environmental impacts. The company developed NPL plans alongside the Wyoming Governor’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team that included organizations like the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, according to a press release on the company’s website. As far as sage grouse, Ulrich said it’s not just seasonal protections that will help sage grouse, but year-round surface disturbance restrictions.
“Jonah has taken a significant voluntary step of agreeing to fund and suspend development in a majority of the winter concentration area until we can get through a multi-year scientific study,” he said.
But UGRA’s Baker said, even with seasonal restrictions, it won’t be enough to maintain sage grouse survival.
“Once the wells are in and the roads, and the pipelines, those facilities will be accessed year-round. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if they can’t get the sustenance they need in the winter, they won’t survive,” she said.
Jonah Energy’s Ulrich says employees will use those areas, but a study underway by the company will dictate how much human activity sage grouse can handle. Jonah Energy expects revenue from the project to total $1.1 billion in tax revenue and 700 jobs. Baker plans to submit public comments alongside the Western Watersheds Project related to her concerns.