Multiple energy companies, Wyoming and Converse County are hoping to see a final decision signed that would enable a major oil and gas project to move forward before the Biden administration arrives on Jan. 20, 2021.
Several officials gave an update to the state legislature's Select Federal Natural Resource Management committee.
The Converse County Oil and Gas Project proposes to drill about 5,000 oil and natural gas wells across roughly 1.5 million acres over 10 years. The proposal was submitted by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, now Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy, EOG Resources, Inc. and Northwoods Energy.
The review process has been ongoing for about eight years. Now, officials testifying in front of the committee say they expect the U.S. Department of the Interior to sign the record of decision (ROD) by the end of the calendar year, which would enable the Converse County environmental impact statement (EIS) to be implemented.
"I think this is pretty darn important for the state," said Committee Co-chairman Brian Boner. "Especially with everything that we're faced with: the potential new administration slowing down permitting for oil and gas. I think it's good to have at least the opportunity or potential to have an expedited process and that this has been quite the process."
Converse County Commissioner Jim Willox said several factors have held up the process: split estate issues, advancement of technology and negotiating protections for raptors in the area.
He also reminded the committee that the implementation of the EIS won't mean the immediate drilling of 5,000 new wells. He calls the impact statement more of an analysis.
"The rules are being developed, but the economics will determine whether we have two rigs or 20 rigs," said Willox. "I think it's important for both the public and this committee to understand that the adoption of this ROD is not a starting gun. It just is the rules by which all the players will be subject to."
Randall Luthi, Gov. Mark Gordon's Chief Energy Advisor, said his office has recommended the ROD be signed on Dec. 15, "just to avoid any questions before January 20, because as we all know elections do have consequences and we need this in place. We need this as clear as possible. We need this as less ambiguous as possible."
Bailey Brennan, natural resource counsel for the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, said they can expect legal challenges against the EIS, whether related to climate change analysis, wildlife impacts or other National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, challenges.
After the lengthy review process, Brennan added, "There's a good chance the agency has crossed all their t's and dotted all their i's."
Willox said the committee and governor's office will have to think about what role they can or should play if lawsuits are filed against the EIS. But, he also agreed with Brennan, "eight years, I think it will pass the smell test. It has been thorough and has been analyzed and it should withstand it."