Reclamation efforts – BLM strives to leave no trace after mineral extraction in Wyo
“Our short term goal is to immediately stabilize disturbed areas and provide conditions necessary to achieve the long-term goal. We hope to set up to be successful down the road,” stated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist Casey Friese.
Friese and others gave presentations at the Douglas Reclamation Plan Workshop, hosted by University of Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center and Extension in Douglas on July 22.
“The long-term goal is to facilitate eventual ecosystem reconstruction to maintain a safe and stable landscape to meet the desired outcomes of the land, as planned,” he continued.
These goals are part of BLM’s mission to leave disturbed areas in equal or better condition than they were before the disturbance.
“Our state office put together a reclamation policy. It’s pretty good,” Friese noted. “It’s for the whole state and it’s for all reclamation, whether it’s bentonite mining, uranium or oil and gas.”
The policy is broken down into three phases, from drilling and construction to interim and production, and lastly, the final reclamation phase. Planning, Friese emphasized, is the most important part of all the phases.
“Begin with the end in mind,” he said.
To start out, a site location should be placed where reclamation can be successful.
“If we can move our well location and avoid large cut-and-fills or really fragile soils, that’s going to be some of the best reclamation,” he explained. “We are really working hard at reducing our footprint.”
When drilling and construction begin, emphasis is placed on stabilizing the work environment. Good cut-and-fill designs and good engineering drawings contribute to successful interim and final reclamation. Topsoil, pit cuttings, storm water and sediment considerations are important management concerns.
“Moving out of the drilling and construction phase, we move into interim reclamation,” Friese continued. “Our interim goal is to maximize our reclamation to just what we need for production.”
Using photo examples, he then described oil well sites with successful, minimum impacts, illustrating how the original footprint of a work site can be reduced during the production phase.
“The objective,” Friese commented, “is to maintain healthy, biological, active topsoil and keep that topsoil viable, controlling erosion and minimizing habitat, visual and forage loss during the life of the well.”
By being proactive about reclamation work in the interim, operators can save time and money in the long run.
“There tend to be a lot more resources, financially and equipment-wise, on the front end versus a well that has production down to three or four barrels a day, a week or a month,” he stated.
Instead of keeping a long-term pile of topsoil, Friese suggested respreading it evenly over the site and seeding it to keep it viable for the life of the well.
“Use gravel to help keep rutting down,” he continued.
Keeping the tank battery close to the front of the site was another suggestion that Friese presented.
“We are really trying to promote getting these tanks at the front end of these access roads because then we can get more reclamation,” he explained.
In one example, Friese shared a well site that originally covered eight acres but was reduced to 0.6 acres during production.
“That is our goal,” he remarked. “Then, come final reclamation, all we really need to do is rip and seed a little area and pull the road out. It’s going to be a minimal cost, versus trying to reclaim the entire area.”
Along with site locations, Friese emphasized the management of roadways and pipelines as well. One suggestion that he made was keeping gravel on surfaces with heavy-traffic.
“It keeps people on the road, for one, instead of going around any puddles, and it keeps the road from rutting and getting pounded out,” he explained.
Once a site is no longer in use, the final phase of reclamation begins. The BLM hopes to leave no scarring behind when a production site is removed.
“We are really trying to emphasize the importance of our final reclamation. The long-term objective of final reclamation is to return the land to the condition that it was prior to the disturbance, restoring the land, vegetation, hydrology, visual and wildlife habitats,” Friese explained.
When possible, sites may also be improved. For example, a field of cheatgrass before a disturbance may be reclaimed with native grasses and shrubs.
During final reclamation, facilities and equipment are removed and gravel and culverts are taken out.
“We recountour to the original contour or a contour that blends in with the surrounding landform. It doesn’t need to be exact, but the untrained eye should see it as seamless,” Friese noted.
Lastly, he mentioned that efforts should be monitored and followed up.
“If we don’t have any success, we can go in and do it over again. We don’t want to let it fall through the cracks,” he said.
Recently, BLM has begun to keep better records of their reclamation work in the field.
“We are trying to capture our efforts,” Friese remarked, noting that conservation and other interest groups like to see the information.
“We are permitting 200 miles a year, so it’s good to see that we are also replanting 200 miles a year,” stated Friese.
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.