WGFD clarifies oil and gas lease parcel process at public meeting
Casper – “Our goal isn’t to limit the number of lease parcels but rather to limit infrastructure within the migration corridor itself,” said Angela Bruce, Wyoming Department (WGFD) Habitat Protection Program supervisor.
Bruce was a featured speaker for the Feb. 11 WGFD public meeting regarding the importance of migration corridors. She specifically covered the process in which WGFD and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handle leasing recommendations for oil and gas.
Bruce, along with other industry professionals, addressed citizens of Casper and surrounding areas and answered any of their questions and concerns.
She explained the process of reviewing oil and gas lease processes is collaborative between WGFD and BLM.
“We have created a memorandum of understanding between WGFD and BLM to ensure the correct processes are taking place as we review lease parcels,” Bruce said.
She noted the strategy for these recommendations is to review each parcel on a case-by-case basis and utilize the best available science to support recommendations.
Best science available
To be as effective as possible, WGFD and BLM use the best science available to make decisions on lease parcels.
“Coalbed methane wells are generally much smaller in size,” according to Bruce. “These types of wells average around 10-by-10 in size.”
When reviewing these types of wells, WGFD looked to a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology that found increased disturbances may modify the timing of migrations and constrict the size of the migration area. Animals will also move through areas of increased development much faster than normal, according to the study.
“Deep gas wells tend to be much larger,” Bruce pointed out. “These wells can take up multiple acres of space.”
Unpublished research conducted in the Pinedale Anticline reported the expected level of use for mule deer declined significantly with the construction of pads. The negative trend continued over the five-year period of the study, with pads of varying densities.
Bruce reported WGFD is currently working with the University of Wyoming and WEST Inc. to review 17 years of data in the Pinedale Anticline and determine if a migration corridor disturbance threshold could be developed.
“If a scientific based disturbance threshold can be developed, we will use this in our future recommendations to land management agencies,” according to Bruce.
Parcel review process
“The first step in the lease parcel review process is review of preliminary lease parcels by field personnel of both WGFD and BLM,” said Bruce. “Once the preliminary field analysis is complete, the state office reviews the lease.”
“At the state level, we base recommendations on a couple of different analyses,” Bruce said. “If the parcel or part of the parcel is 90 percent or greater in the corridor, it is automatically recommended for deferral. We also look to see if the parcel contains vital stop-over habitat. If so, it will also be recommended for deferral.”
She explained the parcel space outside the corridor is then reviewed to determine other limiting land restrictions. If these additional restrictions limit the space available for infrastructure, the parcel will be recommended for deferral.
“After this process is complete, all remaining parcels that intersect a designated migration corridor are recommended to be given a special lease notice for designated migration corridors,” according to Bruce.
Bruce provided examples of parcel recommendations used in the first quarter of 2019. The first was 96 percent within the corridor and 34 percent in a stop-over habitat. This parcel was recommended for deferral.
Another example she provided was a six-part parcel, three pieces of which were within the corridor at 100, 64 and 24 percent, respectively. The first was recommended for deferral, and the remaining two were recommended for a special lease notice.
“We like to call this the ‘90 percent rule’,” according to Bruce. “We want to determine whether there is enough space outside the corridor but still within the parcel to develop infrastructure. We find if the parcel is more than 90 percent within the corridor, this simply isn’t possible.”
“We plan on collaborating more with BLM,” Bruce said. “We are looking to complete a Resource Management Plan to address the department’s designated migration corridors.”
“Our goal is to provide guidance to BLM and WGFD staff and proponents on the application for special lease notice language and the permit to drill stage of the process,” Bruce commented. “We understand this process can get very confusing, especially with parcels containing multiple sections. We want to make the process as simple as possible.”
“We believe, with emerging technologies, we will be able to build well pads outside the corridor to extract from within the corridor, all while leaving the migration of animals undisturbed,” said Bruce.
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.