Socioeconomics report released/Comment accepted
by Sublette County
August 2, 2009
The Sublette County Commission is accepting public comment on the Phase II Sublette County Socioeconomic Impact Study prepared for the county by Ecosystem Research Group of Missoula, Montana. Comments should be submitted by August 14, 2009 and should be submitted to: Sublette County Commission, P.O. Box 250, Pinedale WY 82941 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The document is available for download and review on PinedaleOnline! (www.pinedaleonline.com) and the Sublette County Commission News blog (sublettewyo.wordpress.com).
The Phase I Sublette County Socioeconomic Impact Study was finalized in January 2008 and documented concerns over insufficient socioeconomic analyses in the National Environmental Policy Act process for both the Bureau of Land Management’s planning level Pinedale Field Office Resource Management Plan and the project level Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which analyzed an additional 4,399 wells in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area. The lack of forewarning of significant socioeconomic impacts to the infrastructure of the county is particularly troublesome. County officials currently react to these impacts after the fact rather than plan for them. The county commissioners firmly believe that they need more notice and a better understanding of potential impacts to the county.
The Phase II report currently available for comment analyzes many socioeconomic indicators including population, housing, employment, wages, unemployment, personal and household income, education, roads and transportation, crime and law enforcement, medical services, and water and sanitary waste. Particular attention is devoted to population trends, governmental revenues, and governmental expenditures.
Specifically, Phase II of the Sublette County Socioeconomic Impact Study focuses on these areas:
• Identifying and quantifying the impacts of energy development
• Determining the cost of mitigating those impacts
• Developing ongoing monitoring and mitigation strategies to refine the processes.
During the course of the Phase II Socioeconomic Impact Study, the economic situation changed in the United States. Energy companies are decreasing drilling activity nationally as well as locally. This downturn indicates potential variation in the data received during the initial stages of Phase II research, especially in the area of anticipated production and drilling schedules.
Here are a few of the key findings of the report:
• The current structure of revenue generation and distribution does not adequately fund the energy-impacted infrastructure improvements required in Sublette County.
• Energy operators in Sublette County paid approximately $1.1 billion in taxes on oil and gas production in 2008. Of these receipts, Sublette County and its municipalities directly received 5.86% or $66.4 million.
•Although Sublette County and the towns of Pinedale, Marbleton, and Big Piney have spent approximately $60.6 million over the past four years on capital improvements, more than $160 million is still needed to address currently identified projects.
• The impact of oil and gas development has had little effect on municipal income in the towns of Big Piney, Marbleton, and Pinedale. This places the towns at a distinct financial disadvantage when addressing the effects of increased population and the accompanying strain on infrastructure and services. For example, Marbleton receipts grew 82% over two decades, but this amounted to only a $24,000 increase in annual municipal revenue. In practical terms, this amount of money barely covers the annual cost of wages and benefits for a single employee.
The Phase II report discusses several methods to mitigate the lack of funding to address infrastructure impacts as a result of energy development on public lands, including:
• Make changes to Federal Mineral Royalties distribution so that funds come back to the states and to ensure that monies are directed to impacted communities.
• Establish a fund directly related to oil and gas development that specifically benefits communities or regions experiencing growth. A permanent fund could be developed so that revenues from energy development are retained for future investment and growth. Distributions are made to residents while retaining a majority of fund principal.
• Create a coalition of energy-impacted counties to be a vehicle for the exchange of ideas as well as a presence in the state legislative process.
• Consider procedural options under Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Act. Socioeconomic reporting requirements differ between ISA and the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook While similar in nature, each document has a different focus: the ISA was developed "to execute an application/permit procedure that will help protect the natural environment and quality of life within the state of Wyoming," whereas the BLM’s goal is to "understand and reconcile differing perspectives" while "balancing the competing needs, interests, and values" of the public. Given the lack of success of the BLM’s planning level and project level analysis, ISA could provide better socioeconomic requirements.
• Reallocate Wyoming state severance tax receipts so that additional funds are directed toward energy-impacted counties.