Preserving Wildlife and Habitat in the PAPA
Public presentation by Ultra Resources, Shell and Questar natural gas companies
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
January 18, 2010
Representatives from Ultra Resources, Shell and Questar natural gas companies gave a presentation to the public in Pinedale on Monday evening, January 18th at the Pinedale Library. The purpose of the meeting was to give an update on what the companies are doing to preserve wildlife and habitat in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) south of Pinedale.
The companies have been required by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take certain measures to reduce impacts on wildlife and habitat as part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision (SEIS ROD) signed in September 2008. They have also voluntarily done a number of other measures, and contributed millions of dollars, to work towards reducing impacts.
Below are highlights of topics discussed at this meeting:
The three operators have voluntarily supported research and studies of pronghorn, mule deer and sage grouse habitat and behaviors. Their contributions towards wildlife and vegetation studies to date are more than $4.9 million. Annual contributions for wildlife monitoring and mitigation will continue based on wells developed, up to a maximum limit of $36 million over the life of the field. Results of PAPA wildlife studies can be found on the web at this site: http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/field_offices/Piendale/anticline.html
The past three years have shown increasing winter use of the PAPA by mule deer. Liquids Gathering Systems appear to be beneficial in reducing impacts to mule deer by eliminating truck traffic and human activity in areas used by wintering mule deer. Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc (WEST Inc) has been doing a mule deer study on the PAPA. First year results are expected by late spring of this year.
Results from ongoing studies by the Wildlife Conservation Society indicate that most pronghorn appear to be unaffected by gas drilling in the study areas and they are not avoiding areas of drilling activity. Wildlife researchers from Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc are currently doing a pronghorn study which has two more years to go. Their 4th year report should be in sometime in the next couple of months.
Sage grouse studies suggest they are avoiding and spending less time in habitats near natural gas development areas associated with relatively high levels of activity, however they are not avoiding areas near well pads with LGS, suggesting piping liquids off-site prior to collection may reduce impacts to these birds.
Studies on pygmy rabbits appear to indicate these animals appear to be very abundant. Pygmy rabbit sign has been present in 90% of all the places where researchers have looked for them in the PAPA.
Some of the measures that are being done now to try and reduce impacts to wildlife and the environment in the PAPA include:
1. Development Areas (DAs) – Gas companies are coordinating their drilling efforts into designated areas in the PAPA for year-round development. DAs allow the companies to concentrate their activities and timing in specified areas leaving large blocks of contiguous habitat undisturbed and available to big game and their migration corridors and sage grouse habitat.
2. Directional Drilling – In combination with clustering wells onto a single pad, directional drilling has resulted in many fewer pads and roads needed for drilling activity. This method has allowed 100 fewer needed well pads in the PAPA and 70% fewer roads to fully develop the field, leading to less habitat disturbance.
3. Liquids Gathering System (LGS) – The LGS is a network of buried pipelines that transports gas product, condensate and produced water from the wells to processing areas, thus eliminating the need for truck visits to the wells to transport these liquids and reducing human visits and activity within areas of wildlife concerns. Questar’s LGS system went online in 2005 eliminating more than 75,000 truck trips. Ultra and Shell are currently installing their LGS network. Once all three LGS systems are in place, it is expected it will help eliminate 165,000 truck trips in the PAPA related to well drilling and production activity.
4. Reclamation – The companies are required to reclaim disturbed areas resulting from their drilling activity. Vegetation specialists have been doing habitat studies and experimenting with various seed mixtures and planting techniques to determine the best methods for reestablishing plant communities on disturbed areas. Operators have funded extensive monitoring activities to determine what has worked and what hasn’t. They are actively modifying their reclamation plans based on what they learn from their studies to find the best seed mixes, planting techniques and timing to produce the best results. Ongoing studies and monitoring have shown that sage grouse and big game are using the reclamation areas.
5. Pinedale Anticline Livestock and Agriculture Mitigation Fund – Ultra, Shell and Questar voluntarily created this fund to compensate livestock operators for impacts from development activities (for instance, if a cow gets hit and killed by a gas field truck). The operators contribute to the fund annually and are committed to a maximum of $1.2 million over the life of the fund, which is expected to last 15 years.
Pete Guernsey, ecologist/biologist from Questar, said the Pinedale Anticline Project Office was set up to distribute the funds collected from the operators for wildlife monitoring and mitigation. This fund is used for studies of the impacts of natural gas drilling activity on mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse, raptors, pygmy rabbits and prairie dog research.
Cally McKee, Senior Regulatory Coordinator with Ultra Resources, said the companies are working cooperatively with the Bureau of Land Management and Wyoming Game and Fish to preserve wildlife values. She said year-round drilling has allowed the companies to keep their equipment and crews on hand so they are more efficient and productive, which has resulted in time needed to drill a well being reduced from an average of 70 days to less than 20 days per well.
Jim Sewell, Senior Staff Environmental Engineer with Shell Rocky Mountain Production, said their reclamation efforts are aimed at stabilization and reestablishing native plants that have value to wildlife species in the area. They do both interim reclamation and final reclamation at the end of the well project. They also do reclamation along the buried pipeline corridors. Their extensive testing and experimentation has allowed them to refine seed mixes and planting timing to continually improve their methods and results.
Natural gas drilling activity impacts on wildlife and habitat have been a contentious topic as the drilling activity has increased in the PAPA over the past ten years. In the past, there was considerable public outcry for the operators and BLM to change how management was being done to better protect wildlife populations and habitat. About 30 people attended this meeting, including the representatives from the three gas companies, with many empty seats in the audience. During the question and answer sessions, no member of the public gave any comments saying they felt the current measures being done to protect wildlife are still inadequate. There was no one present representing any wildlife or environmental group that spoke out saying they felt more needed to be done, beyond what is already being done, to protect wildlife species or habitat in the PAPA.
It is not clear whether this meeting represents a local community attitude shift that the public and environmental groups are now relatively satisfied with the measures being taken by operators and the BLM to protect wildlife and habitat in the PAPA, or if those who might still be dissatisfied just didn’t attend this meeting to speak out on their views.
Wildlife studies (mule deer, pronghorn, sagegrouse) PAPA Operators
Influence of well pad activity on the winter habitat selection patterns of mule deer. Journal of Wildlife Management By Sawyer, H., M. J. Kauffman, and R. M. Nielson. 2009. (PDF 982K)
Study Shows Pronghorn Antelope Coexisting with Gas Wells at Current Development Levels Wildlife Conservation Society, August 2007
Wildlife and Energy Development: Pronghorn of the Upper Green River Basin, Year 3 Summary Wildlife Conservation Society, July 2008
Greater Sage-grouse Winter Habitat Selection in the Upper Green River Basin, Wyoming - Wyoming Wildlife Consultants, LLC, Draft Annual Report, December 2007
2009 Sage Grouse Monitoring Report KC Harvey Inc, June, 2009
Sage Grouse Noise Monitoring Report KC Harvey Inc, August, 2009
Pinedale Anticline Drilling Escalation Upper Green River Valley Coalition
Record of Decision for the Pinedale Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Project Environmental Impact Statement
Pinedale Anticline Project Area Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
PAPA Record of Decision
PAPA SEIS Record of Decision Implementation
Pinedale Anticline Working Group (PAWG) Bureau of Land Management