The Jonah Field: A Disaster for Wyoming

Jonah Field; courtesy EcoFlight
Photo courtesy of EcoFlight

Why is the Jonah Field Worth Fighting?

The Upper Green River Valley is noted for its picture-postcard scenery, outdoor recreation, and world-class wildlife. Herds of pronghorn antelope and occasional mule deer, as well as many other species of wildlife, call this landscape home. The valley is a major stronghold for the sage grouse, although its numbers have dwindled steadily in recent decades. In the midst of this spectacular scenery lies the Jonah Field, one of Wyoming’s hottest gas plays.

Jonah Field Fact Sheet:
Poster Child for Drilling Gone Wrong
Encana Natural Gas:
Communication Techniques to Minimize Opposition


Progression of Jonah
Field Destruction

(Click on picture to see the large image)
courtesy SkyTruth
courtesy SkyTruth
courtesy SkyTruth

Due to the unique geology found here, the underground stores of natural gas are highly concentrated in a relatively small area. Below an area covering 33,000 surface acres are 10.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. At current market prices, the gas is Jonah will bring the oil industry between 42 and 65 billion dollars. Drilling the entire field will cost $6 billion, or $6.6 billion if the whole field is drilled directionally.

There are already 500 wells in the Jonah Field, at a density of 16 wells per square mile. With its tangled webs of roads, pipelines, and drilling sites, the destruction is already so severe that the Jonah Field has become the nation’s poster child for drilling gone wrong.

Industrial interests argue that the mineral riches beneath Jonah justify sacrificing the public lands on the surface. Since the Jonah Field has already been substantially degraded, and the mineral deposits are so rich, why bother fighting over adding another 3,100 wells in Jonah to reach a density of 64 per square mile?

At issue is whether or not the industry should be allowed to completely destroy lands and habitats in its quest for gas, or whether they should be required to develop the gas with the smallest possible impact. There are good alternatives to the proposed maximum-impact drilling in Jonah: State-of-the-art technology such as directional drilling can recover the oil and gas reserves with a tiny fraction of the footprint. Currently, as many as 32 wells can be clustered on a single well-pad, drilled directionally to drain the surrounding gas reservoirs.

If this approach had been used from the start in Jonah, the gas could have been produced from only 115 well sites, a small fraction of the number found in Jonah today.

It is no surprise that industry prefers to use the easiest and cheapest methods to extract oil and gas. Indeed, any executive could argue that this approach makes prudent business sense. But what if you were in the oil and gas business and you anticipated reaping average profits of $4.5 million per well and you were drilling 3,100 wells? Would it be unreasonable then to require industry to spend a small fraction of those profits to reduce impacts to our lands and wildlife?

Bulldozing 3,100 unnecessary wellpads and 450 miles of unnecessary roads causes unnecessary and undue degradation” to an already fragile and fragmented landscape and environment.  The BLM must by law prevent the unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands and resources. This is defined as “impacts greater than those that would normally be expected from an activity being accomplished in compliance with current standards and regulations and based on sound practices, including use of the best reasonably available technology.”

It is clear that the impacts of the Jonah Infill will be much greater than conventional gas development, due to the excessive number of wellpads, roads and facilities. In addition, the proposed Jonah drilling avoids the most modern technology—directional drilling and clustered wellpads—technology that has been widely used for decades.

The Jonah Field is already a model of excess, and compounding the mistakes of the past by increasing the well density sevenfold would completely destroy the land. Biodiversity Conservation Alliance stands ready to fight for better ways of getting the Jonah gas – with directional drilling. And we aim to make sure that this level of destruction never happens again.

Photo: BCA
Photo: BCA


More information, go to the following Bio Broadcast articles:
Disastrous Jonah Decision Appealed (May 2006)
Bulldoze Paradise, Put in a Parking Lot (April 2006)
Study Shows Massive Gas- Field Impact on Sage Grouse (March 2006)
BLM Waives Restrictions, Endangers Wildlife in Pinedale (December 2005)
Year-Round Drilling on the Pinedale Anticline (October 2005)
Scorched Earth Drilling in the Jonah Field (April 2005)


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Biodiversity Conservation Alliance
P.O. Box 1512, Laramie, WY 82073
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