For Immediate Release
April 13, 2006

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Appeal to protect the land, wildlife challenges dense drilling in Jonah Field

LARAMIE – An appeal was filed today in an effort to rein in a BLM plan to allow wells to be drilled at unprecedented densities in western Wyoming’s Jonah Field. Last month, the BLM had approved the drilling of 64 to 128 wells per square mile in the field, which would make it the densest gas field in the history of the United States. The project would entail the bulldozing of two-thirds of a vast land area to make way for roads and drilling sites, leaving behind only a ragged remnant of sagebrush habitat between the well pads that would not be able to support even the smallest of native wildlife.

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"I know what the desert was like fifty years ago and I know what has happened to it,” said Gordon Johnston, a longtime resident of the area who used to cowboy in the Jonah area before it became a gas field. “There is no way that any government agency or commercial entity can reclaim that big, wonderful country. It saddens me."

The appeal could set an important precedent for oil and gas development under the BLM’s obligation to “prevent unnecessary or undue degradation” to lands and resources under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and have implications for other “infill” drilling projects, such as the BP proposal to add 7,700 new wells to existing fields in Wyoming’s Red Desert..

“Because of the huge geographic areas in all five Rocky Mountain that contain tight gas formations, what you're seeing in the Jonah Field is a good preview of what you may see all over the Rocky Mountain West on a horizon to horizon basis,” said Bob Elderkin, a retired BLM official who formerly worked on Wyoming oil and gas permitting. “The frenzied tight gas and coal bed methane exploration, if allowed to continue as it is presently going, will result in more surface disturbance in the next 20-30 years than has occurred in the five Rocky Mountain States in the last 200 years.”

“We haven’t valued sagebrush country in the past, and now many kinds of sagebrush wildlife are in trouble,” said Erin Robertson, Staff Biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “We’re already losing pronghorn antelope and sage grouse in the Jonah Field. We can’t allow the drilling to become so dense that even small animals like the pygmy rabbit and sensitive sagebrush songbirds cannot survive.”

The appeal seeks a limited stay of drilling activities outside of existing well pads, but would allow EnCana to continue to drill directional wells from pads that already dot the field.

“We’re not trying to shut down drilling in the Jonah Field,” said Suzanne Lewis, Conservation Advocate for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “We just want the gas industry to do it right, minimizing unnecessary destruction by drilling from the existing wellpads using directional drilling. EnCana can still get all the gas using directional drilling without totally destroying the environment.  This request is so reasonable and so easy for industry to comply with, it’s incredible that the BLM isn’t already requiring it.”

The appeal was brought by Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Center for Native Ecosystems. Additional resources are posted on the web at /general/news/JonahInfillProject.html.


Contact Information

Bob Elderkin, Retired BLM oil and gas official, (970) 876-2295
Gordon Johnston, long-time resident and cowboy in the Jonah area, (307) 859-8647
Suzanne Lewis, Conservation Advocate, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 742-7978
Erin Robertson, Staff Ecologist, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214

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