American Oil and Gas Reporter - August 2017 - 108

ConventionSection: Petroleum Association of Wyoming

Wyoming Producers Hopeful
About Sage Grouse Shift
By Dan Larson
Special Correspondent

CASPER, WY.-A new approach to
federal protections for the greater sage
grouse is offering glimmers of hope to
oil and gas operators in Wyoming, a key
state in developing conservation programs,
according to leaders of the Petroleum
Association of Wyoming.
A June order signed by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
called for a fast-track review of existing
federal regulations. The review will examine how state and local governments
can be included and how consideration
can be given to local economic impacts
and job creation, DOI says.
PAW says it welcomes Zinke's action
while withholding an evaluation until the
review is complete. Discussion of the
new approach to sage grouse conservation
will be among the key topics discussed
at the association's 2017 Annual Convention and Trade Show. This year, the
event will be held Aug. 15-16 at the
Ramkota Hotel in Casper.
Among other issues up for discussion,
PAW executives say, are migration corridors, cultural resource surveys, tax
policy improvements, revisions to the
state's oil and natural gas regulations,
and the state's efforts to identify problematic operators. But with Wyoming's
long experience and influential policies
on sage grouse conservation, the federal
review of how to protect the grounddwelling bird probably will lead the discussion, they say.
Wyoming "belongs at the table," while
the federal program is under review, maintains PAW Vice President of Public Lands
Esther Wagner. In 2008, then-Governor
David Freudenthal, along with Wyoming
stakeholders, developed a model sage
grouse conservation program, she describes. The state's Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a 24-member task force
formally organized by Freudenthal and
led by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural
Resource Trust, oversees implementation
of the conservation program, which is
contained in the executive order Freuden-

thal originally issued in 2008 and which
was reaffirmed and updated by Governor
Matt Mead in 2015, Wagner notes.
"We have asked many times that when
DOI looks at changing its sage grouse
regulations, it consider how they align
with the governor's executive order,"
Wagner says.
During the review committee meetings
in July, telephone calls from some of
those attending the meetings were coming
into her office, she recalls. "The sessions
sounded pretty intense," she describes.
"We don't know where they are headed,
but in conversations I have had with
folks at DOI, it is clear there is a new,
pro-business atmosphere in Washington.
"There was a regulatory momentum
built up from the previous administration
that will take some time to overcome, but
now you can see the turnaround in the
department's approach," Wagner observes.
"The change is really quite refreshing."

Migration Corridor
In December, the state Game and Fish
Department formally designated what it
refers to as "a crucial mule deer migration
corridor" that stretches more than 300
miles across Wyoming from the Red
Desert near Rock Springs to Pinedale and
on to the Hoback River near Jackson.
The designation allows the department
to conduct a risk assessment of the corridor
and "develop proactive management plans
to conserve and enhance the area within,"
WGFD states. Doing so means the state
can comment on federal surface projects
"based on the best available science."
PAW was a member of the committee
that advised WGFD on a process for
wildlife corridors designation that applied
scientific principles and economics, Wagner
reports. Although the corridor had not been
formally identified in the past, the industry
"was not disputing by any means that the
corridor existed," she explains. "We wanted
to help them understand the science and
the impacts of formal designation."
Working with the University of
Wyoming's Migration Initiative, the department says it has collected "an unprecedented volume of data" from GPS-

108 THE AMERICAN OIL & GAS REPORTER

fitted collars on migrating mule deer.
"With such a robust and high-quality
data set, researchers were able to determine
the length and width of migration corridors
throughout the Sublette Herd," describes
Scott Smith, deputy director of WGFD's
external operations

Tracking 'Bad Apples'
The OGCC has revealed it is considering
a staff policy that asks operators to report
past business or operational failures as a
means of reducing the incidence of orphaned
oil and gas wells and related facilities. A
proposal to track "bad apples," according
to a published report, surfaced during an
OGCC hearing in February, when commissioners ordered a well shut-in until the
operator complied with orders to test or
plug its remaining, out-of-service wells.
The press account indicates its review
of state records show 4,480 Wyoming
wells have been orphaned since 2014, with
only 1,560 plugged by the end of 2016.
The majority of those were Powder River
Basin coalbed methane wells, it notes.
The commission can hold a seller's
bond for six months while it considers
the buyer's financial strength and operational history, according to an OGCC
spokeswoman. If the well is not producing
an economic return, she is quoted, the
commission can demand an increased
bond or order the well plugged.
She goes on to say that providing the
commission with information on the operator's background allows the state to
secure additional protections before issuing
a permit. However, the policy change
does not preclude the operator from working in Wyoming.

Cause For Optimism
PAW President Bruce Hinchey says
Wyoming oil and gas producers seem to
have a bit more spring in their step lately,
and can cite a few reasons why. After
nearly seven years of review, a draft environmental impact statement for the
Jonah Field finally has been published.
Meanwhile, reports of early success
drilling into the Niobrara formation in
the southern Power River Basin are cir-



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