Wyoming Range bill is not just another federal land lockup

When the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent 45 public land, forest, park and water bills to the floor on May 7, the measures included a bill to close 1.2 million federal acres in Wyoming to future oil and gas leasing.

May 16th, 2008

When the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent 45 public land, forest, park and water bills to the floor on May 7, the measures included a bill to close 1.2 million federal acres in Wyoming to future oil and gas leasing.

"Natural gas prices are up 48% over this time last year and consumers could pay as much as $85.9 billion more for gas in 2008 versus 2007. At a time when every homeowner, farmer and manufacturer is suffering from high energy costs, this is not the time for Congress to withdraw access to large amounts of natural gas," said Paul N. Cicio, president of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

But S. 2229 has the support of the Cowboy State's two US senators, Republicans John Barrasso and Mike Enzi; its governor, Democrat Dave Freudenthal, and many others there because it involves a mountain range that is 100 miles long, 12,000 feet high and named for the state.

It also is a bill that Barrasso's predecessor, Craig L. Thomas, was spearheading before he died on June 4, 2007. "This legislation [which] Craig Thomas was ready to introduce the week he passed goes to the very heart and soul of Wyoming," Barrasso said when he introduced the measure on Oct. 25.

'Simply too special'

After the bill passed the committee on May 7, he said that he promised voters that he would continue Thomas's work to preserve the Wyoming Range. "I strongly support oil and gas development in our state, but I also believe that some places are simply too special to develop," he said.

Barrasso said that S. 2229 respects current leaseholders' property rights in the Wyoming Range and Bridger-Teton National Forest by allowing other parties, presumably conservation groups, to buy the leases and retire them. It does not prevent future production from current leases, he emphasized.

Approximately 4,300 producing oil and gas wells in the three counties covered by the legislation and 4,399 more wells which are proposed would not be affected, Barrasso added.

Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States Executive Director Marc W. Smith often reminds me that IPAMS members are avid fishermen and sportsmen. So I asked for his reaction to the bill.

Abundant in energy too

"IPAMS recognizes the sensitivity of the Wyoming Range and the special place it holds for the people of Wyoming. In addition to being abundant in beauty, it also is prospectively abundant in critical energy resources the country," he responded.

As a general matter, IPAMS is very concerned about removing areas from future production, he continued. It also recognizes that Barrasso made some important changes in response to industry concerns, Smith said.

"The bill provides voluntary, not mandatory, options for leaseholders and allows for continued activity and potential growth in existing producing fields. These are critically important provisions," he said.

Smith said that the next step is to identify areas appropriate for energy development and places which are most critical to protect in the Wyoming Range.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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