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Amy Mall’s Blog

Eastern Wyoming: one last wild area being destroyed

Amy Mall

Posted June 15, 2011 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Most of the Powder River Basin in eastern Wyoming is far from its original wild state; instead it is pockmarked with thousands of coalbed methane wells, and criss-crossed with associated roads and industrial facilities. Nestled within the Powder River Basin, however, is the Fortification Creek Area--the last pristine oasis in the Basin. The Fortification Creek region provides critical winter range and calving grounds for an isolated prairie elk herd of only 230 animals, and more development could decimate the herd. The Fortification Creek Area is also home to pronghorn, prairie falcons, sage grouse, bobcats, mountain lions, and over 200 species of migratory birds.

NRDC has been working for years with our local partners in Wyoming--the Powder River Basin Resource Council--to protect the Fortification Creek area from irresponsible natural gas development. For some reason, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is determined to allow intensive natural gas development in the area, to the extent that it is flouting the law and approving more development without first conducting a thorough review of all of the potential environmental impacts. And it is doing this even though many wells in the area have been shut down due to low natural gas prices. NRDC is working with our partners to get the BLM to go back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, we are very concerned about reports we've heard from the field that there is extensive new industrial development in the Fortification elk herd's habitat, and that the oil and gas companies are violating the BLM's rules, leading to significant environmental damage. There is concern that neither the liner nor the contents of waste pits that may contain toxic waste have been propertly disposed of or reclaimed, severe dust is generating air pollution, soil erosion is occurring in fragile habitat that should have been reseeded, and garbage is being left on public lands.

The BLM should first ensure strict enforcement of all laws before approving new development. If the agency does not have the resources to fully enforce its rules, how can it oversee more development? This scenario sounds too much like western Wyoming, where the BLM is reviewing plans for thousands of new gas wells at the same time that the current natural gas production operations are not able to comply with air quality standards. Given the increasing evidence of the environmental harms being caused by oil and gas development, we urge the BLM to ensure the best standards are in place and are being adhered to, instead of minimizing environmental review and allowing our public lands to be trashed, as can be seen in the photo below:

Fort Creek dust.jpg

Photo credit: Powder River Basin Resource Council, used with permission

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Comments

Richard ZanderJun 16 2011 03:33 PM

Your article is disingenuous. You cite reports from the field but give no credible facts of actual occurences or violations. The picture you show appears to be a county road that is crowned, ditched and has a gravel surface. Yes, it gets dry in Wyoming and when it does the roads get dusty. To state that a belly dump truck going up a county road which BLM has no control over is trashing the environment is highly irresponsible.

ShannonJun 16 2011 04:32 PM

Richard, actually the road in the picture is a recently created road for drilling operations in the southern portion of the Fortification Creek elk herd's yearlong range. It is clearly covered within the scope of the dust suppressant conditions of approval that apply to the permits. If you would like to know more, don't hesitate to contact Powder River Basin Resource Council at the office at 307-672-5809. You probably have the number from your days at the BLM.

deegee jayJun 16 2011 06:02 PM

Don't worry Richard nobody believes opinion articles that are 100% anecdotal.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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