SUBLETTE COUNTY – Parties objecting to forest officials’ April draft decision that True Oil’s exploratory drilling in the Lander Peak Area would have “no significant impact” are not alleviated by official responses to the issues they cited.
But a large problem they and many others perceived about one element of True Oil’s exploratory plan – to drill a new water well next to South Cottonwood Creek – was resolved with a nearby rancher’s offer for True Oil to get project water from his property instead.
In fact, a solution came from one of the four parties formally objecting to Big Piney District Ranger Donald Kranendonk’s “finding of no significant impact” or FONSI for the Wyoming Range project.
“Adjoining landowner (large ranch) and objector Jim Finley offered to provide water rather than drill an additional well,” confirmed Mary Cernicek, spokesperson for Bridger-Teton National Forest. “The offer was made at the Aug. 1 field trip and was accepted by True Oil.”
Others objecting were neighboring Cottonwood Ranch’s Freddie Botur, Trout Unlimited and the Wyoming Outdoor Council with The Wilderness Society and Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
In his Jan. 31 response to their objections’ to the FONSI announcement in April, BTNF Deputy Supervisor Derek Ibarguen listed their issues, BTNF’s responses and new instructions to Kranendonk to amend parts of his upcoming final decision.
McGee’s vision of the best possible outcome?
“I’d encourage True to consider voluntarily retiring the field. It would be a tremendous legacy Diemer True and his family could give our state – not to expand its operations in the Wyoming Range.”
Objections included lack of a master development plan, danger to Colorado cutthroat and other fish; the new water well’s location; underestimated water use and quality, dust and truck traffic; pipeline capacity and spill containment.
After several meetings last year with Finley, Botur, Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Lisa McGee and True Oil, Ibarguen noted, “You replied indicating that my resolution offer would not result in resolution of your objections. Because you have indicated the actions do not resolve your objections, I am proceeding with issuing this response letter as required.”
It’s the end of the line for any more formalities and comments.
“It was a series of offers to address our concerns in the objection resolution process,” McGee explained. “We didn’t think they went far enough. … I’d say the Forest Service chose to respond to some aspects of the objections, but clearly didn’t respond to others. It’s up to the objectors whether that decision is acceptable.”
BTNF officials now move on to the final decision, according to McGee, who is disappointed with the results.
“This is about a company with one of the poorest environmental track records in the industry seeking to expand its operations in one of the most important native cutthroat trout fisheries habitat in all of Wyoming,” McGee said of True Oil. “The Forest Service and (Bureau of Land Management) should have required True Oil to commit to stronger safeguards. True Oil has not agreed to anything but ‘business as usual’ and that’s not good enough in the Wyoming Range.”
True’s project area was not included in the Wyoming Range Legacy Act; the two Lander Peak exploratory wells the company proposes drilling would encroach on the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek, according to Botur.
“Our main concerns as landowners are that our ranches are not just about agricultural values; they also have recreational values,” he said.
“True has a bad reputation for accidents and spills and that would threaten our recreational values – it’s not a simple cleanup when you contaminate a blue-ribbon fishery like South Cottonwood,” he said, adding drilling would take place within 500 feet of “critical mountain headwaters for Colorado cutthroat trout.”
He pointed out that narrow roads to Red Castle Divide that True proposes using to access its exploratory wells are impassable in places.
“There’s no way to have two-way traffic,” said Botur. “It has to be one way to let a pickup truck pass.”
Botur has serious concerns about semis and pump trucks tipping and spilling fluids and chemicals. He recalled a similar fatal accident with a Halliburton truck a number of years ago.
McGee sent True Oil’s history of spills and illegal dumping to the Forest Service as part of her organizations’ calls for safety and rigorous oversight.
“Given its companies’ history of spills and other violations in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota that have threatened human health and polluted water, True Oil needs to do more to ensure its operations won’t result in damage to streams and fisheries,” she said.
Finley calculated concerns about traffic and dust control – “… Water loads for dust control are grossly understated. Frac sand and water volumes are grossly understated.”
Botur also pointed to “undercalculated logistics and figures that are alarming” for truck trips, pipeline capacity and produced water “in such a pristine and remote area.”
All four objected to the Forest Service’s only looking at a two-well scenario after True Oil pulled its full-field development proposal away from the agency.
“And we objected that the Forest Service nowhere in the analysis addressed True’s track record of spills and violations. Neither of these issues were one’s the FS was willing to address. From the very first meeting, the FS was adamant that it wasn’t interested in doing more analysis. That they would fix inaccuracies (and there were many, e.g. truck trips, volume of frack fluid, etc.), but not address omissions (like spills).”
Cernicek’s press release and Ibarguen’s letter clarify the BTNF will only look at the current two-well proposal and take anything further as it comes.
The Jan. 31 response calls for Big Piney District Ranger Kranendonk to undertake revised analyses and add conditions of approval for truck traffic, water for dust control, aquatic invasive species controls, increased acre-feet water depletions, frac tanks and spill containment, a third-party contractor to monitor surface and groundwater, invasive weed cleaning areas, and for True Oil to work maintain safe road standards.
To read all project documents about True Oil’s Lander Peak Area proposal, objections and responses, go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=31165.