BTNF signs expanded option for Riley Ridge

Approval for the Forest

Service’s smaller portion of the proposed

Riley Ridge Development Project, with a

new pipeline section and expansion of an

existing abandoned gas well in the plans,

was announced on Aug. 1 by the Big Piney

Ranger District.

District Ranger Don Kranendonk signed

the final decision and finding of no significant

impact and explained why he chose

and amended Alternative 3 over the proposed

Alternative 1.

The Forest Service’s environmental assessment

of the Riley Ridge project, proposed

by Denbury Onshore about 19 miles

west of Big Piney, was released on May

11, 2017, after the initial scoping comment

period that closed in April 2014.

Only objection comments submitted

in that time period would be eligible for

the protest period. Although some sent in

objections and comments to the overall,

Wyoming’s Trout Unlimited was the only

one to do so after the FS’s draft EA came

out in 2017.

The BLM approved its much larger portion

of the project on Jan. 2, 2018.

“The Forest Service is required to issue

a decision separate from the BLM concerning

the existing well and road and

proposed pipeline route on the forest,” said

the 2017 document.

Concerns included air and water quality,

wildlife and aquatic species including

the Colorado cutthroat trout, fugitive dust,

noxious weeds and cultural resources such

as the Lander Cut-Off of the Oregon National

Historic Trail.

On Aug. 1, the BTNF said, “(District

Ranger) Kranendonk addressed all concerns

resulting from the objection process

before making his decision. This includes

additional resource protection measures

necessary to reduce resource impacts and

allow for the project to move ahead.”

In his final decision, Kranendonk wrote

that he “decided to implement a variation

of Alternative 3 as it pertains to surface

use of the national forest.”

It adds slightly more pipeline corridor

to the forest’s portion than Denbury proposed,

he noted, and implementing “operational

constraints … designed to minimize

effects, particularly those to wildlife.”

He removed a requirement for the wells

to close from Nov. 15 through April 30,


“The Alternative 3 pipeline route was

developed in coordination with the BLM

as a means to allow development of existing

oil and gas leases while reducing the

length of pipeline installed on steep slopes

and while mitigating impacts to visual.

resources on a landscape scale,” he said.

The rebuilt well pad and facilities will

be hidden by an “earthen mound” to camouflage

it from the nearby Lander Road.

He decided to let the wells function in

winter because the BLM determined they

must remain open for methane and helium

recovery for Denbury to “stay operational.”

“Removal of this measure does not

cause undue harm to wildlife because the

wildlife constraint period still applies to

construction and the decision limits winter

maintenance and production activity

at the (well) 12-43 location to one heavy

truck trip and two light truck trips every

two weeks.”

He referred to federal and state agencies’

rules as guiding many aspects of the

project. For example, signs will be posted

about nearby hydrogen sulfide operations

and reclamation and revegetation would

reduce long-term impacts to crucial elk

and moose winter range, Kranendonk


A biological assessment shows little

adverse impact to Canada lynx or grizzly

bears as species, although when the

BTNF’s draft EA came out, Greater Yellowstone

Ecosystem grizzlies were under

state management. After being relisted last

October, Kranendonk agreed with the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM that

the project is “not likely to adversely affect

the species.”

The Colorado cutthroat fish species is

not under a Forest Service umbrella and

the project is expected to “adversely affect

(the species) due to the project’s 15.5 acrefeet/

year water depletion.” In its biological

opinion, FWS said, “The depletion fee for

this project is waived (at or less than 100


Designing “aboveground facilities (can)

minimize adverse visual effects although

the valid existing rights predate the current

forest plan and do not contain visual

standards and stipulations,” he wrote.

“The stipulations on existing leases will

be brought into line with current policies

if they become subject to discretionary actions

such as suspension or reinstatement.”

In closing, the decision said, “The decision

represents Forest Service approval

of the surface use plan of operations as

modified and conditioned herein. It does

not constitute final authorization of surface

disturbance. Implementation of the Forest

Service portion may occur once the Forest

Service has approved sundry notices and

right-of-way applications.”

District Ranger Kranendonk’s decision

letter, finding of no significant impact,

BTNF’s EA and other relevant documents

are posted at


Back story

The Riley Ridge project in the South

Piney Creek drainage falls outside of the

2009 Wyoming Range Legacy Act because

it expands an existing operation on

current leases.

In 2014, the overall Riley Ridge project

outlined the complete scope of development

– five new carbon dioxide, helium

and methane wells, four new well pads and

associated infrastructure.

Four wells will be on federal land – Forest

Service and Bureau of Land Management

– and one on state land on a total

disturbance of 20.4 acres over seven years.

New pipelines would connect all five new

wells and two existing wells to the Riley

Ridge methane and helium recovery plant.


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