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CHEYENNE -- A soon-to-be-released draft plan to allow up to 136 new gas wells in the Wyoming Range is raising concern in Gov. Dave Freudenthal's office.

The governor wants Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Co. to agree to a "very high bar" to offset habitat loss and other environmental consequences of the Eagle Prospect/Noble Basin project, Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Lance said.

"As the draft stands right now, I think we are going to have some significant problems with it," Lance said Thursday.

The drilling is set to be the first inside the boundaries set by the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. The law signed by President Barack Obama last year prohibits new drilling leases on 1.2 million acres in the western Wyoming mountain range.

Companies with existing leases in area -- such as PXP, which acquired the Eagle Prospect/Noble Basin leases a few miles south of Bondurant in 2005 -- have retained the right to drill following the usual federal review.

Bridger-Teton National Forest plans to release a draft environmental impact statement for the PXP project in a week or two. The governor's office got an early look at the document as a cooperating agency.

Lance declined to list the governor's specific concerns before the document comes out but said industry in Wyoming has a record of mitigating lost habitat by protecting habitat elsewhere.

"The question is, what does the company proffer back to alleviate those concerns and make the project more acceptable?" he said.

PXP already has demonstrated commitment to environmental protection, company spokesman Scott Winters said Friday.

In 2007, he said, PXP voluntarily withdrew plans to explore for gas on the leases, then spent the next two years on an expanded environmental review.

"PXP has a proven track record of successfully implementing mitigation measures and will be in full compliance with any mitigations identified and justified through the scientific analysis," Winters added.

Environmentalists are worried about mule deer.

A report this fall showed the lowest number of mule deer on the Pinedale Anticline gas field last winter in at least nine years. Some of those deer spend the summer on the proposed PXP project area in the upper Hoback River drainage.

"Certainly, when the leases were issued in the mid-1990s, we weren't seeing these declines. So these are changed circumstances that are going to affect the conditions that they place on the project approval," said Lisa Dardy McGee, national forests and parks program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

The draft document's release will open a 90-day public comment period on the plan.

Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Nan Stinson said forest planners take into account wildlife populations and migration routes, and the mule deer report will be factored in.


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