The U.S. Forest Service will take another look at a controversial plan by a Houston-based company to drill 136 wells in a portion of the Wyoming Range in west-central Wyoming.
The agency will conduct an additional environmental study and seek public input on an alternate plan for development. The new alternative would limit the project’s road density and require some of its infrastructure be moved.
Plains Exploration & Production Co., or PXP, has requested approval to drill on its federal oil- and gas-leased land in the Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin of the Hoback Rim area south of Bondurant.
The Forest Service made the decision after it received 60,000 comments from the public on its draft environmental impact statement for the project.
“After looking at the comments, I decided to supplement the analysis with an additional alternative,” Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Jacque Buchanan said in a media release. “It is important for me to consider these possibilities in the analysis before I can make a decision on their proposal.”
The federal agency expects to release the final version of its environmental impact statement by early next year. The final version is required before the company can begin drilling.
The PXP leases were issued in 1994 and the federal analysis began in 2005, making the project one of the “most heavily analyzed public lands projects in Wyoming,” PXP spokesman Ed Memi said in an emailed comment.
“A tremendous amount of public resources have been spent reviewing this project for the past six years, and we believe it is appropriate to get a final decision out so the next steps in the process can move forward,” he said. “PXP remains confident that the project can be done in an environmentally sound manner with a minimal amount of disturbance necessary.”
Dan Smitherman is spokesman for Citizens for the Wyoming Range. He said his group and others still hope to buy out and permanently retire PXP’s leases, and he hopes this latest federal decision will encourage the company to negotiate.
He and his group support the Forest Service’s decision and its willingness to listen to comments and concerns about the project.
“There were just too many new factors, too many problems and too many flaws with the project that the Forest Service really had no option except to go back to the drawing board and give it a more critical look,” he said.