LANDER — Plans to house up to 20 employees for a proposed drilling project in the Wyoming Range were put on hold Wednesday.
Timberline Lodge Company had been scheduled to present a request today to the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission for an RV park on the company’s Sublette County property if Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) drills for natural gas in the nearby range. On Wednesday the lodging company decided to delay presenting the plan until there is more information about the drilling project, said Melanie Peterson, manager of Timberline.
The controversial drilling project is still in the proposal stage. U.S. Forest Service officials are reviewing the project and creating options for how it would go forward.
PXP wants 17 well pads and 136 natural gas wells in the Upper Hoback Basin in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The proposal as originally written triggered 60,000 public comments. When forest Supervisor Jacque Buchanan stepped into her current job in 2010, she said the project didn’t comply with the Bridger-Teton forest management plan adopted in 1991 and needed further review. All of the drilling alternatives needed forest management amendments and the public hadn’t been notified, a required step in the process.
Forest Service officials are drafting a supplement to the previously issued environmental impact statement.
Earlier this year Buchanan said at least one of the new alternatives will comply with the forest plan.
The supplemental environmental impact statement is on track to be released to the public in May, Buchanan said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Sublette County officials received about 30 comments on the lodging proposal from Timberline, said Bart Myers, planning and zoning administrator.
“That’s a lot for Sublette County,” he said.
All of the comments opposed the housing project. Most said it was too early to make a decision on housing employees when Forest Service officials hadn’t finished the drilling proposal’s public process.
“I agree with that wholeheartedly,” Myers said.
The county can’t make an informed decision about placing temporary housing if it’s unknown where access to the drilling sites will be, or even the size of the energy development, he said.
Peterson, of Timberline, said PXP wasn’t involved in the proposed temporary housing project.
Timberline already provides lodging, as well as dude ranch activities in the summer, outfitting and snowmobile rentals. One of the proposed routes to a potential drilling site borders the company’s property, which is next to Forest Service land, she said.
Timberline wants to create 10 RV spots, or several small cabins, that could house up to 20 workers, Peterson said.
Word of the proposed temporary lodging mobilized groups opposed to the drilling project.
“It’s premature,” said Dan Smitherman with Citizens for the Wyoming Range.
Before Timberline announced Wednesday it would put its project on hold, Smitherman issued an email to group members urging them to attend today’s meeting or to send comments to the county planning office.
Smitherman said he is aware of the fact that if the drilling project moves forward, there will be man camps in the area. But those plans should only be put into motion after the drilling project is approved, he said.
The PXP proposal is so hotly contested, Timberline Lodge Company wanted to start early on its proposal, Peterson said.
The proposal was “blown out of proportion,” she added.
Peterson said Wednesday’s postponement wasn’t a sign of giving in to the opposition.
The company plans to make its proposal once the Forest Service releases more information about the drilling project.
“I totally expect a battle,” she said.