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True Oil will likely be permitted to look for natural gas in a largely no-drill area of public lands in the Wyoming Range of western Wyoming.

The exploratory drilling, associated infrastructure and road development in the Bridger-Teton National Forest could begin as early as this year, pending a final decision from the U.S. Forest Service expected this month.

The agency published a list of stipulations for approval Friday, each a response to pushback from locals and environmental groups.

If the Forest Service greenlights exploration, and True finds gas that is economic to drill, the company would still have to seek federal approval to fully develop the area.

New oil and gas development is generally not allowed in the region thanks to a 2009 act of Congress sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso. The Wyoming Range Legacy Act withdrew public lands in the area from future development. A U.S. Forest Service Management Plan in the area excluded nearly 40,000 acres from new leasing.

But existing leases remained valid.

True has maintained production on three leases since 1982. It has three natural gas wells in the area drilled in the ‘80s, and one gas well drilled in 2001.

The company’s proposal includes three wells, two exploration wells drilled on an expanded, existing well pad and another exploratory well drilled after reconstructing a reclaimed well pad. The project area lies about 25 miles northwest of Big Piney.

Drilling in the Wyoming Range has been a point of division for environmental groups and industry, with some arguing the area, which encompasses much of the national forest, should be sheltered from development. Companies argue that they can drill responsibly.

Various groups raised objections to True’s exploration proposal in the Lander Peak area of the forest, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, nearby ranchers and Trout Unlimited. Those concerned noted issues such as the location of busted shale buried after drilling, the components of fracking fluids used in drilling, dust abatement on local roads and the current stability of the existing infrastructure to gather gas.

“Discussions during the objection process have resulted in a number of improvements to the project,” said Big Piney District Ranger Don Kranendonk in a statement Friday. “In an effort to avoid impacts to the environment, design features to contain potential spills and address invasive species, including noxious weeds and aquatic invasive species, will be included in the project design.”

The Forest Service included a number of stipulations for approval of the exploration based on the protests. True is required to hire a third party contractor to do ground and surface water sampling and analysis. The amount of water to be dumped on impacted roads for dust abatement was increased and the company will have to pressure test its existing pipelines and gathering lines with water or an inert gas to ensure the infrastructure’s integrity.

A representative for True Oil did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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