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Conservation group to buy out mineral leases near park

Oct 5, 2012 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- A land conservation group has reached a long-sought agreement to prevent a gas drilling project near a southern approach to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park by buying out a vast area of mineral leases.

The Trust for Public Land plans to buy out 58,000 acres of oil and gas leases owned by Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Co. for $8.75 million, the San Francisco-based group tells The Associated Press.

The announcement opens a fundraising effort by the trust. Almost half the money needs to be raised if the deal is to be closed at the end of the year as the agreement requires.

PXP confirmed the agreement with the conservation group, set to be announced at a news conference later Friday in Jackson. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead planned to attend.

"PXP has repeatedly stated our willingness to consider a buyout of our lease position if a valid offer was tendered. Today's announcement fulfills that pledge," PXP vice president Steve Rusch said in a statement.

The deal would end PXP's plan to drill 136 gas wells near the Hoback River headwaters inside Bridger-Teton National Forest. Opponents said the project would pollute the air, harm wildlife and taint pristine streams in a rolling landscape of meadows and forest.

Eighty-five percent of the buyout acreage is within an area where the 2010 Wyoming Range Legacy Act prohibits future oil and gas development. The law doesn't apply to the PXP leases.

The company acquired the Eagle Prospect/Noble Basin drilling leases a few miles south of Bondurant in 2005. The pre-existing leases were grandfathered in under the act.

The drilling project was located near a southern approach to Jackson Hole used by many visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Upon acquiring the leases, the Trust for Public Land intends to turn them over to the federal government to permanently retire them, said Deborah Love, the group's Northern Rockies director in Bozeman, Mont.

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