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4,250 wells: Gas partners readying big play

Feb 8, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Encana Oil & Gas and Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company seek to develop an oil and natural gas field straddling Fremont and Natrona counties. The Bureau of Land Management Lander Field Office launched the process Jan. 17 to license the 4,250-well project.

The next step is a series of public hearings next week, two of them in Fremont County.

The proposed Moneta Divide Gas and Oil Development Project area covers 265,000 acres in Fremont and Natrona counties, 195,000 of which the BLM administers. The companies also want to build a 100-mile pipeline from the field to Wamsutter across public lands in Sweetwater County.

Encana hopes to drill 4,100 new wells and Burlington 150. Not all will be production wells; some will be exploratory.

"We believe the Moneta Divide project has a significant opportunity to be a resource play and to be a key area of our operation," said Encana's project leader, Paul Ulrich.

The energy companies already have developed the fields to some extent, but they want to increase the area of their projects and drill more wells. Those changes necessitated a new permit.

Ulrich said he expects a final decision on the project in three and a half years.

Earlier reports said developers believed the field could surpass Wyoming's legendary Jonah Field when production hits its peak.

High job count

Initial employment could top 600, with about 200 long-term jobs projected.

The exploration area crosses the Fremont-Natrona county border, but most of the proposed acreage apparently is in Fremont County.

The BLM is seeking public input for an environmental impact statement. An EIS is the first step in the licensing process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The BLM often considers how developments affect greater sage grouse habitat, and conserving the endangered species has changed how energy companies construct oil and gas field facilities.

Ulrich said several years ago, the energy production industry decided to make more of an effort to preserve the animal, and the best way to conserve its habitat is to build outside of it.

Several Encana-funded studies found much of the Moneta Divide project area does not include core sage grouse habitat.

Ulrich said that finding is a significant advantage to the energy companies and permitting agencies. He added oil and gas companies can mitigate possible damage to the bird's habitat by decreasing the size of their developments and reclaiming areas they disturb to a natural state once activities end.

It is too early to estimate the development's effect on county tax bases, Ulrich said.

The county assesses taxes on oil and gas developments based on their production. If wells produce more gas and oil, local governments generally receive more revenue.

The BLM also looks at surface disturbance because it results in wildlife habitat lost and increased air pollution. The proposed project would disturb 13,500 acres during construction and 5,500 would remain disturbed during the field's operation.

Hearings next week

Anyone can submit comments to the BLM by writing to Moneta Divide Natural Gas and Oil Development Project, Lander Field Office, 1335 Main St., Lander, WY 82520 or by sending an e-mail to BLM_WY_LD_MONETA_DIVIDE_EIS@blm.gov.

The federal agency will also have two public meetings to answer questions and collect comments. The first is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Best Western in Lander, and the second is 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Holiday Inn in Riverton.

The Fremont County Commission asked on Dec. 19 to be a cooperating agency in the Moneta Divide project, a status which would allow it to contribute to the EIS.

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