by Rachael Horne
136 natural gas wells could dot the Wyoming Range near the headwaters of the Hoback River.
Though the public comment period has been closed, there's still a vocal group of citizens working and hoping to shut down proposed natural gas drilling in the Noble Basin of the Wyoming Range near the headwaters of the Hoback River.
An outfitter and resident of Bondurant, Wyo., Dan Smitherman joined Eco Flight President Bruce Gordon on Monday to fly over the area that could be affected. Smitherman heads Citizen of the Wyoming Range. With his black cowboy hat and boots, he's not the first image that comes to mind when thinking of environmentalists. He and the wide variety of other opponents of the project are what have defined the fight. The area is cherished for hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and skiing. In March 2009 congress even passed the Wyoming Range Legacy Act that put 1.2 million acres off-limits to new oil and gas leasing. It brought together a diverse group of people, all agreeing that the land should be protected, but three companies had already purchased leases.
Now Plains Exploration and Production, a company based in Houston, wants to drill up to 136 wells using the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Fracking is the process in which water and chemicals are pumped into a well at high pressure to spilt open rock, allowing natural gas to be extracted.
Some charge that the process can contaminate groundwater. Residents in Sublette County have been documented lighting their tap water on fire as it flows out of the faucet.
Now Citizens of the Wyoming Range and others are trying to persuade PXP to donate, or sell/trade its leases on 44,000 acres back to the Forest Service.
The public comment period has closed on the master development plan project and the environmental impact statement and now citizens wait.
"I'm optimistic," said Smitherman. "It's a war not a battle."
The impact statement could prove to make it to expensive or difficult for PXP to drill, but so far the company hasn't backed down. Smitherman said the Forest Service, depending on results, could throw out the plan and redo it. That would trigger another round of public comments
Smitherman said he and his group aren't anti-drilling or anti-energy. He said he just feels there are more appropriate places to explore, and the Hoback Basin deserves to be spared.
On July 19 Smitherman will lead a hike into the area. Following there will be a bar-b-que and music from 4 to 8 p.m. and chance for concerned citizens to come together at the Double J Ranch. The documentary "Gasland" will be shown in Bondurant on June 27. More information on upcoming events and ways to join the fight can be found at wyomingrange.org. The impact plan can be found at fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/projects/.