Aug 26, 2015

Environmental report says sage grouse still in danger from 27,000 oil and gas wells in Wyoming

Despite efforts by the Obama administration to postpone oil and gas activity in the habits of the threatened greater sage grouse, the industry still has more than 27,000 wells in Wyoming that could greatly fragment the breeding grounds of species "and drive it closer to extinction," says a report by WildEarth Guardians, a non-profit environmental organization, Phil Taylor reports for Greenwire. The sage grouse is currently being considered for endangered status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study "looked at how many oil and gas wells, mines, wind farms and transmission lines have been built within sage grouse core breeding areas in Wyoming over the past six years and how those have impacted grouse," Taylor writes. "Core areas, first designated by Wyoming in 2008, cover about one-fourth of the state and encompass most of its sage grouse. Core areas limit disturbances, both existing and new, to a maximum of an average of 5 percent per square mile, among other restrictions."

The report says that since 2009, the Bureau of Land Management "has approved less than 1 percent of oil and gas wells proposed in projects that partially overlap with sage grouse core areas," Taylor writes. "But BLM has deferred action on several massive projects totaling more than 27,000 wells that intersect core areas while it completes new sage grouse land-use plans to keep the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, the report said. Those land-use plans would essentially codify Wyoming's core sage grouse policy, which WildEarth argues is too weak."

Speaking about the report, BLM Wyoming spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt told Taylor, "To cross-check the numbers is going to take some time, but the way the study is written leads to a misunderstanding on the public's behalf. These wells are project proposals from companies, and the final projects that may or may not be approved will likely result in a different well count." (Read more