Environmental coalition: BLM not protecting wildlife in Sublette County

PINEDALE — An environmental coalition’s amended petition challenges Jonah Energy’s Normally Pressured Lance natural-gas project in Sublette County. 

It argues that the Bureau of Land Management’s approval seriously endangers greater sage-grouse habitat and pronghorn migration and violates the federal National Environmental Policy Act. 

The amended petition against the BLM, filed in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court on Feb. 19, was split off from a larger Idaho lawsuit against leasing decisions in western greater sage-grouse habitat. It argues the BLM did not properly analyze the potential harm to pronghorn or greater sage-grouse. 

Wildlife Upper Green River Alliance Director Linda Baker, of Pinedale, said her group joined Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity because of the pronghorn population’s 40% decline and needed protection for the Path of the Pronghorn’s southern half.

In a separate statement, Baker said more than $35 million is invested for wildlife with conservation easements, wildlife-friendly fencing and highway overpasses.

“Our goal is to honor those investments,” she said. 

Baker and the coalition consider the NPL project – with a maximum of 350 wells a year for 10 years – a very serious threat to greater sage-grouse habitat, especially because it contains part of the state’s only designated winter concentration area. 

Also, the BLM should prioritize wildlife over development with the current and ongoing natural-gas market’s slump, she said. 

“With Wyoming’s oil and gas economy in serious jeopardy, we recognize that our wildlife is a renewable resource that feeds our families and provides jobs, as long as we protect vital wildlife habitats,” Baker said. 

She urged Jonah to use directional drilling and to wait for the winter sage-grouse study’s completion. 

Jonah Energy’s Paul Ulrich said both species are extensively studied in the NPL’s EIS. 

“Pronghorn and other sagebrush-obligate species were considerably analyzed through the NEPA process for our plan of development,” he said. “The BLM did an outstanding job developing the NPL EIS; it analyzed and reanalyzed resource protection measures to make sure the project could withstand the rigors of NEPA.” 

Ulrich said Jonah already agrees to directional drilling over 10 years in the NPL and consistently works to be environmentally conscientious. 

Also, Jonah Energy awaits the same winter study results. 

The lawsuit is not why Jonah is waiting to develop the NPL, Ulrich added. 

“There are a number of reasons why we are taking a very measured approach,” he said. “They are the market conditions, the fact that the winter sage-grouse study is underway and to be prudent to the company. … When the time is right we will continue exploration of NPL.” 

Ulrich said development and wildlife are not an “either-or” situation: “We have gone above and beyond to protect the wildlife in this area and we will continue to do so. We believe our commitment for responsible development is leading the industry.”