As I mentioned in my story about the proposed oil well to be drilled right beside the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I wanted to clarify the actual process for getting a drilling permit application approved. Today the nice lady at the Industrial Commission office did that for me.
The Oil and Gas Division of the Industrial Commission has scheduled a hearing on March 28 at 9 a.m. to act on requests from oil companies. One of the approximately 150 items on the agenda is a request from XTO Energy for a drilling permit to drill four wells on two sections of land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, immediately adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch. I wondered whether the hearing officer, who I assume to be Oil and Gas Division Director Lynn Helms, had the authority to issue the drilling permit.
What I learned today is that yes, Helms and his staff have the authority to issue drilling permits, unless they are requested, for a good reason, not to do so. If someone protests the application, and it appears they have a valid reason for protesting, then the request is referred to the three members of the Industrial Commission: Jack Dalrymple, Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Goehring. They have the final say.
I don’t know for sure, but I would think that they would schedule a meeting to discuss this in public, or put it on the agenda for their next meeting. The Industrial Commission’s website says this:
“The tentative Industrial Commission meeting schedule for 2013 is: March 25, April 23, May 28, June 25, July 30, August 21, September 20, October 22, November 26, and December 19, 2013. All meetings are subject to change and additional meetings may be added as needed.”
So one would have to assume that they would discuss it at their April 23 meeting. Or, if they felt it was urgent, they could schedule a special meeting. In either case, it is going to be important that all of us keep an eye on the Industrial Commission website. Their meeting agendas (which are always subject to change, right up to the last minute before they convene) are posted on the website. The agenda for next Monday’s meeting will be posted this Thursday or Friday. The lady I talked to said she didn’t think they would be discussing anything scheduled to be heard at the Oil and Gas Division hearing next Thursday at Monday’s meeting.
But, it is important that people show up at the meeting next Thursday, the 28th, to protest this application, and bring good reasons for being against it. If there’s no protest, they can just go ahead and issue the drilling permit. Yikes.
I also received today some photos of the site and some new information from the National Park Service. They sent a ranger up there to take a look at things. The first picture I’m posting here clearly shows the stakes in the ground. The stake with the orange ribbon attached to it is in the center of the drilling site. The ranger said it appears to be about 1000 feet from the Elkhorn Ranch parking lot. The ranch site is where the trees are in the background. If you click on the photo to see a larger version, you can see a vehicle in the parking lot and the entrance sign to the site. The Maah Daah Hey Trail runs along the ridgeline above the ranch. Won’t that be a pretty view from the top of the hill? But keep in mind that stake is at the CENTER of the well site. The second picture shows one of the corner stakes, which is about 100 feet from the ranch site boundary. You can actually see a couple of the posts from the boundary fence just above the sagebrush on the right side of the photo. Again, that’s the ranch site in the background. So from that information, we can gather that the well pad will be approximately 1800 feet across—more than a third of a mile square. Huge. Full of pumps and tanks and buildings and all the detritus that you find on a well pad. Just 100 feet away from the National Park. It almost defies comprehension.
A Park Service spokesperson said today “The corner of the giant well pad, if actually developed where they have staked it, is only 100 feet from the park’s Elkhorn Ranch Unit. The center is 1000 feet away. That shows how huge the well pad would be. There is flagging indicating the center, corners and a proposed realignment of the Elkhorn Ranch access road.”
“Suffice to say,” the spokesperson continued “this may be the biggest threat to any single unit of the park in the history of the park. The trucking events (2000 per well) required down that access road alone would destroy the ambiance.”
That would be 8,000 trips down the hill with water trucks to frack this well and remove waste water. And then the wells would be there for 30 or 40 years. Needless to say, it would be the end of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch Site as we know it.
The Park service fully intends to try to convince the Oil and Gas Division, and the Industrial Commission (Boy, is that board earning its name these days!) not to allow this to happen. The problem is, XTO has a right to their oil, and there may not be another place for them to put a well pad of this size. As I said the other day, this is very rugged Bad Lands.
If they were to move the well pad just a little more than two miles west, there’s another flat spot beside the road. That’s where the Forest Service’s Elkhorn Campground is, a campground used by thousands of campers every year who are hiking or bicycling riding their horses on the Maah Daah Hey Trail.
I’m still going to try to get out there to take a look this week. I’ll report back if I get there. It’s too darned cold to go right now. Meanwhile, let me suggest that if it stays this cold, and you don’t feel like going outside, and want to curl up in front of the fire and do a little reading, grab a copy of Ed Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. It’s a pretty easy read, and kind of fun, too. Just remember, it’s FICTION.
See you next Thursday.