A national environmental group has set it sights on blocking a 220-square-mile gas field southwest of Pinedale by alleging violations of the Clean Air Act.
The project in the crosshairs is the Normally Pressured Lance gas field, a 3,500-well Jonah Energy development approved last month by the Bureau of Land Management after a seven-year environmental review.
Conservation groups take issue with the field’s potential affects on sage grouse and migratory pronghorn that summer in Jackson Hole, but the issue WildEarth Guardians hangs its injunction request on is the potential impact on wintertime ozone and air quality.
“Even though it’s a rural area, this is big-city air pollution that they are experiencing,” Jeremy Nichols, the Guardians’ climate and energy director, said in an interview. “This is the last place that should be experiencing big-city air pollution.”
“It’s really a black eye on Wyoming, for them to have an ozone nonattainment area,” he said. “It’s deeply disappointing, as a Westerner.”
WildEarth Guardians’ petition was sent Wednesday to the Interior Department Board of Land Appeals. The 25-page document seeks a temporary block on development, citing a Wyoming Public Radio report that said Jonah Energy is planning to start drilling the area under the NPL authorization any week. As of Friday, the BLM had not yet received any applications to drill that would greenlight such development, BLM-Wyoming spokeswoman Courtney Whiteman said.
A Jonah Energy representative reached Friday said he had not yet reviewed the appeal and couldn’t comment.
The Sublette County communities of the Upper Green River drainage have struggled with noncompliant concentrations of ground-level ozone, a health hazard caused by the combination of industrial activity and wintertime inversions. The problems arose after the development of the Anticline and Jonah fields in the early 2000s.
An air monitoring station 15 miles north of the NPL project area registered a dozen ozone exceedance days in 2017, according to the WildEarth Guardians appeal.
The BLM capped development of the NPL field at 350 wells a year in hopes of avoiding exceeding the Upper Green River Ozone Non-Attainment Area’s emission limits. The agency considered, but “eliminated from further analysis,” a drilling plan that would have resulted in no net increase in emissions.
The Guardian’s appeal contends that the BLM dismissed an analysis that identified 160 wells drilled per year as the upper limit of activity that could be allowed while avoiding exceeding air pollution limits.
The land appeals board has 45 days to respond to the petition.
The BLM has estimated that royalties from the NPL field will contribute $1.1 billion to Wyoming coffers over its 40-year lifespan.