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Wyoming Oil-Gas Project Could Be Headed To Court

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Sage grouse populations have continued to decline in Wyoming. The 2020 lek count of some 19,000 birds is less than half of the lek count of over 43,000 recorded just four years ago.

Conservation groups may take the federal Bureau of Land Management to court after the agency announced its final decision on the Converse County oil and gas project over the winter holidays.

The move authorizes 5,000 new oil and gas wells to be drilled in protected sage grouse habitat in northeastern Wyoming. Erik Molvar, executive director at the Western Watersheds Project, said development levels in the agency's environmental review violate a 5% disturbance cap under Wyoming's federal sage grouse plan for 4 of the 5 Sage Grouse Core Areas. In Douglas, 30% of protected habitat could be disturbed.

"It telegraphs an intention to sweep aside the sage grouse protections that were adopted in 2015 to protect sage grouse habitat from this very type of industrial development," Molvar said.

Wyoming lawmakers have welcomed the Converse County project, noting it could add up to 8,000 and from $18 billion to $28 billion in state and federal revenues.

Critics see the BLM's decision as an eleventh-hour attempt to lock in the Trump administration's energy-dominance agenda for the next three decades.

Molvar said the nation already is moving away from fossil-fuel extraction and combustion in favor of less expensive renewable-energy sources, and he believes the days of fossil-fuel dominance are over.

"There's never been a shortage in Wyoming of politicians who want to throw environmental quality and wildlife under the bus for the sake of corporate profits," he said. "It's time for Wyoming to move on to more sustainable types of energy development and extraction."

Sage grouse populations have continued to decline in Wyoming, by more than 11% between 2019 and 2020, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Forest Service. The 2020 lek count of some 19,000 birds in Wyoming is less than half of the lek count of more than 43,000 recorded just four years ago.