Committee of local residents guides Encana planned energy development
Pati Smith (L), group facilitator, and group member Terrie Swift (R), Director of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce, discuss the final report together. Pati Smith courtesy photo.
by Pati L. Smith
March 28, 2012
A committee of 16 area residents formed to help guide the development of a major natural gas field in southwest Wyoming recently delivered its recommendations to natural gas producer Encana and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Encana is planning to develop the Normally Pressured Lance (NPL) gas field. The company’s plans call for a maximum of 3,500 wells to be drilled over a ten-year period in the field located south and west of the existing Jonah Field.
The BLM is currently reviewing the company’s plans as part of the NEPA review process established under federal law. This process, including the development of an Environmental Impact Statement, is required to be transparent and open to the public.
The Operator Committed Practices (OCP) committee, made up of local citizens representing various points of view, was established to give the communities of southwest Wyoming a voice in their own future.
The OCP process is over and above what is required under the federal laws that guide an environmental review. The establishment of the OCP committee was a voluntary step by Encana to give community representatives a seat at the table.
"It was a very open process," committee member and local landowner Pete Arambel said. "I sat across from people who I haven’t talked with before. It was important to get all viewpoints addressed, and the process worked."
The OCP committee met from May through September of last year. The committee members represented a wide spectrum, including government officials, environmental advocates, sportsmen and business leaders. All issues were on the table at the committee meetings.
Rock Springs resident Pati Smith, who served as an independent contractor for Encana, facilitated the work of the committee.
"Encana was entirely hands off throughout the process and empowered the committee to consider all options and all points of view," said Smith. "The purpose of the OCP committee was to give residents representing many different constituencies a seat at the table and a voice in these development decisions."
"No questions or opinions were off the table," said committee member Bob Wharff, head of the Wyoming chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. "I felt like I could say anything. Nothing was out of bounds and there were no sideboards."
From their work, the OCP Committee produced 151 recommendations that were submitted to Encana in October. Encana had already adopted many of the recommendations, such as the benefit of directional drilling to reduce disturbance. Others called for steps Encana is now taking such as convening discussions with local residents on a variety of topics, including air, wildlife, water and socio-economic interests.
The 151 recommendations from the OCP committee were developed through the work of its subcommittees. These subcommittees covered air quality, wildlife, socio-economic issues, emergency services, historic and cultural topics, reclamation and grazing.
"We need to keep the dialogue going," said Terrie Swift, committee member and Director of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce. "We need to continue to go deeper with the community process. The OCP process is an opportunity for the community and industry to become engaged together. This model helped to get everyone involved."
Wharff agreed and said the OCP model should be duplicated elsewhere. "It was good to sit down with people who have common goals but different perspectives," he said. "We identified the issues and solutions. This would work anywhere as long as everyone involved is honest and forthright."
The OCP process, with its focus on transparency and inclusion, recognizes that the business community, agricultural producers, landowners, county and town governments and environmental organizations all have a shared stake in the future of the area and a shared responsibility to arrive at consensus about development when possible.
The importance of public involvement will not end with the submission of the committee’s recommendations. The committee was formed to promote an open and continuing dialogue between Encana, the BLM and the community at large that will continue through the federal permitting process and grow along with the life of the NPL natural gas field.
Operator Committed Practices Committee Members
Pete Arambel, rancher and area landowner
Linda Baker, environmental advocate
Wil Gay, Emergency Medical Services
Dave Hanks, Director of the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce
Don Hartley, area historian
Wally Johnson, Sweetwater County Commissioner
Roger Jones, area businessman
Andy Nelson, Sublette County Commissioner
Eric Peterson, Sublette County Coordinator, UW Extension
Jim Roscoe, Wyoming State Legislator
Phil Smith, Mayor of Big Piney
Stephen Smith, Mayor Pinedale
Terrie Swift, Director of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce
Mary Thoman, Sweetwater County Conservation District
Darrell Walker, Sublette County Conservation District
Bob Wharff, Director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife
Pati Smith, Facilitator