JACKSON – Recreationists, ranchers and residents of the Hoback Basin who opposed energy development in the area were greeted with good news Friday – 58,000 acres of the Upper Hoback will not be explored, drilled or fracked by Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP).
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced Friday morning at a press conference in Jackson, held at Snow King Resort, that it has successfully negotiated a deal to buy out PXP’s holdings and retire the leases, provided they can fundraise $8.75 million by Dec. 31.
Under the agreement, TPL will fundraise $8.75 million to pay directly to PXP and then donate those leases to the federal government for permanent retirement under the Wyoming Range Legacy Act.
TPL Northern Rockies Director Deb Love made the announcement at the event attended by TPL and PXP representatives, as well as Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, legislators and other organizations.
“Today, I have the great pleasure to announce that after six months of negotiations with PXP, the Trust for Public Land has reached an agreement with PXP for the purchase of roughly 58,000 acres of federal oil and gas leases in the Hoback,” Love said.
In 2009, the Wyoming Range Legacy Act was signed into law under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act.
The Legacy Act, begun by the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas and carried forward by his replacement Sen. John Barrasso, withdrew 1.2 million acres of public land in and around the Wyoming Range from future gas and oil leases, while honoring existing leases. The largest set of existing leases was PXP’s Upper Hoback holdings.
PXP had proposed drilling 136 natural gas wells in the area, including 29 miles of new roads, 17 well pads, compressor stations, pipelines and other industrial development, according to its master development plan.
Groups such as Citizens for the Wyoming Range discussed buying the PXP leases in the past, and PXP officials said they were open to a buyout but never received an offer. TPL’s six months of negotiating finally reached a fair deal for both sides. The solution, Love said, was spelled out in the Legacy Act.
“In every public meeting about the Hoback, virtually every single Wyoming citizen denounced PXP’s plan,” Love said.
“It’s not that Wyoming residents oppose drilling; folks recognize Wyoming is benefiting from the extraction economy. They just don’t want large-scale industrial development in places that are frankly too special to drill,” Love said.
The agreement will see the TPL buy out all of PXP’s leases on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, as well as mineral leases on private lands in the South Rim area. Under the Legacy Act, TPL will donate the leases back to the federal government to be permanently retired. The leases on private lands are being negotiated for retirement, according to Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Jacque Buchanan.
“There are some leases on private land, so they’ve still got to work through that. But they realize that the intent is to have all of the leases retired permanently,” Buchanan said.
According to Love, 85 percent of the leases involved fall within the boundaries of the Legacy Act and will be retired permanently by donating them back to the federal government. The remaining 15 percent of leases will be held by the TPL until they can reach an agreement for long-term retirement with state and federal officials.
Gov. Mead applauded the announcement and in a brief speech, reflected on his family’s past enjoyment of the Daniel area and driving over the Rim, remarking on the beauty of the area. He thanked TPL and their partnered organizations for their work.
“You were the driving force that said this is a special place for us. Not just for us in this area, this part of Wyoming, but a special place for Wyoming and even beyond Wyoming’s borders. So we thank you for your effort,” Mead said.
In a statement accompanying Friday’s announcement, Mead said, “This is an outstanding outcome for the people of Wyoming – a true ‘win-win’ resolution. It respects both the wishes of local residents and the legal rights of leaseholders.”
For the agreement to come to fruition, TPL must head a fast and furious fundraising effort.
“Our agreement to purchase these leases means we need to raise $8.75 million by Dec. 31,” Love said.
TPL already has commitments and pledges from various philanthropists for $4.5 million, Love said. Joe Ricketts, an Upper Hoback resident, pledged $1 million as the lead individual donor.
The remaining $4.25 million will be raised through a variety of efforts, Love said, but much of it must come from private donors.
The reaction of the roughly 100 gathered for the announcement was overwhelmingly appreciative, with roaring applause at Love’s speech.
Although the 58,000 acres involved in the TPL’s purchase agreement represent a significant interest in the Hoback, other controversial property in the area is still being negotiated for. The 44,700-acre package of leases (44-7) issued by the USFS and approved for drilling by the Bureau of Land Management, and suspended last year, is not included in the latest deal with PXP, according to Buchanan.
The 58,000-acre deal is completely separate from the 44-7, Buchanan said. PXP had some leases in that area they had already turned those back, but other companies hold their leases, she said.
“We still have that in front of us,” Buchanan said.
For more information on the purchase agreement, visit www.tpl.org/savethehoback.
For the complete article see the 10-09-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-09-2012 paper.
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