What the gas industry owes us

 

First, the gas industry should admit that it is changing Pinedale, and not all the change is good.

Don’t tell us we should be happy to have industry and the jobs and money that come with it. Certainly, gas exploration and drilling have made our economy stronger than ever, and finally, many of us are making a decent living.

But we gladly lived here before you came, and we endured lean, tough times. Why? Because we liked living in a small town with its low crime rate, good hunting, fishing, climbing and hiking, beautiful mountains, blue lakes and clean air. The gas boom and the new people moving to Pinedale as a result are putting pressure on these values. Don’t sugar coat this.

Treat us like adults. I’ve heard too many industry executives proclaim they were doing some great good by drilling in Sublette County because, "the country needs energy." Last year, Sublette County provided just 2.5 percent of America’s natural gas supply. If we turned off the all the gas flowing from Sublette County tomorrow, fields in Texas, Colorado, or Canada would increase production to take over this 2.5 percent. The companies drilling here are publicly held companies run by CEOs who have one mandate from their board of directors: "Make money for stockholders."

Despite proclaimed commitments to our gas fields and communities, Shell, EnCana, Questar, Ultra and BP could sell their leases in Sublette County tomorrow — just as Anschutz did last summer. We’re booming now because natural gas prices are at record highs, and the companies want to drill as fast as they can to sell as much gas as possible while prices are up. We’re not stupid. We understand this.

Move your decision-makers to Pinedale. The Jonah Field earns EnCana $35 million per day and Jonah alone accounts for 25 percent of EnCana’s produced natural gas. Yet the Jonah Field team leader, Mike Kennedy, and senior engineers, geologists, and administrative staff working exclusively on the Jonah project live in Denver, along with Diana Hoff, Questar’s General Manager for Pinedale, and the senior operations people for Ultra. Only three companies — ExxonMobil, Shell and EOG resources — place their senior people living close to their fields in Sublette County.

Address issues before they become problems. Forty-five rigs were drilling in Sublette County last summer. Locals didn’t bring those rigs in, companies did. Yet the companies seemed surprised when issues such as air quality, affordable housing and traffic arose, and they turned to local government for solutions. By now, all the major operators in Sublette County know how many rigs they’ll have drilling next summer, how many wells they want completed, how many new pipelines need to be built. They have a good estimate on how many new people this activity will bring in and therefore can reasonably predict what the impacts will be. Industry should be working now with local government, not offering belated help in the middle of a crisis next summer.

Designate a local contact. Cally McKee has been a godsend for both EnCana and Pinedale. Everyone knows she is EnCana’s first person to call for everything Jonah and EnCana-related. Her availability alone makes EnCana much easier to work with than any of the other operators drilling here now. No other company operating in the Jonah or Pinedale Anticline fields has a similar accessible contact person. They need one.

Show genuine concern about the inevitable environmental impacts. Jonah is the perfect place for a natural gas field, and the Pinedale Anticline isn’t very far behind. But you can’t drill without doing some harm to the environment. Mat drilling, flareless completions, centralized production, directional drilling, multi-well pads, wildlife studies — all are great. Keep them coming and do more.

Respect our community and culture. Too many times I’ve met with oil and gas company executives who fly into Pinedale on a private jet from Houston or Denver, and who immediately badmouth my town: "It’s too small, there aren’t enough restaurants, service is slow, where is your stop light?" They describe us as Podunk and backward and worthwhile only because we’re at the heart of their oil fields. We don’t ask you to understand why we’ve chosen to live here; we ask you to respect that we do.

Donate generously to local causes and improvements; we very much appreciate it. Finally, give locals a chance at jobs and contracts. We understand that you don’t owe us employment. All we ask is that you give us a chance to apply.

Rob Shaul is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the publisher of the Pinedale Roundup in Wyoming, a small town at the epicenter of Wyoming’s gas boom.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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