Most of the Powder River Basin in eastern Wyoming is far from its original wild state; instead it is pockmarked with thousands of coalbed methane wells, and criss-crossed with associated roads and industrial facilities. Nestled within the Powder River Basin, however, is the Fortification Creek Area--the last pristine oasis in the Basin. The Fortification Creek region provides critical winter range and calving grounds for an isolated prairie elk herd of only 230 animals, and more development could decimate the herd. The Fortification Creek Area is also home to pronghorn, prairie falcons, sage grouse, bobcats, mountain lions, and over 200 species of migratory birds.
NRDC has been working for years with our local partners in Wyoming--the Powder River Basin Resource Council--to protect the Fortification Creek area from irresponsible natural gas development. For some reason, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is determined to allow intensive natural gas development in the area, to the extent that it is flouting the law and approving more development without first conducting a thorough review of all of the potential environmental impacts. And it is doing this even though many wells in the area have been shut down due to low natural gas prices. NRDC is working with our partners to get the BLM to go back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, we are very concerned about reports we've heard from the field that there is extensive new industrial development in the Fortification elk herd's habitat, and that the oil and gas companies are violating the BLM's rules, leading to significant environmental damage. There is concern that neither the liner nor the contents of waste pits that may contain toxic waste have been propertly disposed of or reclaimed, severe dust is generating air pollution, soil erosion is occurring in fragile habitat that should have been reseeded, and garbage is being left on public lands.
The BLM should first ensure strict enforcement of all laws before approving new development. If the agency does not have the resources to fully enforce its rules, how can it oversee more development? This scenario sounds too much like western Wyoming, where the BLM is reviewing plans for thousands of new gas wells at the same time that the current natural gas production operations are not able to comply with air quality standards. Given the increasing evidence of the environmental harms being caused by oil and gas development, we urge the BLM to ensure the best standards are in place and are being adhered to, instead of minimizing environmental review and allowing our public lands to be trashed, as can be seen in the photo below:
Photo credit: Powder River Basin Resource Council, used with permission