CASPER, Wyo. — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is studying what to do with 600 miles (960 kilometers) of roads that once served the Power River Basin’s coal-bed methane industry.
The Casper Star-Tribune reports the agency wants to leave some roads open — to provide access to public lands in a region that was an epicenter of coal-bed methane production in the 2000s.
Roads and pipelines were laid across northern Wyoming during the boom, with the expectation that operators would return the landscape to its natural state after wells ran dry and were plugged.
The BLM is assessing public input and plans a final decision by January.
The region’s coal-bed methane production peaked in 2007. But as gas prices fell, large companies began to abandon production, and many small producers went into bankruptcy. Wyoming was left with thousands of orphaned wells.
Some residents say the BLM should require operators to repair what was disturbed.
“I am landowner in Campbell County and I have experienced since the ’70s development of oil and gas wells on my property,” Bernadette Barlow wrote the agency. “It is unimaginable to think that the BLM would forgive coal-bed methane companies from meeting requirements to reclaim the roads used to access their wells.”
The BLM’s preferred choice is to keep nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) of road open to the public as long as landowners provide easements along most of the routes. Access can be difficult in Campbell County, where more than 80 percent of land is privately-owned.
Campbell County commissioners support the open-road plan. Others, like Luke Todd, whose family business, Sports Lure, serves hunters and fishermen in Buffalo, say many clients complain about access.
“A lot of it is landlocked,” Todd said of the area east of Buffalo. “The Game and Fish sends out a lot of tags, but the access can be very difficult.”
But Todd also noted concerns of landowners, including ranchers, about trespassing, trash and damage to the landscape if roads are maintained.
“There’s got to be a balance somewhere to protect the interest of the leaseholders, ranchers and still allow access to this kind of isolated area,” he said.
Jill Morrison, organizer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based landowners group, said the BLM’s actions could determine whether companies get out of reclamation or use the roads in the future.
“None of the landowners are for it. Not one,” she said of the proposal.
Casey Freise, acting field manager for the BLM’s Buffalo Field Office, said the roads are all tied to operators that are fulfilling their reclamation obligations.
“There is sometimes this misconception that we are letting operators off the hook,” Freise said. “There are reclamation obligations that industry is going to be responsible for. This doesn’t change that.”
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