Deal protects public land near Grand Teton from natural gas drilling

A deal announced Friday appears likely to protect the Hoback Basin in Wyoming south of Grand Teton National Park from oil and gas development. (click to enlarge)

A deal announced Friday appears likely to protect the Hoback Basin in Wyoming south of Grand Teton National Park from oil and gas development. (click to enlarge)

From Staff Reports

A controversial plan to drill for natural gas on public lands south of Grand Teton National Park appear likely to be shelved permanently under an agreement announced Friday by a conservation group that plans to buy out the federal gas leases.

The Trust for Public Land announced that it has entered into an agreement with Plains Exploration & Production Company to purchase oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres of in the Hoback Basin of the Wyoming Range.

Once the transaction is completed by the end of the year, the leases will be retired, protecting the land from oil and natural gas drilling, the organization said in a written statement.

A range of groups including hunters, conservationists and others had expressed concern about drilling in the Hoback Basin, a section of the Bridger-Teton National Forest about 30 miles south of Jackson, Wyo., near the southern edge of Grand Teton National Park.

“This is an outstanding outcome for the people of Wyoming—a true ‘win-win’ resolution,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead in a statement released Friday. Mead joined dozens in announcing the deal Friday in Jackson. “It respects both the wishes of local residents and the legal rights of leaseholders.”

“This agreement shows that we can find common ground between conservationists, hunters, anglers and even oil and gas developers. We can come together to solve our toughest problems and reach solutions that are fair to all sides,” said Deb Love, Northern Rockies director for the the Trust for Public Land.

Love said the Trust for Public Land has raised $4.5 million toward the lease purchase, and is working to raise an additional $4.25 million to complete the transaction by December 31.

“PXP is pleased to have worked with the Trust for Public Land on this agreement,” said Steve Rusch, vice president for environmental and government affairs at PXP.

The Wyoming Range Legacy Act of 2009 protects most surrounding lands in the Wyoming Ranger from development, but leases bought by PXP in 2005 were grandfathered in before the act passed.

“From the first day the Wyoming Range Legacy Act was passed, PXP has repeatedly stated our willingness to consider a buyout of our lease position if a valid offer were tendered. Today’s announcement fulfills that pledge,” Rusch said. “This agreement represents a win-win for all parties.”

Sagging natural gas prices apparently helped make the buyout more attractive, Rusch said, as PXP “has been shifting away from low-margin natural gas toward higher-priced oil.”

The Hoback Basin is home to the Hoback River, a Congressionally designated wild and scenic river that was named America’s 5th most endangered river in 2012 by American Rivers, the nation’s leading river conservation organization. It is a favorite destination for hunters and anglers, and serves as a key migration corridor for mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk.

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