Conservation Groups Pursue Legal Action to Protect Atlantic Rim Wildlife Habitats from Coalbed Methane Drilling

LARAMIE - A coalition of conservation groups today sought to protect sensitive wildlife habitats and potential wilderness lands along the Atlantic Rim

  • By: Ted Williams
LARAMIE - A coalition of conservation groups today sought to protect sensitive wildlife habitats and potential wilderness lands along the Atlantic Rim from a 2,000-well coalbed methane project. To achieve this they filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and asked the court to halt development in this area until an appropriate environmental analysis is conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The groups filing the case were Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Western Watersheds Project, and the Wyoming Wilderness Association. NRDC attorneys are representing the groups in the case.

The Atlantic Rim, along the eastern edge of Wyoming's Red Desert, is an area prized by sportsmen due to its abundant wildlife. Key habitats found here support great herds of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, as well as one of the two largest sage grouse lek (dancing and breeding ground) concentration areas in Wyoming.

"The Atlantic Rim is one of Wyoming's prime hunting areas, and working men and women from across the state appreciate the need to protect the important wildlife habitats that are found there," said Kim Floyd, Wyoming's top-ranking representative for the AFL-CIO. "The heavy-handed style of coalbed methane drilling that is occurring on the Atlantic Rim right now is unacceptable to our union members, and it needs to be stopped before it destroys this important part of Wyoming's wildlife heritage."

The Bureau of Land Management analyzed the impacts of the project across a quarter million acres of mostly public land, and found that the 2,000 coalbed methane and gas wells, coupled with 1,000 miles of new road, would cause major harm to sage grouse, mule deer, elk, and pronghorn populations, would exacerbate water quality problems and threaten native fishes, and would degrade scenic values and hunting opportunities in an area that is presently known for its remote and natural character as well as its popularity with sportsman and other recreationists.. The magnitude of the environmental degradation and habitat fragmentation is revealed in a spatial analysis of project facilities, which can be viewed at www.voiceforthewild.org/atlanticrimsimulation.

"We could not stand idly by while the BLM permitted the destruction of some of Wyoming's most important wildlife habitats," said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. "We provided a huge amount of scientific information and technical recommendations to BLM in an effort to make this project compatible with the needs of wildlife and public recreation, as did many agencies and concerned Wyoming residents, but the BLM ignored it all in their rush to drill."

In their lawsuit, the groups claim that the BLM approved the entire project without a plan for where the wells, roads, and pipelines would go, preventing them from studying the magnitude of impacts to sensitive soils, vegetation, and wildlife; that the agency failed to consider the impact that the greatly expanded drilling activity would have on dangerous methane seeps, which have been popping up along the Atlantic Rim as exploratory coalbed methane drilling has increased, and that the agency relied on sage grouse protection measures that are scientifically proven failures, and would not even consider stronger measures as alternatives.

"BLM should be taking the time to design its oil and gas projects in a way that projects the wildlife and recreation values of the public's lands'" said Sharon Buccino, Senior Attorney with NRDC, who is leading the litigation. "In their rush to open our public lands to energy development, our public land managers have run roughshod over the law's basic environmental protections. There's no need to sacrifice the West's wild places for energy independence."

-Biodiversity Conservation Alliance