Late cash saves Noble Basin
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 3, 2013
A big donation late in the game has completed the purchase of natural gas leases in the Noble Basin and prevented development there.
Joe Ricketts, a Sublette County rancher and the founder of TD Ameritrade, stepped in at the 11th hour with money to complete the buyout of 58,000 acres of gas leases in the basin. The area had been targeted for development by Plains Production and Exploration, known as PXP.
The Trust for Public Land, which organized the $8.75 million deal, had been about $750,000 short of the purchase price all the way up to Monday, the day before the money was due.
The announcement came from Chris Deming, Wyoming director of the Trust for Public Land.
“We have closed with PXP,” Deming said Wednesday. “Joe Ricketts provided the closing gift, and we were able to get the deal done the day before closing.”
The trust had no assurance that the last funding would come through until the last day, Deming said.
Ricketts owns the Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch, a fly-fishing retreat near the basin that forms the headwaters of the Hoback River. Having previously given $1 million to the trust, he was the largest publicly identified donor — until Wednesday.
The effort’s single largest donor, who previously had remained anonymous, was Hansjorg Wyss. The Swiss billionaire and Wilson resident gave $4.25 million through his foundation in the early phases of the buyout effort.
“I’m pleased to be able to support a practical, Wyoming solution that — with this milestone — is now a proud American legacy,” Wyss said in a statement. “This is about neighbors and communities coming together to protect an iconic Western landscape, so the Wyoming Range will always remain open for everyone to hunt, fish, hike and explore.”
Wyss has also donated tens of millions of dollars to conservation causes in Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah. He aided the 2010 buyout of Montana logging tracts with a contribution of $35 million. He and Ricketts paid more than half the cost of protecting Noble Basin from development.
PXP agreed in October to sell the leases, which were contested by conservation groups for years.
Dan Smitherman, a Bondurant resident and spokesman for Citizens for the Wyoming Range, was the face of the movement to prevent PXP from drilling.
“I’m just extraordinarily pleased,” Smitherman said Wednesday. “It’s a landmark campaign.”
PXP’s latest drilling plan would have industrialized 90 square miles of the Wyoming Range with 136 gas wells, 17 pads, 29 miles of roads, compressor stations, pipelines and other infrastructure. The development would have been about 30 miles southeast of Jackson.
About 85 percent of the gas field would have fallen within the Bridger-Teton National Forest, with the balance on private land.
The leases will be donated back to the Forest Service and forever retired under the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, a bill introduced by late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas.
Deming, a Jackson resident, thanked the community for coming together to block the natural gas drilling plan.
“The uniqueness of this deal is that we had over 1,000 donors, ranging from $10 to seven figures — $4.25 million,” Deming said. “From the Trust for Public Land perspective, I’m thrilled to be able to help the community and see their vision through.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.