State House hopefuls differ on gas fields
Stough is focused on land reclamation, Roscoe on planning.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 15, 2008
Candidates for House District 22 both say they are focused on ensuring the state has proper oversight of the massive natural gas fields in Sublette County, but they differ on exactly what that oversight should entail.
Republican Charles Stough of Boulder said the state should be focused on making sure energy companies are reclaiming the federal land they dig up to extract natural gas.
“I think industry would agree with that position,” he said. “I don’t think they are trying to shirk their responsibility, but we haven’t as a state mandated that they clean up effectively.”
Stough said he thought the operators’ current performance left room for improvement and there should be a state role in making sure they do improve.
“I think that in a lot of cases there are manpower issues — the people tasked with the oversight don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to handle oversight on the level that the disturbance has occurred,” he said. “Whether that is a matter of throwing more money or people at the problem, I think we have to look at what are cost-effective solutions to make sure the reclamation is getting done.”
Stough’s opponent, Democrat Jim Roscoe of Wilson, said he thought many problems could be solved by the state having a greater role in planning the pace and scope of development before operators begin to drill.
Roscoe said he thought one possible solution was to amend state regulations to include oil and gas fields provisions that govern siting of industrial facilities. The regulation gives the state broad powers over where and how companies build large facilities like power plants.
“I was told by the governor that Wyoming can amend the Industrial Facilities Siting Act to include gas and oil — it does not include them now,” Roscoe said. “If it were to include that, then Wyoming would have a seat at the table.”
“An overall plan could be established for the gas field,” he said, proposing that the plan could inlude the number of wells and pace of development. “If we had gone about that for the Anticline and Jonah [gas fields] I think we would have had a better outcome.”
Roscoe said slowing down activity in the gas field could help address not only the environmental impacts of development, but also the socioeconomic shock to western Wyoming’s small boom towns.
“It seems to me it wouldn’t be such a huge boom and it would be more steady growth,” he said. “The impacts, especially the economic impacts would be a lot less on Pinedale, the impacts on wildlife would be less and the ability to maintain clean air would be a lot better.”
Sublette County has repeatedly seen dangerously high levels of ozone, something many attribute to higher emissions from gas drilling.
Stough said he thought air quality was perhaps a more pressing immediate issue because of its possible health effects on residents. He said he thought pollution could be addressed through infrastructure improvements such as pipelines to carry natural gas and byproducts instead of trucking them. Busing crews to the job site rather than allowing them to drive individually also would help. He also pointed out that operators are already moving to cleaner-burning engines in their rigs.
Roscoe said mitigation for the air quality needs to be coupled with increased monitoring.
“There should be direct communication between the people monitoring this stuff on a daily basis and the county health department,” he said. “That is certainly a health issue for our school kids and our older people.”
House District 22 includes most of Sublette County, Wilson and Hoback Junction in Teton County and Alpine in Lincoln County.
Rep. Monte Olsen, R-Daniel, has represented the district for the last six years but announced this spring he would not seek re-election because of health complications stemming from a car accident one year ago, leaving the seat up for grabs.