Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM

Mr. Tom Reed

Wyoming Field Organizer, Trout Unlimited

Statement of Tom Reed

Trout Unlimited

Before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

June 2006

 

Chairman Domenici, Senator Bingaman, and Members of the Committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today about oil and gas production on Federal lands in the Rocky Mountain Region.

 

My name is Tom Reed.  I grew up in Colorado and graduated from Arizona State University.  I spent several years working as an instructor in Wyoming teaching, among other things, fly fishing and horse-packing.  I also worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. I currently serve as the Wyoming Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands Initiative, the purpose of which is to develop sound scientific and technical information demonstrating the importance of public lands to coldwater fisheries, wildlife, and hunting and fishing opportunities as well as sharing this information with sportsmen across the West.     

 

Our public lands sustain some of the cleanest water, healthiest habitats, and finest fishing and hunting in North America.  More than 50 million Americans hunt and fish, however, too often their voices are lost in the din of controversy that has come to define public land management.  A significant and growing concern among sportsmen is the impact of energy development on fish and wildlife habitat on our public lands.

 

Wyoming is at the forefront of these energy and public land issues and is more than carrying its weight for the energy needs of this country. Oil and gas exploration and development is taking place at an unprecedented rate. It is estimated that 25 percent of the state will be impacted by oil and gas development to help meet our nation’s demands. That’s a land area the equivalent of 360 Washington DCs.

 

In the Rocky Mountain West, energy development is proceeding at an ever increasing rate.  More than 26 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Montana are open for leasing.  In a year’s time, BLM approved 5,700 new drilling permits in those states – a 62% increase over the previous year.  BLM has a total of nine fisheries biologists in those five states.  That’s about 3 million acres of leased land per fisheries biologist.  Most people agree that is an impossible responsibility to place on nine people.

 

At Trout Unlimited, we feel that oil and gas development is appropriate in some places and inappropriate in others. But even where it is appropriate, sound science needs to be utilized to protect our fisheries and wildlife, and as an extension, our fishing and hunting opportunities.  We are not side-line critics.  We believe in rolling up our sleeves and working with industry to minimize the effects of development on fish, game, and water resources.  For example, we are working in Wyoming with Dudley and Associates on the Seminoe Road coalbed methane project to try and develop operational protocols for development that minimize effects on ground and surface water and fisheries.  Questar has similarly demonstrated a willingness to work with us.  We believe it is important to work with companies to ensure that development is done right. 

 

In our view, however, doing development right includes acknowledging when it’s being done wrong, and where it shouldn’t be done at all. Wyoming truly is blessed with natural resources, both below and above the ground. The state’s scenic beauty, wildlife and fisheries are unparalleled.  This state is known for its long vistas, sagebrush deserts, high mountains, deep forests and crashing rivers. To the hunter and angler, Wyoming offers some of the finest outdoor opportunities in the world. From its abundant pronghorn antelope and mule deer to its elk to its four subspecies of native cutthroat trout, this state sustains a wide variety of game and fish and enough wild country to absorb a lifetime of exploring. I personally have hunted Wyoming’s deep spruce forests for elk, fished the high mountain lakes for native trout, and crawled through the sagebrush in an attempt to take a nice pronghorn buck. I’ve ridden my horse in the high country, and floated down wild rivers in the lower deserts. There are a lot of people in Wyoming just like me: they live there for the great outdoors and for the opportunity to hunt and fish with their families.

 

But these can be troubling times for people like me who love the great outdoors. At the current rate of oil and gas exploration, scientists, particularly with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, are having a difficult time keeping up with the pace of development.

 

It is important for Congress to recognize that intensive impacts are occurring and will continue to occur as this region is changed from wild, undeveloped country into industrial zones. Funding for land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management needs to be secured specifically for scientists who deal with impacts on wildlife and fisheries. State wildlife agencies like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department also need national funding so that biologists can be hired to deal solely with oil and gas issues.

 

These biologists should collect data, monitor impacts and design and implement mitigation, working closely with industry and land management agencies. There is a willingness among many in the industry to move in this direction, but Congress also needs to step up with money for these agencies so that our wildlife and fisheries resources are taken care of.  We believe that the scale and pace of development on oil and gas fields far outstrips the organizational capacities of both state and federal agencies responsible for managing fish and wildlife and the habitats they depend on. 

 

How this development is going to impact our wildlife and fisheries heritage is largely unknown because much of the development has taken place only in the last few years. To keep abreast of this, we need more science and we need more scientists.  We also need to slow down and not allow energy production to outstrip the land’s productive capacity.   

 

To clarify how overworked and understaffed our biologists are, consider: there are only three people in the Game and Fish Department’s Cheyenne office that deal with oil and gas issues. When one realizes that just one corner of Wyoming—the Powder River Basin—faces an estimated 60,000 wells, it is clear that is too much, too fast.

 

The Department estimates that it needs staff biologists that deal with nothing but oil and gas development to study, understand and try to mitigate impacts to crucial big game, sage grouse, sensitive species and fisheries habitats.  That tally is as much as $2 million per year.  Similar expenditures will be needed in other states and for federal agencies.

 

The purpose of this hearing is to determine the effects of the Energy Policy Act’s provisions.  The fact is that after 11 months it is difficult to determine the effects on fish, wildlife, and water resources from the acceleration of development.  As a life-long hunter and angler, I can say with certainty, it isn’t looking good for game and fish.  A biologist within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department told me that wildlife and fisheries are going to lose, and the best we can hope for is to minimize the loss.

 

Along these lines, one aspect of the Energy Policy Act that I would urge the Committee to look into is implementation of Section 1811 of the Act.  That section authorized the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to prepare a report on the impact of coalbed methane development on water.  Unfortunately, because NAS is depending on funding from BLM to get this report together, and the BLM has not provided any money to them to do it, the study has not been initiated.  

 

Given the concern of sportsmen and communities in the West over the impact of rapidly expanding coal bed methane development on both water supplies and water quality, an NAS evaluation of the issue would be very helpful to states, local communities, and individual citizens in determining what sort of regulatory regime is appropriate for addressing the impacts on water quality and quantity.  We urge the Committee to let the BLM know that it expects the agency to provide the funding necessary to the NAS to get on with this important study.

 

I mentioned earlier that there are also places where oil and gas development is inappropriate and I’d like to specifically thank our Senator Craig Thomas for his landmark stance against oil and gas drilling on our national forests. We, too, believe that our national forests should be off-limits to oil and gas drilling. These are our headwaters and our hunting grounds. They are places where Wyomingites go to recreate and relax, to spend time with family and friends. These are heirloom places that should be passed down to our children and to their children.

 

The Wyoming Range in the Bridger-Teton National Forest harbors some of finest mule deer, moose and elk hunting in the state. It also is home to three important subspecies of native trout: the Colorado River, Bonneville and Snake River cutthroat.  People from all over the country come to this region to fish, hunt and relax.  Today, we are heavily developing country east of the range for oil and gas.  Places like the Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah gas field are helping to fuel this nation, but they are also places that have been historically used as winter range for our big game herds.

 

We are very concerned about the amount of development that is taking place on these winter ranges. It is a virtual certainty that our big game resource, and as an extension, the quality of big game hunting in this region is going to decline. If we develop not only winter ranges, but migration routes and summer ranges as well, we believe it will spell the end of quality hunting in western Wyoming. We’d like to see some very special places such as the Wyoming Range set aside for recreation and relaxation.

 

An example of why some places should be off-limits to energy development is the La Barge Creek drainage in the Wyoming Range. This stream is the site of a large restoration project being undertaken by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to bring back a native trout, the Colorado River cutthroat. At a cost of an estimated $2 million, some 58 miles of stream are being reclaimed and revitalized for this native, pure fish that has swum these waters for thousands of years. Yet even while fisheries biologists are hard at work with the restoration process, there are daily flights of helicopters doing seismic testing in the backcountry headwaters of La Barge Creek for potential gas field development.

 

Oil and gas development in the headwaters would mean roads and roads heavily impact fish by flushing sediment into drainages and blocking the passage of spawning fish. These two things: native pure fish swimming in clear, clean water on our national forests and industrial development cannot make for a happy marriage.

 

Our public lands sustain the last-best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing opportunities in the West. We only have one chance to develop our lands for gas and oil responsibly and all indications show that expedited leasing, rushed approvals for application to drill, and a lack of resources for meaningful studies, monitoring, and enforcement are spoiling that chance.  Trout Unlimited commissioned a literature review of information describing the effects of energy development on coldwater fisheries.  The lack of data is daunting.  I would like to submit this report for the record. 

 

I want to share with you a few more examples from the field that help to explain why state fish and game departments, federal fish and wildlife biologists, and hunters and sportsmen across the Rocky Mountain West are so concerned about energy development. 

 

  • In the past two years on the Uinta National Forest in Utah, the leasing of National Forest Lands was approved and carried out, and did not take into account the important fisheries restoration work that has occurred or the 2000 Range-wide Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout. In at least one instance, neither the forest’s fisheries biologist nor District Ranger was aware that the resources they are charged with managing would be facing new threats and challenges resulting from leasing that occurred in the Diamond Fork, a watershed that sustains a Conservation Population of native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout and also in the Strawberry Valley, where Utah’s most popular trout fishery, Strawberry Reservoir, is located.

 

  • In April, 2006 the Forest Service leased areas of the Wyoming Range.  Many of these leases are part of watersheds that sustain core-conservation populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout, a species that is currently regarded as “sensitive” by both State and Federal agencies. However, the Bridger-Teton National Forest is lacking baseline data and inventory information.  In addition to other concerns such as air quality, Canada Lynx habitat damage, and cumulative impacts, we don’t think it’s prudent to lease and develop areas in the absence of baseline data. 

 

  • Preliminary results of an ongoing study on mule deer impacts in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming by Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. (WEST), BLM, the energy industry and Wyoming Fish and Game show:

 

    • Mule deer abundance on the Mesa has declined. The Mesa’s overall mule deer population is down 46 percent since 2002.
    • Over-winter fawn survival rates have been slightly lower on the Mesa compared to the control region for four of the five years;
    • Mule deer are moving from previously “high use” winter habitat areas into areas that previously had been of “low use” suggesting that drilling and development has displaced mule deer to less suitable habitats;
    • Sublette County’s mule deer are among the most migratory in the West, traveling between 60 to 100 miles between summer and winter ranges. Documented migration routes, such as Trapper’s Point Bottleneck, remain important pathways between winter range in the Upper Green and summer range in the surrounding mountains.

 

A complete and sound understanding through research and continued monitoring of the impacts to our fish, wildlife, lands, waters and air is only prudent before jumping head-first into lease obligations and expedited development. 

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.  I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.