CASPER, Wyo. — Casper-based True Oil LLC hopes to drill two exploratory natural gas wells in the Bridger-Teton National Forest next year.
One well would be on an existing well pad that needs to be expanded. The other would need to be constructed. The company proposes expanding a third existing pad to hold a 65,000-barrel freshwater reservoir, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The proposed site is about 22 miles northwest of Big Piney in Sublette County, according to the Forest Service.
The area already has energy development, said Eric Winthers, acting district ranger on the Big Piney Ranger District.
True Oil has held leases to the area since 1978, said Tom Walker, a True Oil manager. But it wasn't until recently that advanced technology allowed drilling to occur horizontally through shale using hydraulic fracturing, which is more conducive and cost-effective in the area, he said.
The company has a lease for about 4,800 acres, but it's too early to speculate how much could be developed, Walker said.
"We have no idea what is going to unfold until we drill these two exploratory wells," he said.
The company plans to use the existing facilities and to minimize any additional disturbance caused by the two wells and reservoir, Walker said.
True Oil will have to go through a separate additional assessment and planning process with the Forest Service if it decides to develop more.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is concerned about the area's future health if the company decides to act on its other leases, said Lloyd Dorsey, Wyoming representative with the conservation group.
The Bridger-Teton forest is important to wildlife, recreation and watersheds, he said.
One concern is the proposed water reservoir.
"What does the Bridger-Teton plan for insuring that this reservoir is never breached or never fails, and what would be the impact of a failure for downstream users?" he said.
There are also concerns about air quality, Dorsey said, noting development in the Green River Basin has caused heightened winter ozone levels. The proposed site for development is near wilderness areas, such as the Gros Ventre Wilderness and the Bridger Wilderness, he said.
Those areas need visibility protection from development, he said. The proposed area also is Canada lynx habitat, a protected species and important forest carnivore, he said.
"In this era of budget austerity, the Bridger-Teton needs to assure the public that they have the means to mitigate and monitor before they permit any industrial activities," he said.
The company hopes to start the two-well project in 2013, Winthers said.
The project has gained heightened awareness because of its proximity to Plains Exploration Production Co.'s contentious drilling proposal in the Wyoming Range.
Comments are already trickling in on True Oil's request, although they have not yet been analyzed, Winthers said. After reviewing the comments, Forest Service officials will create an environmental assessment the public will be able to view and comment on before the project is considered for approval.