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Group gives aerial view of Clark gas test site
Gas development, center, is close to homes and wells along Line Creek near Clark, Wyo. Seismic testing is under way on BLM, U.S. Forest Service and private land on nearly 47 square miles around Clark.

CODY — With preliminaries to seismic exploration for natural gas starting this month near Clark, local decision-makers had a chance to survey the 47-square-mile lease area from the skies Monday, through a program organized by the Clark Resource Council.

Politicians, reporters and Clark residents joined pilot Bruce Gordon, president of EcoFlight, a Colorado-based environmental advocacy group, in aerial tours over the area. More flights were scheduled for today.

Terry Hinkle, a candidate for Park County commissioner, took a flight early Monday morning. Though he said he had not previously formed a strong opinion on energy development near Clark, Hinkle found the flight enlightening.

"It's something that needs a close watch," said Hinkle. "You can't stop development, but you can certainly keep an eye on it. It's important to protect the private property rights of the people in the area."

Park County Commissioner Marie Fontaine went on a similar flight last July.

"I can see more development from last year," said Fontaine.

She said she sympathized with landowners struggling with the state's split-estate laws, which allow developers to access minerals on private property, but county commissioners are limited in what they can do to help.

"I can see how it's frustrating, because sometimes you have no say. You're kind of held hostage," said Fontaine. "The key here is to make sure there's nothing harmful happening to the wells and creeks."

Developers at Windsor Energy of Oklahoma City, Okla., have contracted with Quantum Geophysical of Houston to conduct a seismic survey of the lease area.

The process involves drilling holes in a grid pattern and setting off thousands of underground explosive charges. Instruments measure vibrations and create a map of locations most likely to hold large gas deposits.

Exploration should wrap up by Sept. 20, said Bruce Fulker, vice president of permit services for Quantum.

Fulker said surveying on the project began last week, with drilling scheduled for later this month and July. Testing and data acquisition is scheduled for mid-August, he said.

A handful of landowners have yet to sign agreements allowing Quantum access to their property for testing, said Deb Thomas of the Clark Resource Council.

Residents had asked to see a copy of the application filed by Quantum for the project, she said.

If the application was made in 2004, landowners may have fewer rights than if it had been filed after passage in 2005 of a state law granting greater protection for surface rights holders in split-estates.

Thomas said some residents had hoped to see the application in order to make an informed decision before negotiating an access agreement with Quantum.

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Fulker said the application was filed before passage of the new law, and details on seismic studies are confidential for five years.

"They can go to the state Oil and Gas Commission and be assured that we've got a valid permit," he said.

Fulker said the commission will have a representative in the area "pretty much full-time during the project, to ensure compliance with the law."

"Seismic is really not an issue anywhere else in Wyoming except in Clark," said Fulker. "I've never seen this kind of public involvement."

Fulker said unannounced visits to drilling or testing sites were a safety hazard. He encouraged concerned residents to contact Quantum to schedule a time to visit testing operations in the area.

Thomas said a number of residents are circulating a petition seeking to build support for a comprehensive watershed plan for the Clarks Fork drainage.

Such a study would provide a broad assessment of water quality across the area, she said, and would help in addressing potential problems not only from energy activities, but also increased subdivision development.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or (307) 527-7250.

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