The U.S. Forest Service decided Tuesday that oil and gas companies will not be granted new drilling leases on 44,720 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
“After considering all the alternatives, and the environmental impacts associated with each, I have determined this is the best course of action,” Bridger-Toton National Forest supervisory Jacque Buchanan said. “No single factor led me to this decision. Rather, it was the combination of the sensitivity and values of the area, the magnitude of other activities currently underway or planned with potentially cumulative impacts, and the concerns of citizens, organizations and other agencies.”
Unfortunately, the over 9,700 existing wells in the area will not be affected by this decision.
Environmentalists who have been fighting to protect this pristine area are thrilled with the announcement, but some Wyoming residents, including Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy), responded with sharp criticism.
Lummis told the media that the decision was based on “everything but jobs, the economy, energy independence and national security” adding that it puts Wyoming’s “multiple use lands under lock and key.”
Wyoming is one of the largest petroleum-producing states in the U.S., exporting over 51 million barrels in 2009 (the lowest level since 1954). Wyoming’s petroleum industry directly employs approximately 20,000 people with an annual payroll of over $3.6 billion (PAWYO).
Preserving habitat for the Canada Lynx was one of the Forest Service’s main concerns when weighing the economic and environmental consequences of new drilling in the National Forest.
“There is so little documentation and understanding of that species. To make decisions without a complete picture of its habitat creates a lot of uncertainty not only for energy companies but other users of the public’s land,” said Wyoming’s new Governor Matt Meade (Daily Hiker).
Image Credit: Flickr - Wyoming Upper Green River Valley