oil pipeline sign

Emigration Canyon Pipeline, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

A pipeline network designed to transport carbon dioxide and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) products through Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The BLM released its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) of the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative (WPCI), comprising approximately 1,958 miles of pipeline across private, state and BLM-managed lands. About 1,104 miles of the proposed corridors would be located on BLM-administered lands.

The FEIS addresses air quality, wild horses, sage-grouse habitat, fire and fuel loads, land use and livestock grazing.

Gov. Mark Gordon (R) commended the FEIS’s finalization as “an important step” for Wyoming in its pursuit of expanding carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization.

“The WPCI is a first-of-its-kind project that incentivizes solutions to one of our nation’s most consequential ways to address environmental and economic challenges,” Gordon said.

The WPCI was initially proposed in 2012 as part of then-Gov. Matt Mead’s energy strategy. In 2012, the Wyoming Legislature allocated $2 million to study the project. Last year, Gordon supported House Bill 200, which calls for integrating carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration into coal-fired power plants to generate “low-carbon” electricity and the development of infrastructure connecting to existing oil fields within the state.

Carbon dioxide would be injected into reservoirs to remove residual oil that traditional drilling processes did not extract. The WPCI found the use of EOR products has the potential to produce up to an additional 1.8 billion barrels total of oil. According to the Wyoming State Geological Survey, the state currently ranks eighth nationally in crude oil production and produces about 102.1 million barrels of oil a year.

Comments received

In the initial scoping period held earlier this year, the BLM heard from 33 entities, including businesses and state agencies.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) commented it hopes the agency and the BLM will work together through the site-specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process “to ensure that private landowners’ concerns and the interests of the various publics are met.” The department encouraged pipeline development companies to work with grazing permittees and producers to hear their concerns and recommendations as they are “intimately familiar with the areas affected by this proposal.”

Livestock grazing represents a vital economic value to agriculture producers and local communities,” WDA commented. “Additionally, livestock grazing contributes irreplaceable environmental and social values, preservation of open space, scenic vistas and visual beauty of the area, and the traditional image of the historic rural landscapes of Wyoming and the West. This corridor project will have a direct impact on livestock grazing as pipelines are built and maintained. The BLM should analyze any loss or impact on these important environmental, historical and social values of livestock grazing.”

The Wyoming Farm Bureau reiterated the need for the BLM and pipeline companies to work with grazing permittees through the NEPA process, citing they have an “outstanding knowledge” of the area. The Bureau also suggested broadband infrastructure could be located in the corridor as “reliable broadband will become more and more critical to its members.”

Impacts on grazing

Although livestock grazing would not be permanently affected, anywhere from 4,612 acres or 621 animal unit months (AUMs) to 42,746 acres or 3,291 AUMs could be temporarily off limits.

According to the FEIS, “Indirect impacts to grazing allotments from subsequent construction, operation, and decommissioning activities could include the loss of forage, potential disruptions to calving and lambing areas and periods, and increased mortality and injuries to livestock resulting from increased vehicle traffic. In addition, livestock could be temporarily displaced from preferred grazing areas and range improvements (including water sources) by construction activities.”

Additional impacts could occur through potential damage to fences, gates, and cattle guards, resulting in livestock’s accidental release. If road improvements are necessary in grazing areas, alternative means would be made available to access grazing allotments, water resources and livestock.

Any temporary losses of forage would not be enough to warrant adjusting the grazing permits associated with individual grazing allotments. The permitted AUMs for grazing allotments will be adjusted if it is determined that there would be a loss of forage. If there is also a decrease in land acreage for livestock grazing in allotments, a two-year notice to the permittee would be required, unless waived.

The FEIS stated the disturbance of soils and removal of existing vegetation is “likely to result in the introduction and spread of invasive plants, including noxious weeds, in corridors and the surrounding area.” Of particular concern is the area within 500 feet of the pipeline construction and areas adjacent due to equipment, wind, and wildlife.

“In Wyoming, shrub-steppe and riparian ecosystems are particularly susceptible to exotic grasses such as cheatgrass,” the FEIS states.

Both the Wyoming Farm Bureau and WDA expressed concern for controlling noxious weeds, stating it is “of the utmost importance.” Both asked for the monitoring and control of noxious weeds until the desired vegetation is established.

Wild horses

All four FEIS alternatives cross multiple herd management areas (HMAs) and would affect wild horses via noise and increased human activity during future pipeline construction and maintenance activities.

The HMAs range from 19,107 acres (Rock Creek HMA) to 687,546 acres (Salt Wells Creek HMA). Most of each HMA would still be available for wild horse use. Fragmentation of habitat and reduced access to water during construction would be temporary and limited to construction and reclamation duration. Once reclamation is successful, the area would no longer be fragmented, and wild horses could use the site again. However, wild horses could decrease or delay the success of revegetation efforts within corridors by grazing or trampling revegetated areas.

Because the proposed project amends existing resource management plans, it is subject to a 30-day public availability period, and the governor will also have 60 days to review the FEIS. The FEIS does not give the green light to authorize pipeline development. Companies hoping to build a pipeline within the approved corridor would still need to undergo additional review processes and permitting, leaving the project’s exact outcomes unknown.

University of Wyoming Economist Chuck Mason called the initiative “a big-time unknown,” telling the Casper Star-Tribune the corridors could be beneficial for natural gas pipelines in the future instead of “throwing a lifeline to coal power plants.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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