Jonah Energy will suspend plans to develop SW Wyoming field until review of sage grouse done

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LANDER, Wyoming — Jonah Energy will suspend plans to develop a southwestern Wyoming natural gas field until federal and state agencies have completed a review of the area's sage grouse population.

Jonah Energy has been looking at developing a 3,500-well natural gas field an area south of Pinedale. The area is home to a large population of wintering sage grouse.

While the Denver-based firm did not have imminent plans to drill in the area known as the Normally Pressurized Lance, its decision comes as Wyoming policymakers consider changes to the boundaries of the state's so called sage grouse "core areas," which are designed to protect the bird, the Casper Star-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1EM2OGu).

The Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a state group charged with the bird's conservation, is reviewing core area boundaries for the first time since Wyoming adopted a strategy to protect the species in 2008. The review comes in advance of a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expected later this year, on whether to list the sage grouse as an endangered species.

State officials are hoping Wyoming's plan to protect the bird will help avoid a listing. But whether or not that strategy is deemed adequate by federal officials will depend in part on how the state deals with areas like the NPL area.

The Sage Grouse Implementation Team review will culminate next month in a recommendation to Gov. Matt Mead, who will have the final say in whether or not to alter any core area boundaries.

Against that backdrop, Jonah Energy Regulatory Director Paul Ulrich said the company will not drill exploratory wells until BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish have completed a review of the area's wintering sage grouse.

The company could have applied for permits to drill exploratory wells prior to completion of BLM's environmental review. Such wells are needed to help determine the extent of the gas resource and the final development plan.

Jonah Energy has paid for research to identify the bird's winter ground boundaries, and will continue to support scientific analyses of the area, Ulrich said during the meeting.

"All of us want to make sure that winter concentration area is protected at an adequate and science-based level. That's the bottom line," said Ulrich, who also is a member on the Sage Grouse Implementation Team.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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