The Bureau of Land Management’s Final Converse County EIS was expected to be released in October 2018, some estimated. Many anticipated the Record of Decision to come out in January.
Now, in February, there’s still no firm deadline on when the final EIS might come out, although cooperating agencies have seen and commented on the preliminary final document.
The EIS provides a framework for oil and gas development in Converse County. The BLM’s preferred alternative would allow for up to 5,000 new wells to be drilled in a 10-year period, far more than doubling the number of wells currently in the county.
The preferred alternative would also ease restrictions on operators, by, for example, allowing year-round drilling, something biologists said could harm nesting birds. Proponents touted the economic boons of the preferred alternative and downplayed the potential drawbacks.
While the draft EIS drew excitement from many, it also received a wide range of criticisms from individuals and agencies who pointed to concerns pertaining to groundwater, sage grouse habitat and air quality. Some ranchers expressed dismay with the sheer amount of drilling allowed for under the BLM’s preferred alternative, and worried it could negatively affect their livelihoods.
BLM High Plains District Public Affairs Officer Brady Owens says he doesn’t believe the delay of the final EIS is due to environmental or safety concerns.
“It’s just working out some finer details with the operators, on several little different points here and there,” Owens said.
Owens said he thinks changes in the understanding of Powder River Basin formations and technological improvements are driving the delay, and emphasized that with an important document like an EIS, it’s better to get it right the first time.
“If we have the opportunity to make this change, it’s best to do it now, versus trying to change something later,” Owens said.
While there’s no firm deadline for the final at this point, Owens said he believes the process will start picking up steam next month. But there’s no guarantee the BLM will put out a final EIS anytime soon.
“There may be changes big enough that we have to go back and do a different set of analyses, depending on what exactly we get asked for,” Owens said. “Now’s the time to do it.”