President’s Column – June 2004

Title: Beer, Bait, Beans…and Gas: A Microcosm of Land-use Issues
Author: Donna S. Anderson
Publication: The Outcrop, June 2004, p. 3

BBBGas copyThe sign on the old cabin is a relic from the early 1950s. It used to hang on the side of a log-cabin store and cafe on the then-rough road from Cora, Wyoming, to upper Green River Lakes. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area, it is at the junction of the northern Green River Basin (now called the Hoback Basin) and Wind River Mountains near Pinedale, Wyoming. In the 1950s, the store was the site of weekly square dances, attended by ranchers and a peculiar breed of guys known as “doodlebuggers,” who were busy shooting seismic (1-fold) surveys in the valley. Geologists were early visitors to the area, mapping the complex and not-so-complex structures since the 1920s. One structure, the Pinedale anticline, had been mapped and drilled by the California Company (now morphed to ChevronTexaco) in the 1930s. But it lay dormant, waiting on technology that could unlock its multi-TCF gas reserves. In those days, the big petroleum-industry activity was a little farther south near the twin “cities” of Big Piney and Marbleton, where the Tiptop-Hogsback, Birch Creek, Dry Piney, La Barge and several other gas fields were being developed on what came to be known as the La Barge platform and, later, the Moxa Arch. Today those fields collectively have produced over 7 TCFG. As it turned out, fields across the Moxa Arch nearly coalesced into one super giant field nearly 100 miles long and 18 miles wide. I guess the structure was so big that nobody initially recognized it for what it has become.

Needless to say, the scenery in the upper Green River valley is nothing short of spectacular. The region has been a mecca for outdoor recreation since World War II, along with ups and downs in the tourist business. Where the sign hangs today is on a private ranch that used to be a dude ranch from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s, when dude ranching was in its second heyday. (The first was before World War I.) Now in its third heyday, the area is being developed into private ranchettes along the upper Green River and around Cora and Pinedale. Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, and backpacking thrive in the nearby Wind River wilderness. Try parking at the Elkhart Park trailhead on a July day!

Today, the frenzied petroleum industry activity is on the Pinedale anticline and on a faulted structure southwest of the anticline, known as Jonah Field. Activity is brisk in the entire northern Green River Basin, where coalbed methane plays and spin-offs from Jonah Field are sought. Technology has advanced to the point of unlocking the gas resources. The Rocky Mountain gas market is coming out of its 80-year depression with the construction of new pipelines to populous markets.

Great story, eh? It is a microcosm of land issues facing us in the entire Rocky Mountain region. People are moving in to enjoy the scenery, recreation opportunities, and build starter-mansions. Drill rigs dot the landscape; traditional ranching is threatened by poor economics exacerbated by drought; environmental groups focus on the ecologic resources of federal lands. The inevitable clash of priorities is playing out in this formerly sleepy part of Wyoming. Is multiple-use really a sustainable concept in the West? Not without a lot of compromise.