Reclamation aint easy, and drought doesn’t help

— May 2, 2013

Some Rock Springs residents had to put up with dust and “odor issues” in recent weeks because Abandoned Mine Land reclamation work was completed too late in the season last fall to allow for reseeding.

Dustin Bleizeffer

In an April 19 letter from the state, Wyoming AML administrator Alan Edwards apologized for the odor problem and assured residents on Rock Spring’s west side that the agency and its contractor had a revegetation plan that would soon eliminate the odor.

Drought conditions during the past two years also makes reclamation work more difficult, according to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. Wyoming’s high plains are notoriously arid and, with a few exceptions, the state is lacking in fertile topsoil. Even under the best of conditions, it takes a green thumb to know how to grow in Wyoming. The challenge of reseeding and general surface reclamation in this arid environment can be a major roadblock for energy development in Wyoming.

Thousands of acres of surface are scraped bare and otherwise disturbed for drilling locations for oil and natural gas, and Wyoming’s coal mining industry strips so much of the surface you can see it from space. This surface disturbance, if not managed properly, can lead to poor air quality and ground erosion problems, creating human health risks and potential degradation to streams and aquatic life.

In fact, Wyoming’s “core areas” sage grouse conservation plan is built on the concept of limiting surface-disturbing activities — which is key to avoiding a full listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act. And just this week, the Douglas Budget reported that fires from last summer may lead to damaging erosion. The paper reported, “One of the major concerns facing the Forest Service right now is the potential for erosion. Because large stands of trees and forest floor vegetation were killed in the fire, their roots are no longer consuming water or holding topsoil in place.”

In this dry country, and during these dry times, an energy company’s best friend may be its environmental contractor tasked with covering foot-tracks and maintaining critical surface habitat. The recent wet snows will make for a sloppy “mud-season,” delaying a lot of oil and gas drilling until the surface firms up. But the moisture may help with the industry’s reclamation work throughout the rest of the season, which would be good for business. Proper reclamation is, after all, a requirement no matter if Mother Nature cooperates or not.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has written about Wyoming’s energy industries for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 577-6069 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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