Energy and agriculture: Energy industry develops in Converse CountyWritten by Saige Albert
Today, Wyoming is one of the nation’s leaders in energy production, with coal, natural gas, oil, uranium and various forms of renewable energy available across the state.
Specifically in Converse County, Douglas sheep producer Frank Moore says, “All of Converse County has been the focus of the next big play. I don’t know if it’ll be a big play or fizzle out, but some of the wells are producing better than expected.”
Because agriculture and the energy industry utilize the same land for their livelihoods, there is the potential for conflict between groups.
“What we see and what we fear is that our county will be taken over by oil companies, road and well locations,” continues Moore. “It’s a huge impact. We don’t want to see roads and people every place.”
Some producers see the energy industry as a positive addition to the ranch, while other are concerned for the impacts.
Garrett Henry of Henry Ranch north of Glenrock says, “This north country has really changed in the last couple of years. It used to be that we only saw three or four vehicles on this road, and now it’s a zoo out here.”
Henry mentions that new roads and new people are common now, but he sees energy as being ultimately positive.
However, Moore mentions that the new people also can decrease a sense of security.
“Ranchers who have already seen development no longer know who is on their ranch. They have people out there in the middle of the night,” explains Moore, concerned. “When they pull up to someone in the middle of the night, 60 miles from anywhere, they have to wonder, who is it and do they have a legitimate reason to be there? Are they pulling up on trouble? We don’t know anymore.”
Glenrock sheep and cattle producer Brad Boner notes that, for the most part, the energy industry is very important.
“I really appreciate all the energy that Wyoming has. We can really appreciate the money that is going back into our state,” says Boner. “We don’t have to look very far across the borders to see how important energy is.”
Financially, energy consultant Vic Garber says, “The bonus rates that are initially paid are much higher now than they have been in the past.”
He adds that the increase may be due in part to the success seen in North Dakota on the Bakken.
Garber says that, compared to past energy booms, surface use agreements today are much more sophisticated, with more money being paid on a per-rod basis and for locations.
“In all fairness to the surface owner, there is a lot more impact because so much water has to be hauled in to do this fracking,” explains Garber, referencing the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil. “The choices to get water to locations are overland pipelines, water supply lines going to a reserve pit, 400-barrel tanks to store the water, or hauling it and dumping it in a pit.”
The impacts are somewhat offset by intensive reclamation that is required following land use.
“When you look at all the reclamation required for pipelining and well locations, it’s fantastic because when these people with ownership in the ground are hired by companies, they make sure it’s done right,” explains Garber. “All the industry – coal, uranium, oil and gas, railroad and now wind – are blessed with the fact that so many ag people are involved, with the credibility they bring through their work ethic and through their leadership.”
The involvement of agriculture in oil and gas, coal or uranium extraction is increasing as more exploration takes place and companies continue searching for the next big play.
“In the last 30 years, we’ve had 17 producing wells on this ranch, and they didn’t affect our operation that much,” notes Moore. “It was a non-event, and it was good extra income for surface damage, but when they start talking about what they are doing other places, it will change, and not for the better.”
Despite compensation for roads and the location, Moore says that it would be impossible to compensate for the loss of views in Wyoming or the disruptions caused by more people in the area.
With the influx of energy companies into the area, it also requires additional time for ranchers to dedicate to their operation.
“It takes a lot of time meeting with companies and trying to figure out how things will work. It’s definitely a business in itself, to be honest,” says Henry. “It changes things when they start drilling, but it’s not a bad thing for our family.”
Forms of renewable energy, such as wind energy, have created new developments as well. Some describe the large wind turbines as an eyesore, but John Sullivan of Sullivan Ranch points out that private property rights are important.
“The wind farm at Boxelder is causing much grief,” says Sullivan. “I really don’t want to see any windmills up there, but it’s a good place for them and there is plenty of wind.”
“Private property rights are very important,” he adds.
With the installation of wind turbines north of his property, Boner says, “Most of the companies are really good to work with, but it’s like everything – most are good, and some are not.”
The energy developments in Converse County affect people countywide. Whether it’s developments on private property or leased ground, the energy industry is thriving.
“Everyone has had to adjust, but honestly, it’s a blessing to help take the burden off trying to make a living solely from cattle,” says Henry. “But when it’s all done and the oil boom is over, I still want to have a ranch left.”