It's in the legals

Aug 10, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Details on the Moneta Divide gas project appeared recently in a public notice ad

When you are curious about detail developments in the news, sometimes you need look no farther than a public notice advertisement.

A good case in point came up this week. For years we've heard about development of the Moneta Divide natural gas project in eastern Fremont County, with spill-over into Natrona County. As these big projects are first introduced, the timetables are highly speculative. That certainly has been the case with Moneta Divide.

Initial projections years ago said the field would be in full production by now, but that has not happened. Along the way, unforeseen hurdles related to regulation, the economy, production and other factors can crop up. In the case of Moneta Divide, one of those was the effect on groundwater in the remote area where the hundreds of new gas wells were to be sunk. Drilling for natural gas displaces groundwater, which then must be disposed of lawfully. Usually that simply means putting it back into the ground or in channels or reservoirs created for that purpose.

When regulating authorities raised red flags about the Moneta Divide project as it concerns groundwater, there were delays. More than a year ago, state regulators had rejected the developer's initial plan to produce gas from Moneta Divide.

Now, the project developer is preparing to ask permission to go forward even though its process won't strictly be in compliance with state law.

This is not the sort of news event that the company sends out regular press releases to announce. That is not a product of secrecy, just of not having all that much to report as the regulatory and appeals process is dragged out. Our newspaper has covered Moneta Divide from time to time over the past several years, but it fell pretty far off our radar somewhere as well. It's been a while since a Ranger reporter wrote about the status of the project.

Enter the public notice advertisement. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the State of Wyoming published a "legal" in last Sunday's edition. In it were details about a meeting planned forSept. 11in Casper.

What that legal notice tells us is this: Aethon Energy is asking the state for an exemption from the strict waste water requirements for some big segments of land. It has prepared material which it believes warrants the exemption from the standard rule, and it will ask the commission to examine that material.

Included in the public notice are the exact location of the affected land, some information about the rules, the names of the proposed gas fields (two of them don't have names as yet) and exactly what it is the company is proposing to do instead of following established procedure.

It gives the date of the meeting, the location, the official in charge, and information about public comment or protest.

Why was this in the newspaper on page C-7 of the sports section on that day? Because it is required by law. Long ago our state government determined that corporations planning to develop and profit from the state's natural resources, disturb public land, and affect water on or beneath that land need to follow a legal process of notifying the public of it intentions.

To ensure that such requirements are met with timeliness and accuracy, the state agency itself places the legal advertisement informing everyone of the corporation's request to be exempted from existing state regulations.

If Moneta Divide takes off as developers hope, it could be a transformative event for Wyoming and Fremont County in the 21st century. But it has to be done properly. Part of that means keeping the public informed of what's going on. And you can follow along in public notice advertisements.

Through a statutory partnership which obligates developers, public agencies and the local newspapers, the "legals" continue to be a vital, unimpeachable source of public information.

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