Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where real work is getting done

It obviously didn’t generate the coverage leading up to, during, and after the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen. But the Powder River Basin Interagency Working Group’s coalbed methane development research and monitoring workshop Dec. 2-3 in Sheridan, Wyo., mattered just the same.

“The conference was intended to present the information to oil and gas producers and landowners in a way that it could be understood,” explained Dale Tribby, who works in the US Bureau of Land Management’s Miles City, Mont., field office and co-chaired the meeting.

“Its purpose was to take people who had done research related to hydrology and aquatics and wildlife, and then present those findings to the audience,” he told me in a telephone interview. “About a third of the presentations were related to water quality issues, another third to aquatics, and the final third on wildlife, with emphasis on sage grouse.”

The working group is made up of federal, state, tribal, and county agencies, according to BLM. Its activities exemplify efforts to bring stakeholders together to constructively discuss issues, efforts which all too frequently are overlooked.

“We had a wide variety in the audience. There were people from regulatory agencies, the general public and other groups. There was a lot of discussion,” said Windy Davis, an energy specialist with Montana’s Fish Wildlife and Parks Department who was the meeting’s other co-chair. “Quite a few oil and gas producers were there. Montana and Wyoming’s petroleum associations both sponsored it. About a quarter of those in attendance were operators.”

(Yes, I checked to make certain of the spelling of her first name. With my last name, I try to do when I come across one that’s unique. I also made certain not to make jokes about hers because I’ve heard so many about mine, especially at this time of year. But she volunteered that she finds hers appropriate for where she lives and works.)

“A lot of this work was not new; it’s been ongoing for several years,” said Davis, who also works as a biologist under BLM’s pilot office program. “It was a check-in with some folks on what’s been going on with the monitoring networks. There were no big surprises. It was pretty civil, with good discussions and lots of questions. The meeting was intended to share data and let people know what progress has been made on these projects.”

The meeting also provided an opportunity for outside consultants who have been hired by oil and gas producers to learn what has been going on in water quality, aquatics, and wildlife research, she continued. Companies such as Fidelity Exploration have hired these consultants to study issues such as effluent discharges and sage grouse habitat, Davis said.

I periodically encounter such meetings as I cover government and the oil and gas industry. They provide a refreshing contrast to the conflicts and rhetoric which make great copy but ultimately accomplish little. The folks who are doing this real work to identify, address, and solve problems deserve all of our best wishes during this year-end holiday season and through the coming year.


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