Devon now can drill year-round in the Powder River Basin, thanks to a wildlife mitigation agreement developed by Devon’s regulatory employees in Wyoming.

It is the first such agreement approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas drilling in the Powder River Basin.

The agreement covers Devon’s development plan for 49 wells spread over 15,000 acres. It displaces federal restrictions that essentially shut down drilling from February through July each year.

Buffer zones protect bird

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects hundreds of species, including the ferruginous hawk. This species migrates to the Powder River Basin area during the spring and summer to nest and rear its young. It is closely monitored because of its restricted range and its habitat requirements.

The ferruginous hawk often nests on the ground, so for the bird’s protection the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have created buffer zones. Activities such as drilling and well pad construction are prohibited within a half-mile of a nest during the nesting season, typically Feb. 1 through July 31. Within a quarter-mile of a nest, no new wells are allowed at all, even if drilled outside those dates.

The restrictions are enforced without regard to how long it’s been since the nest was occupied. Devon’s wildlife consultant found that many of the nests cited for drilling restrictions had been inactive for years.

Solution requires monitoring

Devon’s plan involves building multiple well pad locations and conducting intensive monitoring during the nesting season. If a ferruginous hawk builds a nest within a half-mile of a chosen pad, the drilling rig is moved to another pre-constructed pad outside the buffer zone.

Building multiple pads ahead of nesting season paid off in 2015, as a hawk nested within the buffer zone of a planned drilling location. Devon simply moved to alternate locations until the young birds fledged. In the past, drilling at that site would have been off limits until later in the year.

The agreement covers only the current 49-well development plan. But now Devon has the blueprint for writing similar agreements for future drilling plans.

Devon thanks BLM

The BLM approved Devon’s wildlife mitigation plan within six months of Devon submitting its initial draft. Additionally, that plan has played a role in reducing the BLM’s approval process for individual Devon drilling permits from 10 months to four months.

“The BLM went to great lengths to make sure it would meet the requirements of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act while also providing flexibility for responsible oil and gas development,” said John Raines, vice president of Land. “We appreciate the BLM’s efforts to achieve both of those goals.”

Published: September 2015