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Sometimes Garret Eckerdt is bemused by such accusations; more often, he's annoyed. As Chevron's on-site production foreman, he's the man responsible for getting the oil and gas to market. For four years now he has been pretty much running Chevron's whole show, getting into everything from road building and drilling problems to dealing with private landowners and serving on the board of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. He works out of a small office full of maps, charts and bottled oil samples in a new prefab building a few miles outside of town. When he tells someone how he wants a job done, there is no question he expects it to be done exactly that way.
Chevron spends between $8 and $12 million for each well it drills and so far has drilled around 70 of them in Wyoming. Its $360 million natural-gas plant just north of Evanston will be ready to go on stream in the fall. By then, Eckerdt will have lined up as many new wells as he needs to keep the plant going full tilt. A grandfather who routinely works 12-hour days, Eckerdt is enormously proud of the job he is doing. "We're building something good here, and we're doing it right," he says. "I can't get the oil and gas without drilling, and I can't drill without building roads, and I can't build roads without displacing some wildlife. But when we're all done in here, the land will be ready to take the animals back."
Eckerdt drives visitors up into the hills to show them how he builds the shortest, most direct roads possible. "I've done a good job on my roads," he declares. "I will not back down to anyone on my roads." He points out the specially built nesting roosts on power-line poles that keep eagles from electrocuting themselves. He notes the boulders lined up to keep ORVs off a newly reseeded hillside. He emphasizes that all of Chevron's new pipelines, wellheads and plant facilities are painted a special sage-green color to blend in with the environment. At a drilling site, he explains how he will reclaim the land. "I'll backhoe some trenches over there so the water in that waste pit will disperse," he says. "I'll take that dirt over there on the right and fill in the pit. Then I'll take my grader and make that cut over there into about a three-to-one slope so the grass seed will stay on top of it...."
Reclamation. To oilmen, it's the ultimate saving grace. To wildlife experts, it's the Achilles' heel of development. "It has never been demonstrated, as far as I know, that you can reclaim this arid land at all," says Phil Riddle. "What they're doing is blading out the native sagebrush and saltbush and rabbit bush that has been growing here for thousands of years and trying to replace it with non-native grasses that don't belong here. That grass doesn't stabilize the soil, doesn't feed animals and doesn't even grow. The effects on wildlife can be disastrous.
"Take the young pronghorn antelope. That little critter starts out in the early spring eating tender shoots of young native grass. Then, he graduates to forbes. In the summer, he starts eating sagebrush. Sagebrush is going to be 80 percent of his diet. You aren't going to reclaim his habitat by planting crested wheatgrass all over the place."
After derailing the train-spur idea, Riddle and his fellow environmentalists were determined to keep their feisty new coalition together. Riddle, it's true, had some reservations about a few of the others, who, he said, were "a little fast on the draw." Some of Riddle's allies grew impatient, from time to time, with his deliberate pace and cautious pronouncements. "Phil works in a very political agency," said Ron Smith. "He's not going to get himself out on a limb if he can help it." But despite their differences, those in favor of an orderly approach to development began to work as a cohesive force.
Smith, Rogers and other activists kept close tabs on the BLM, making detailed suggestions on new proposals for roads and other facilities and keeping up the pressure for an EIS on the entire region. Riddle and his associates worked hard to anticipate the day when the oil companies would decide they could build additional natural-gas processing plants in the Commissary Ridge area near Cokeville. "We won't get caught flat-footed next time," Riddle vowed. "We'll have enough data for the big-game herds up there to go on the offensive."
Pugh and his allies in the state legislature made some progress, too, by gaining passage of an amendment that brings natural-gas plants under the scrutiny of Wyoming's seven-year-old industrial siting act. This meant the oil companies would have to run their plans for any new plants through a gamut of hearings and reviews, to work closely with local officials and environmentalists, and to put money up front for things like schools and sewage facilities. It was a breakthrough for environmentalists because it gave them, for the first time, real access to decision-making about development on the Overthrust Belt.
For a while last year, things seemed to be going so well for the environmentalists that they appeared to be on the verge of getting, if not an upper hand, at least a strong bargaining position. There was increasingly serious talk about a joint lawsuit by the National Wildlife Federation and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation to force the BLM to undertake an EIS. But then a funny thing happened on the way to a shootout. The oil companies came up with a million-dollar offer the environmentalists—most of them, at any rate—couldn't refuse.
The Overthrust Industrial Association, a consortium of some 36 oil and gas-related companies active along the northern Overthrust Belt, was formed two years ago to work with communities on problems created by the boom. Last summer, after the BLM once again refused to undertake an EIS, conservationists were mulling over what to do next when the Overthrust Association proposed to pick up the tab for a three-year wildlife research program. The research would be undertaken by independent contractors, the recommendations wouldn't be binding, and the oil companies would have a veto over all decisions. In trade, the environmentalists would agree not to sue for an EIS.