Companies to start rehiring CBM workers soon |

Companies to start rehiring CBM workers soon

GILLETTE, Wyo. ” At least one major coal-bed methane company plans to start putting drilling crews back to work next week in northeast Wyoming.

Drilling had slowed recently in the area while production managers checked drilling plans to make sure they were in compliance with various federal restrictions that protect raptors and sage grouse.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we wanted to play this very safe,” Kelly Swan, spokesman for Williams Production RMT Co., said Friday. “We did, so to speak, take a time out, and we think it was a fruitful process.”

Williams deactivated 12 of 14 contractor rigs during the lull, Swan said. Other companies did the same, leading to temporary layoffs that rippled throughout the industry and possibly affected more than 1,000 workers.

But Swan said Williams will begin activating drilling rigs and bringing back crews over the next week.

Some 150 workers protested recently at the Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo Field Office over the restrictions.

All of the concern centered on surface occupancy restrictions to protect raptors and sage grouse that reactivated in February and March. Those stipulations, or “stips,” blot the map with large orange and purple circles around nests and strutting grounds where drilling and other activities are temporarily restricted.

There’s agreement between the BLM and some in the industry that the seasonal restrictions are having more of an impact as time goes on because the gas play is moving into areas where there’s more bird habitat.

In the past, coal-bed methane companies could keep drillers busy by moving them to “non-stip” areas during the raptor roosting and sage grouse-strutting season in the spring. Rigs and other equipment are typically allowed to cross “stipped” areas to get to non-stip areas.

However, Williams wanted to be extra careful and decided to suspend drilling, BLM Buffalo Field Office manager Chris Hanson said.

“Philosophically, Williams didn’t want to get in trouble, so they said, ‘Time out, we don’t want to get in trouble,”‘ Hanson said.

BLM and Williams officials met on Wednesday to make sure drilling plans comply with all the bird and wildlife stipulations currently in place.

“Our bottom line is all about compliance, so that’s why I think it was a very fruitful week in terms of working with the BLM,” Swan said.

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