JACKSON, WY –Proposed industrial scale natural gas drilling is threatening the Hoback River – known for its spectacular setting, thriving native cutthroat trout fishery, and wild character. This risk earned the Hoback the #7 spot on the annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™– a report issued by the conservation group American Rivers.
The Hoback River system provides clean drinking water for local communities and vital habitat for dozens of species, including large herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorn prized by hunters. Springs, seeps, and wetlands characterize the Hoback’s upper reaches, which flow through a roadless area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The lower eight miles of the Hoback downstream of the project area was designated as a Wild and Scenic river in 2009.
It is in the Hoback’s headwaters where Plains Exploration and Production (PXP), a Houston-based energy company, intends to begin hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a controversial natural gas extraction method that uses hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens, and produces toxic wastewater. A recent report issued by Reps. Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado states that from 2005-2009, Wyoming and eight other states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen injected into the ground.
Many water wells across the Rocky Mountain west are suspected to have been contaminated by fracking activities and American Rivers worries that similar pollution will impact the Hoback.
“Energy development is a fact of life in Wyoming, but some places are just too special to drill and should be left as they are,” said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers. “The upper Hoback is sacred ground for hunters, anglers, boaters and hikers, and local residents have made it clear they want it stay that way,” he said.
In its draft environmental impact study of the drilling proposal, the Bridger-Teton National Forest did not require a comprehensive baseline analysis of the area’s groundwater prior to development. Bosse fears that this omission could allow PXP to deny responsibility for the pollution that is sure to follow: “As things stand, no one is going to be held accountable for cleaning up what will most likely be a toxic mess.”
“My home overlooks the now pristine waters of the Hoback River. It sits on a bench adjacent to my relatives homestead site from which I can regularly admire mule deer crossing on their summer migration,” said Dan Bailey, one of many local citizens working to stop the drilling proposal. “The proposal to inject known carcinogens into the ground that may comingle with a person’s only source of drinking water would immediately rob us of our peace of mind and potentially poison our well and us as the fluids migrate over time.”
"The Hoback is an amazing river for its super clean water, incredible scenery and whitewater recreation,” said Aaron Pruzan, owner of Rendezvous River Sports in Jackson. “The fact that it's so close to town makes it a favorite place for local boaters and anglers. Our community worked hard to achieve Wild and Scenic protection for the Hoback. Allowing industrial-scale gas drilling in its upper reaches just doesn't fit with that status."
“Gas development in the upper Hoback poses a significant risk to water quality and quantity,” said Dan Smitherman, an outfitter from Bondurant and spokesperson with Citizens for the Wyoming Range. “We are pleased that American Rivers has joined the effort to promote common sense conservation and protection for the Hoback River and the other natural resources it supports.”
American Rivers is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to impose much stricter standards on the drilling proposal with the hope that PXP will seek a buy-out and leave the upper Hoback intact. The company has not yet expressed a serious interest in relinquishing its leases, however, so as a stopgap measure American Rivers has asked the Forest Service to exert stringent control over development, requiring baseline surface and groundwater studies before development, limiting the number of roads and well pads, establishing setbacks from surface waters, slowing the pace of drilling, and implementing monitoring and mitigation practices to protect surrounding communities.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
For 26 years, American Rivers has sounded the alarm on 360 rivers through our America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report is not a list of the “worst” or most polluted rivers, but is a call to action for rivers at a crossroads, whose fates will be determined in the coming year. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
American Rivers’ staff and scientific advisors review nominations for the following criteria:
- A major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year
- The significance of the river to people and wildlife
- The magnitude of the threat, especially in light of climate change
For the third consecutive year, America's Most Endangered Rivers™ is sponsored by The Orvis Company, which donates 5% of their pre-tax profits annually to protect nature.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.