Trust: Final $750K needed to seal gas lease buyout

Trust for Public Land needs final $750K by year's end to secure Hoback gas lease buyout

Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A land conservation group said it is $750,000 short of meeting a year-end deadline to raise $8.75 million to buy out and permanently retire gas leases in the Hoback River headwaters.

A fundraiser for the effort in Jackson on Friday will feature a raffle with prizes that include a guitar signed by Johnny Depp, a 15-day ski pass at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and guided fishing trips.

Plucking on his guitar for the event at the Center for the Arts will be country musician Jalan Crossland, a Wyoming native and self-described "trailer park troubadour."

"I support clean, sustainable, environmentally benign jobs and industry, but when it comes to damaging the land and the water and all these kind of things, I always take sides with the environmental side," Crossland, of Ten Sleep, said Thursday.

Few Wyoming environmental issues have attracted as much attention within the state as the possibility of oil and gas drilling in the Wyoming Range, a scenic and mostly untrammeled region between Jackson and Kemmerer that is popular with hunters and fishermen.

Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production has sought to drill 136 gas wells a few miles south of Bondurant in Bridger-Teton National Forest. The 2010 Wyoming Range Legacy Act prohibited further oil and gas development on 1.2 million acres in the Wyoming Range but the PXP leases are among the small number of existing leases exempted from the act.

The PXP drilling would occur near the headwaters of the Hoback River, a federally designated wild and scenic river.

The Trust for Public Land announced in early October that it had agreed with Plains Exploration and Production to buy out PXP's 58,000 acres of leases for $8.75 million. The group already had raised $4.5 million for the deal.

Since then, the group has raised another $3.5 million, but a Dec. 31 deadline to come up with the full amount is looming, said Deborah Love with the group.

"We're basically right there at the goal line. We just need a little field goal and we'll be there," Love said.

Extending the deadline will not be an option, she said.

Early donors included TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who has pledged $1 million. The Ricketts family owns most of the Chicago Cubs and Ricketts owns a fly-fishing retreat, the Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch, in the Bondurant area.

"He went and talked to his neighbors and I would say virtually every neighbor to this project has contributed," Love said. "Since that time, we've had a combination of some significant six-figure gifts and just a whole bunch of smaller gifts."

The Trust for Public Land will take donations during Friday's fundraiser. Snake River Brewery in Jackson will donate proceeds from beer sales at the event and match up to $5,000 in donations Friday, Love said.

Besides Crossland, Grateful Dead cover band The Deadlocks and a group of local high school musicians, Spatial Relations, will perform.

Tickets will be $20 for the general public and $10 for students. VIP tickets with a buffet and free drinks cost $100.

After buying out the leases, the Trust for Public Land plans to donate them back to the U.S. Forest Service for permanent retirement. The Wyoming Range Legacy Act provides for such lease buyouts and retirements.

PXP officials have publicly endorsed the deal as a sound business move that will help the company refocus its efforts elsewhere.

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