Loren Barritt is the operations manager for Williams Production Company, a nationwide energy development company currently involved in natural gas development on a number of privately owned parcels in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. He agrees that open communication up front is the best policy for developing positive and lasting relationships with private landowners.

“Our natural gas development is centered on landowner relations, water and wildlife. I would say that 90% of our landowner relations have been positive, collaborative efforts with benefits for both us and the landowner.

“This industry has taken a few blows in the communications area over the years, but we make every effort to go in and communicate what we’re doing up front, from the start,” he says of how his company works.

The long-term benefits of a development project can be good and/or bad, according to Pauley.

“There are some folks with good working relationships, and sometimes development companies will use their equipment to make their roads better or make improvements to the operation. There are also stories of struggle, where people deal with increased traffic, injured livestock, increased trash, and other negative things,” she says.

Third-generation Powder River Basin rancher Tom Harriet’s personal experience has been very positive.

“My ranch looks better since I’ve been involved with development. It didn’t always look nice during development, but that’s why these companies provide compensation. After the development phase was over, the impact was minimal, and the range improved where development occurred,” he explains.            

Water, for instance, is a big deal in Harriet’s arid country.

“Coalbed methane development produces a lot of water as a byproduct, and the water we’re discharging is good, potable water. We’re able to utilize that water on these private lands in a number of ways that are beneficial to both livestock and wildlife,” Barritt says. On Harriet’s ranch, for instance, discharged water has been developed in numerous ways, including a center pivot.

“There is more water available everywhere as a result of the development, and we now have geese and ducks on our place, which we never saw before. There are also more deer and antelope, and several other wildlife species are seen with much greater frequency,” Harriet says.

“All wildlife will adapt, and they use the well pods and reclaimed areas, and in many cases prefer them. The environmental groups act like oil and gas development is destroying the wildlife and their habitat, and that’s a lie,” he adds.

Harriet says another perk in today’s development world is that these development firms have the money and equipment to reclaim land to a condition better than they found it.

“Williams has located and fixed multiple areas of concern on my land, including some washed-out cuts. And, they have continued to maintain those areas. The result for me has been some much improved areas with increased grass production that both livestock and wildlife enjoy. My cattle are always grazing up pipeline corridors and around well pads, because that’s where there’s more grass and less sagebrush,” Harriet says.

Pauley’s overall advice is to “be prepared” when considering entering into a development project.

“Have an idea of what you want out of development, and know what others around you are getting. Be proactive and look at how you can use the development to your advantage to improve your operation,” Pauley says.