Kicking Things Into Gear

Things around the Buffalo Field Office in Wyoming have really picked up since I returned from the workshop in Chicago. Upon our return, my fellow intern, Christine, and I have been going out to the field together to start our inspections. What we do is a bit different than what most CLM interns are working on. To explain briefly, she and I inspect abandoned oil and gas wells to checkĀ on their status and how the reclamation process is progressing. Reclamation is the final requirement in releasing a well from bond, and if it isn’t being completed properly the operator will be notified by the BLM and can be fined if necessary.

On our first solo mission out to the field, Christine and I chose 5 wells out of our assignments for which the office had received notice that the operator was to plug and abandon the well. No further paperwork had been sent in in the few years following the notice to plug and abandon, which we thought was odd. So we decided to investigate. Prior to heading out, we created a map of the site and roads to load into Avenza (an app I highly recommend checking out). Something I’ve learned working this summer is that navigating dirt and two-track roads in Wyoming is never as straightforward as you think. Locked gates and roads in rough condition were the major obstacles we faced that first day out. A good portion of that day was spent trying to find the right road into the site, but we succeeded after plenty of trial and error. The wells we inspected that day still had infrastructure in place and lots of cheatgrass around them. Clearly, the reclamation isn’t going well.

We went back out to that site a few days later to check on the rest of the wells in that grouping. All were in a pretty similar state to the ones we saw on the first day. As we were leaving the site, we heard a call over the CB radio that there was a fire right off the main road we took into the site. I scanned the horizon and saw smoke rising in the distance. After a moment of irrational panic that somehow we had caused the fire, we realized it was a few miles from anywhere we had been that day. There were already BLM firefighters working on it, so we continued on with the rest of our day.

Wyoming, the Real Wild West

I arrived in the quirky town of Buffalo, WY on May 10th, which gave me a few days to settle in before starting work on the following Monday. Moving in was a relief after driving 2,000 miles from Massachusetts in a matter of days. I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the town’s residents have been. Buffalo is a far cry from my city of Worcester, MA, but it is a welcome change of pace. The close community of a small town like Buffalo has quite the charm. I’ve had the chance to explore some of the town’s shops and restaurants as well as the surrounding areas. The landscape is incredible, though vastly different from the New England forests I know and love.

Starting my internship with the BLM has been exciting, but not without hiccups. Getting my Access card and account set up for work has been a slow process as a result of some miscommunication. Luckily everything should be good to go next week! I haven’t been able to do much of the online trainings, so until then I’m filing paperwork and organizing data. I really don’t mind either of these tasks. I’ve found them to be meditative almost in their repetitive nature. I did get out in the field this past Wednesday to check out a small oil spill and an improperly installed culvert. Had I been by myself, I definitely would’ve gotten lost on the back roads we took. So far I’ve learned a good deal about navigating Wyoming and the BLM’s roles in resource extraction. Next week is packed full of training, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about!

Until Next Time,

Jess McDermott