Environmentalists are questioning the legal justification offered for what would be the only active oil well inside the nation's first national forest.
Shoshone National Forest hugs the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park. More than half of the 2.5 million acre forest is designated wilderness where motorized travel is prohibited.
Casper-based Hudson Group, LLC, is proposing to drill an exploratory well about 10 miles northwest of Dubois near the forest's southern end. The forest is taking public comment on the proposal this week through Jan. 6.
Lisa McGee, with the Lander-based Wyoming Outdoor Council, said Tuesday the proposal is "on shaky legal ground."
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to allow the drilling without additional environmental review under a provision in federal law. The provision applies to drilling that involves fewer than four drilling sites, building or rebuilding less than a mile of road, and building less than three miles of pipeline.
McGee said to her knowledge the provision has yet to be invoked in its couple of years of existence.
"Certainly I don't know of any other examples in Wyoming where it's been used," she said.
A co-owner of the Hudson Group did not return a phone message seeking comment. Shoshone National Forest officials familiar with the legal provision weren't available for comment.
The drilling proposal is a decade old. An analysis of the project in 2000 was halted because of miscommunication between forest officials and Hudson, according to the scoping notice for the proposed drilling.
About two-tenths of a mile of road would be built and a three-acre well pad prepared. Any oil produced would be contained in tanks on site.
Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, doubted the project would cause problems.
"There will be plenty of stipulations to make sure that these people are doing things correctly," he said.
History offers little promise of a discovery, however. The forest hasn't had a new well since 1990s and no more than 35 wells over its 118-year history, said acting forest resource officer Greg Bevenger.
"Every one of them has been a dry hole except for one. That one produced for a very, very short amount of time before they shut it in," Bevenger said.