Horse News

Groups “water” wild horses


by Steve Browne

Wild horses are tough animals, but they need water like every other living thing.

A coalition of a federal agency, an oil company and a non-profit advocacy group are continuing efforts to ensure a reliable water source for the wild horse herd in the McCullough Peaks.

Dry Creek runs from Oregon Basin and across the BLM Horse Management Area and then drains into the Big Horn River north of Greybull. Since the 1940s wild horses and other wildlife have depended on water from Marathon oil wells, until changes in water management cut off the flow.

“Dry Creek is an ‘ephemeral drainage,’” said Mike Stewart, field manager of the Cody BLM office. “Water only flows during spring runoff and storms.”

Water often is found with oil and in the past was regarded as a biproduct. The water from Marathon’s producing wells is good quality and after treatment some was discharged into Dry Creek, causing it to flow year-round. That is, until pressure in the wells started decreasing.

“Engineers say the best way to reduce risk and recover more oil is through increased injection of water into the wells,” said Mike Williams, Marathon’s senior environmental professional.

Increased injection means Dry Creek reverts to its natural state, and wildlife dependent on the flow of produced water is at risk in dry years.

“Water used to run down Dry Creek and made it wet – that’s why the Horse Management Area was established,” said Warren Murphy, president of Friends of a Legacy (FOAL). “FOAL has created an agreement with the BLM and Marathon to drill several wells in the area.”

In the two years since the memorandum of understanding creating the project was signed, Marathon has drilled two wells and equipped them with solar-powered pumps.

The water flows into a concrete structure called a “guzzler,” which provides a shallow drinking pool for wildlife.

Spillover is allowed to percolate back into the water table.

The BLM also has restored six of the larger stock ponds in the area that have silted up, or been breached and fallen into disuse.

“We plan to drill more wells and pipe water from the FOAL well to existing reservoirs on BLM land,” Murphy said.

The goal is to provide dispersed water sources, according to Stewart. Concentrating water in a limited area would stress the surrounding land by overgrazing and possibly cause conflict among horse bands.

Funding for the project comes from Marathon, the BLM, FOAL and grazing leaseholders. Marathon donates the expertise, equipment, materials and contracting.

“This project is the poster child of ecosystem management,” Stewart said. “For Marathon to come in and want to be part of the solution to this problem is remarkable.

“FOAL has been a partner for many years. For the BLM to do it alone would take decades.”

13 replies »

  1. It’s certainly encouraging to hear of various peoples working together for a change. Seems everywhere people are fighting each other over something.


  2. Way to go Marathon! Hopefully more oil companies will be inspired to become good citizens and give back to the environment. Makes me proud to be the spouse of a Marathon employee.


  3. Super example of how what are typically cast as adversarial parties can and have come quietly together to create a win-win-win situation. We need more of this please!


  4. What is wrong with this picture? Oil companies drilling wells and using solar powered pumps? An oil company can never be a good citizen, never. And the BLM sure needs to polish up it’s tarnished image. This is how they are justifying more drilling, they’ve always needed the water primarily for the oil extraction process. And the water is of questionable quality- here it says ‘good’, but other articles say ‘not fit for human consumption’. It also may be away to try to show the purity of fracking water. Hello, if it isn’t healthy for humans, it isn’t healthy for wildlife.

    It’s the old mindset that animals are inferior to humans, but all of our bodily functions are the same, function the same way, and are subject to the same poisons. We don’t know how long wildlife will live drinking this impure water, or how it affects their health. This is a location, from appearances, where wildlife was drawn to the area because of an unnatural water supply that was created as a byproduct to drilling, the oil company certainly didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Now of course, the animals depend upon it. They didn’t have to do it and they aren’t really doing anything, either – just PR spin.


    • The mindset that I keep seeing here is that many of the readers on this site continuously look for the negative aspects of every post. I suppose it would be better if Marathon just stopped all efforts to provide water to the wild horses and other wildlife in the area so that they could die from dehydration. This would certainly give the BLM another excuse to round them up and put them into the slaughter pipeline. Marathon has been at this site for many years (since WWII), and the wildlife have been drinking this water for many years. I’ve yet to see any reports of death, disease or other atrocities noted in these bands of wild horses from drinking the water. An oil company tries to do something to give back (and be a good citizen) and everyone just gives them hell for it. Apparently your damned if you do and damned if you don’t if you are an oil company. I’m not a fan of fracking, but I do drive a vehicle that is dependent on oil, as I’m sure many of you do. It is truly unfortunate that in 2014 we are still so dependent on oil; but we are. This company is helping to provide fresh well water for the wild horses and other wildlife. Where are all of the wells that the wild horse advocate groups have dug? Let’s lighten up and give Marathon credit for at least trying to help, especially since they are providing the materials, equipment and contracting to dig the wells. It’s more than I’ve seen from any other oil company. And there is a wild horse advocate group working with them on this project. You are right that they didn’t have to do this, but they are “really” doing something to help the wild horses. Horses can’t drink PR spin.


  5. My interpretation of this is that the “collaborative” interests are doing this to keep some wildlife alive for a delaying effort that will eventually expose the actual damage all this extraction is doing.

    Like someone else said, they aren’t doing this to help the wildlife; they are doing this to save themselves and those filthy resource management practices. Oh…and maintain control of the situation.

    Extractors, ranchers and BLM never met a wild equine that was worth protecting.

    Beware of the Trojan Horse (pun intended).


  6. Well I was getting all warm and fuzzy over this article, but the last two commenters’ arguements to the contrary ring true.


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