SALT LAKE CITY — Environmentalists are lauding a natural gas drilling project proposed for Uintah County as the way to do business — promoting a nexus among federal land managers, the gas company and conservation groups.
"This project is a model on how to do it right," said David Garbett, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "Kudos to Anadarko for being receptive to our conservation concerns."
On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management announced that the Greater Natural Buttes Final Environmental Impact Statement is under review for 30 days, after which a decision will be made on the parameters of the project.
As proposed by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the Greater Natural Buttes' infill project is for an existing developed gas field in Uintah County, where up to 3,675 new natural gas wells will be drilled from 1,484 well pads. The active drilling time is slated for a period of 10 years.
Juan Palma, Utah state director of the BLM, said the agency worked cooperatively with tribes and environmental groups to meet concerns dealing with wildlife, natural habitat and other impacts to the area.
"Today's announcement is an example of what is possible when all parties work together to find common ground," Palma said. "I encourage this type of collaboration as a model to others interested in finding balanced solutions to complex issues."
EPA regional administrator Jim Martin said air quality concerns are addressed in the BLM document, and as Anadarko develops its field, the company will take appropriate measures to protect air quality.
"Anadarko's project is a great example of a domestic energy project with essential safeguards," Martin said.
In addition to the document released by the BLM, Anadarko entered into a conservation agreement with SUWA in which the company said it would limit the number of wells in wilderness-quality lands of the White River area. Conservation easements will also be in place surrounding certain segments of the river. SUWA said the White River agreement will help ensure the area will be protected from the sights and sounds of oil and gas development.
"The Greater Natural Buttes project demonstrates that by working cooperatively with stakeholders, we can deliver the significant, long-term economic benefits of these resources in a manner that protects air and water quality, wildlife, and the scenic quality of the White River and Greater Natural Buttes area," said Anadarko's Brad Miller, SUWA's general manager of regulatory affairs.
The project area encompasses approximately 162,911 acres in an existing gas-producing area, with new surface disturbance estimated to be 8,147 acres — about 5 percent of the total project area.
SUWA's praise of Anadarko's proposal is in stark contrast to the group's assessment of another proposed project, which is under review by the BLM until April 16. The Gasco proposal involves nearly 1,300 new natural gas wells in Duchesne and Uintah counties but remains too close to Desolation Canyon wilderness area, the group says.
"It makes absolutely no sense that they would move forward with a project like that," Garbett said, pointing to Gasco's proposal. "When they have learned how to do things the right way, like this project. … It's almost like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario."