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Large oil and gas project up for public review

Published: Friday, Dec. 27 2013 4:43 p.m. MST

An oil pump outside of Myton, Utah on Tuesday, Aug., 25, 2009. The Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental impact statement on a company's proposal to drill up to 5,750 new oil and gas wells over 16 years on an existing field in Duchesne and Uintah counties.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal land managers have released a draft study probing the impacts of a company proposal to significantly expand its oil and gas production in the Uintah Basin.

Newfield Exploration Co., Utah's largest crude oil producer, would be able to add 5,750 new oil and gas wells over a 16-year-period at an existing field in a plan that could ultimately yield more than 335 million barrels of oil and nearly 541,000 million cubic feet of natural gas. Deep gas development though 2035 could bolster production of natural gas to a yield of 6.9 trillion cubic feet, according to the plan.

The Monument Butte Project encompasses nearly 120,000 acres about 6 miles south of Myton, and would result in approximately 170 miles of new roads and new pipelines in Duchesne and Uintah counties.

An array of drilling and mitigation scenarios have been under review by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah, with the agency settling on a plan it said is the most restrictive for new oil and gas development across sensitive landscapes while still meeting project needs.

Utah's BLM Director Juan Palma said the project achieves the right kind of balance.

"This important project milestone underscores the BLM's commitment to facilitating oil and gas development using a balanced approach that supports energy production on public lands in Utah where it's most appropriate," Palma said.

The BLM rejected Newfield's initial plan following a round of public meetings in 2010 during which multiple issues were raised, including protection of stream, wetland and riparian habitats, and possible effects from the project on water quality within the Prairie Draw, a significant perennial water resource in the area.

In what is called the "Resource Protection" alternative proposed by the BLM, Newfield has to avoid any new surface disturbance in the Pariette Wetlands Area of Environmental Concern and take steps to minimize impacts to two federally listed plant species of cacti.

Newfield had also proposed a plan that would have resulted in the loss of 19 acres of nesting and foraging habitat for the western yellow-billed cuckoo, which is under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The alternative settled on by the BLM would only cause the loss of one acre of habitat.

The BLM also wants to decrease the surface "footprint" of the project by offering in its option fewer new well pad locations, but a substantially greater number of multiple directional wells. The agency notes that the water requirement for its alternative is greater because of the number of wells that will be converted into water flood injection wells.

A series of informational open houses have been scheduled in January in advance of the 45-day comment period closing Feb. 4.

Those meetings are from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at the BLM-Utah State Office, 440 W. 200 South; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Best Western Plus, 2477 W. U.S. 40, Ballard, Uintah County; and 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Uintah County Library, 204 E. 100 North, Vernal.

Mailed comments can be sent to the BLM Vernal Field Office, Stephanie Howard, 170 S. 500 East, Vernal, UT 84078, or emailed to BLM_UT_Vernal_Comments@blm.gov.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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