In support of President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, the Bureau of Land Management today approved a natural gas project in Utah's Uinta Basin that would drill up to approximately 1,300 new wells over 15 years.
The approved plan, which includes a number of measures to minimize impacts on sensitive areas, such as reduced surface disturbance, directional drilling, and extensive environmental protections, will support nearly 200 jobs and guide development of an area that could yield nearly three trillion cubic feet of gas over the next several decades. The Record of Decision (ROD) for the Gasco Uinta Basin Gas Development Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), signed today, will boost America's energy production and strengthen local economies while responsibly protecting the key landscapes and recreational resources of the project area.
No drilling or infrastructure will be developed in or near Desolation Canyon. The nearest proposed drill site is about four miles northwest of the Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark and five miles north of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area.
"As we move forward with President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy, we must strive for balanced, environmentally appropriate development of our nation's energy resources," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "This plan reflects our commitment to responsibly address public concerns regarding resource and land use issues in the Uinta Basin area. Working together with Gasco Energy, Inc., we have made substantial improvements to protect land and water resources, safeguarding iconic areas such as Desolation and Nine Mile Canyons, while supporting Utah's economy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
As originally proposed by Gasco Energy, Inc., the plan called for nearly 1,500 gas wells and the same number of well pads, with a total disturbance area of 7,533 acres, including well pads in Nine Mile Canyon north of Desolation Canyon.
The final plan approved today reduces surface disturbance, eliminates floodplain impacts, protects the viewshed for Green River, Desolation Canyon, and Nine-Mile Canyon, and reduces impacts to water, soil and air quality. In response to comments received on the reduced-impact plan set forth in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, today's decision reflects additional protections, including reduction in the size of the area covered by the decision and assurance that before production wells are drilled in sensitive areas, the company will provide BLM with a development plan that includes protections for those areas.
The plan allows a maximum of 1,298 wells that will be drilled from no more than 575 well pads. Surface disturbance has been reduced by one-half to 3,600 acres, or about two percent of the total development area of 206,826 acres. The plan also incorporates directional drilling to reduce surface impacts. The plan prohibits any wells below the rim of Nine Mile Canyon, in the 100 year floodplain, or in critical habitat for endangered fish.
"Today's announcement is a prime example of the successful collaboration among the BLM, Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Uinta and Duchesne Counties," said Juan Palma, the Bureau of Land Management's Utah State Director. "Together, we worked with Gasco to step up and find ways to minimize impacts to wildlife habitat, air quality and other resources in the Uinta Basin while harnessing important energy resources for our nation."
Additionally, the number of evaporating ponds was greatly reduced and their disturbance area was halved. The amount of water needed for drilling was substantially lowered, and 94 percent of the water used for the project will be treated and recycled production water. A water monitoring plan will address all water quality impacts.
To protect historic and pre-historic cultural resources in the area, the cooperating agencies signed a programmatic agreement in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to address potential cultural impacts. In addition, visual and noise mitigation requirements have been established to reduce impacts to recreationists and viewsheds. Final siting of wells and infrastructure will be designed to minimize these impacts.
Today's announcement is part of the Obama administration's commitment to developing America's abundant natural gas resources in a way that can help fuel the Nation's economy and, according to independent estimates, support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. In 2011, U.S. natural gas production grew by more than 7 percent -- the largest year-over-year volumetric increase in history -- and easily eclipsed the previous production record set in 1973. Similarly, in 2011 domestic oil production reached its highest level in eight years, with foreign oil imports continuing to decline.
The Record of Decision on the Gasco project is available online at: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/vernal/planning/nepa_.html