US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar hailed the collaboration that made an agreement possible as he signed the record of decision authorizing Anadarko Petroleum Corp.’s Greater Natural Buttes natural gas project in eastern Utah. “The partnership we see here not only with the oil and gas community, but also the conservation community, shows that we can have both: abundant, responsible energy production, and protection of our scenic and recreation resources,” he said during a May 8 signing ceremony in Salt Lake City.
Approval clears the way for Anadarko to drill as many as 3,675 wells in an existing producing area in Uintah County while safeguarding air quality and protecting critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation values, Salazar said. The project encompasses 163,000 acres but will disturb only 5% of the area’s surface, or 8,100 acres, as a result of the 1,484 well pads where drilling will occur over 10 years in the Uinta basin, he indicated.
The project will support as many as 4,300 jobs during development, and an average of 975 jobs during the project’s lifetime, Salazar said. “Perhaps even more impressive is the collaboration among federal and state agencies, the industry, the conservation community, and local and tribal leaders to allow this project to go forward,” he continued. “This effort has created a template for what ought to be happening in development of our oil and gas resources around America.”
US Bureau of Land Management Director Robert V. Abbey, who also participated in the ceremony at the Kern River Compressor Station in Salt Lake, said Greater Natural Buttes’ projected production will reach 3-4% of the region’s total over the next 2 decades. BLM prepared the project’s final environmental impact statement in coordination with the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Uintah County government participating as formal cooperating agencies, and coordinated closely with the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure their concerns were properly addressed, he said.
Abbey said as a result of the collaborative process among federal, state, local and tribal governments, Anadarko and the Utah conservation community, the project will implement best management practices in the project area to safeguard air quality and protect crucial big game winter range, sage-grouse and sage-grouse habitat, sensitive soils, visual effects and recreational use.
‘A shrinking oasis'
Stephen Bloch, the energy program director at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) who also spoke on behalf of the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council, said the White River stretches across the project area’s southeastern corner and is “one of Utah’s most remarkable wilderness and recreation resources.”
Bloch said after several frank discussions with Anadarko employees, the Houston independent agreed to not drill in particularly sensitive areas and to implement mitigation measures to address SUWA and other environmental groups’ biggest concerns. “This is not the first time the conservation community has reached out to the oil and gas industry and reached a consensus agreement, nor will it be the last,” he said.
Brad Holly, the project’s general manager, called it “a shining example of what we can achieve if we all work together for productive energy solutions.” He said Anadarko has used new technology to reduce environmental impacts and lower development costs so they’re economic, including processes to recover liquids from up to 500 MMcfd of production. “We’re moving to closed loop systems which eliminate the need for an open pit,” he said. “We’re also [taking multiple steps] to capture emissions at the well site and not release them into the atmosphere.”
Juan Palma, BLM’s Utah state director, said the Interior agency has been working for the past year on an air-quality plan for the state. “We are requiring companies to make less volatile organic compounds go into the atmosphere, which means fewer ponds and more direct collection,” he said. “There also is a lot of vehicular traffic which creates dust that could be eliminated by collecting more of the gas from pipelines. The object is not only to have a higher air quality level, but also stable air quality.”
Palma said the agreement that set the stage for the project’s approval reflected the work of many individuals in federal, tribal, state, and local governments; Anadarko, and the environmental community over a long period. “In order to see eye-to-eye, we needed to meet face-to-face,” he observed. “That’s what was necessary to move this critical energy project for Utah and the nation forward.”
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