The US Bureau of Land Management approved a proposed natural gas project in eastern Utah’s Uinta basin after Gasco Energy Inc. reduced the number of planned wells by 200 to 1,300.
In addition, Gasco agreed that drilling activity will remain at least 5 miles north of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness study area. Environmental organizations immediately condemned the decision.
US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar said BLM and Gasco worked together to protect land and water resources and safeguard Desolation and Nine Mile canyons.
Gasco’s original proposal called for drilling wells in Nine Mile Canyon north of Desolation Canyon, and disturbing 7,533 acres, he noted.
In its June 18 record of decision, BLM allows a maximum of 1,298 wells to be drilled from no more than 575 well pads and limits surface disturbance to 3,600 acres.
The agency outlined plans for directional drilling to reduce surface impacts and prohibited any wells below the rim of Nine Mile Canyon, in the 100-year flood plain or in critical habitat for endangered fish.
A water monitoring plan will address all water quality impacts, BLM said. To protect historic cultural resources, parties signed a programmatic agreement under the National Historic Preservation Act.
Environmental organizations weren’t satisfied.
Stephen Bloch, attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said, “Salazar’s approval of the controversial Gasco project is wholly inconsistent with several recent agreements between industry, the Interior Department, and conservation groups over equally large and complex natural gas projects in eastern Utah.”
Sharon Buccino, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Land and Wildlife program, said, “This head-long rush to drill for oil and gas will almost certainly produce serious consequences for our air, our waters, our lands and our health.”
She said “drastic expansion of drilling in Utah’s proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness will also aggravate Uintah basin’s already-unenviable status as one of the most polluted regions in America.”
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