Washington • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and federal land managers say they're close to a decision that could nearly double the number of operating gas wells in the state and create thousands of jobs.
Federal authorities are finalizing the analysis of two fields of gas wells in eastern Utah's Uinta Basin. If approved for development, those fields would add a combined 5,175 wells.
"We're on the cusp of having a breakthrough on getting permits and more properties to lease and opportunities to drill," Herbert said this week. "And if we do this right ... we can set up the next decade, maybe decade and a half of work out in the basin."
Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, who met with Herbert this week in Washington, said he expects movement soon on proposals pitched by Gasco Energy Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. that have been under environmental consideration for years.
"What we're moving forward with is completing our analysis on some fairly large projects that have been proposed for development on existing leases," Abbey said, noting a "lot of wells" would be involved and could be a boon for the state.
The BLM boss said environmental impact statements could be released soon that, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, would ensure gas drilling and production doesn't scar the landscape, air or water.
Denver-based Gasco plans to sink about 1,500 wells in the area north of Nine Mile Canyon, and Anadarko would add about 3,600 wells in Uintah County's Natural Buttes area on the White River south of Vernal.
Environmentalists have raised concerns about the latter project because it could contribute to the area's already unhealthy ozone pollution.
Steve Bloch, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the Gasco project is the most troubling because there could be significant surface disturbance. It also encroaches on a popular loading area for Green River rafters through Desolation Canyon.
"Bottom line, we're very concerned about what the Gasco project is going to look like," Bloch said. "This project will be a real setback to that sort of common-sense approach" that President Barack Obama's Interior Department had charted previously.