The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has announced its intention to approve a major Uinta Basin drilling expansion that seemingly has something for everyone 3,675 wells to continue the boom, air-quality controls to limit ozone and river canyon protections that environmentalists like.
The agency announced release of its final environmental study of Anadarko's Greater Natural Buttes plan south of Vernal, subject to a 30-day comment period. The eastern Utah project would expand an existing natural-gas field largely from within, drilling directionally from 1,484 pads to limit the new footprint.
The company met with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance before proceeding and agreed to keep out of a potential canyon wilderness area on the White River, popular for family float trips.
Anadarko also pledged to protect some private lands on the river with a conservation easement.
"Pretty excited about it," SUWA staff attorney David Garbett said Thursday. "It's definitely a win-win scenario."
Industry leaders see it as a victory as well.
"It is a great step forward for the economy of both the state and the Uinta Basin," said Lee Peacock, executive director of the Utah Petroleum Association. "It means continuation and enhancement of jobs and tax revenue and a product that the state needs."
In a prepared statement, Anadarko regulatory affairs manager Brad Miller said the plan delivers "the significant, long-term economic benefits of these resources in a manner that protects air and water quality, wildlife and the scenic quality of the White River."
As part of a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency, the plan also would put emission controls on old and new gas field equipment to keep from exacerbating a winter ozone pollution problem in the basin.
EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin issued a statement Thursday saying his agency and the BLM "worked closely to address environmental and public health concerns, including measures to protect air quality."
Gov. Gary Herbert's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he has previously said he looked forward to "setting up the next decade" of basin work with this and other projects.
If and when all 3,675 wells are developed during the next decade, they alone would represent a major boost to Utah's energy industry.
Right now, the Beehive State has more than 10,000 producing oil and gas wells about 6,100 of them producing gas.
BLM State Director Juan Palma recommended the collaborative process as "a model to others interested in finding balanced solutions to complex issues."
The announcement follows last month's BLM approval of Gasco's West Tavaputs gas field with 1,298 planned wells.
That project brought less harmony among industry and environmentalists, because it would encroach on the Green River and a popular float destination in Desolation Canyon.
Garbett called that "a project on the doorstep of one of America's greatest natural canyons, which also would foul the air."