Volume 7, Number 49 - February 28, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
BLM Flunks Its EPA Review
Despite its negative critique and “unsatisfactory” review of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Pinedale Anticline Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDSEIS), an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official says new water and air quality analyses could offset the serious issues the EPA has with the document.
“We’re really optimistic we’re going to be able to work this out with the BLM and in turn, the BLM to work it out with the operators,” said Larry Svoboda, EPA Region 8 National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) program director.
For example, the RDSEIS has “very sketchy information” about groundwater contamination in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area, including the causes and to what extent it exists, Svobada said.
“There needs to be mitigation,” he explained. “Whatever’s causing it has to stop ... especially if they want to do a lot more wells.”
As for air-quality issues, he said, “(the BLM) has to find ways of reducing those emissions” because of the Anticline’s proximity to the Bridger Wilderness.
“I’m very optimistic – these (wilderness) resources are extraordinary – that natural gas can be produced without degrading the Bridger Wilderness,” Svobada said.
“Optimism” is a byword on other fronts as well, from BLM Pinedale Field Office Manager Chuck Otto and Upper Green River Valley Coalition Director Linda Baker.
Otto said this week that he and others were “a little surprised with the EPA’s letter.”
“But this is such a huge complex undertaking,” he said of the Anticline document, adding that the BLM, EPA and Wyoming Department of EnvironmentalQuality will meet Friday to discuss possible solutions.
“We think we can bring our failing grade up to a passing grade before the final (EIS) goes out,” Otto said.
Baker, who has studied air and water quality issues intensely as they relate to human health, said that she is hopeful that the EPA’s critical review will yield an improved approach by the BLM to drilling on the Anticline.
“I am also optimistic that the BLM will now see the simple wisdom in the EPA’s 14-page letter,” she said this week. “At last somebody is making some sense...We’re all relying on the BLM to make sure they do a good job. This is a wake-up call to the BLM and a wake-up call to Sublette County.”
On Feb. 14, EPA Region 8 Administrator Robert Roberts wrote to BLM Wyoming State Director Robert Bennett, rating the RDSEIS at a dismally low “Environmentally Unsatisfactory – Inadequate Information” or “EU-3” rating and stating it should be formally revised with another public comment period.
Roberts cited specific concerns with adverse and significant potential impacts to air quality in terms of visibility and ozone content as well as existing and potential future groundwater contamination.
“These impacts are of sufficient magnitude that the proposed action should not proceed as proposed,” he wrote. ‘Further the ‘EU’ rating makes this project a candidate for referral to the Council on Environmental Quality if the unsatisfactory impacts we identified are not resolved.”
Roberts told Bennett that “these impacts are of sufficient magnitude that the proposed action should not proceed as proposed.”
“This ‘3’ rating indicates EP’s belief that the Draft EIS is not adequate for our purposes of our NEPA and/or Section 309 review and thus should be formally revised and made available for public comment in a supplemental or revisedDraft EIS,” the EPA administrator wrote.
New EIS or not?
The EPA doesn’t force the BLM to carry out further detailed analyses and design effective mitigations but can take the agency and the “inadequate” document (if not remedied and revised) to its highest level for resolution, Svoboda said.
“Our obligation is we have to review and evaluate an EIS like this and make our comments available to the public” if it has “serious environmental consequences or is inadequate,” he said.
“With this kind of rating” it would be “incumbent” to pass the document to Washington, D.C., for resolution if the EIS and project weren’t revised, he said. The BLM won’t necessarily have to redo the entire document “from scratch” but put the new analyses and mitigations into a new EIS, said Svoboda.
“They’ve done a lot of work on this EIS,” he said. “A lot of it is acceptable.”
Otto said he doesn’t think there will need to be a new EIS; the BLM will pull together experts and include the EPA recommended information in its final EIS draft, which he said could come out on schedule in late April. Its publication will be followed by a 30-day appeal period with the BLM’s Record of Decision expected by mid-June.
Baker said that many agree with the EPA that “there have been inadequate analyses” of air and water quality and added that the RDSEIS hasn’t examined “human impacts which are first and foremost with degraded air and water.”
“Suffice it to say the EPA isn’t the only agency that finds the EIS lacking,” she said this week, adding the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service also contributed negative comments about adverse air and water impacts and effective mitigations
“The public has a right to know what is happening to their air and water, and how it will affect their health,” Baker said. “Those are the issues I’m most concerned about. Happy healthy lives – that’s what I work toward.”
Otto said he isn’t sure how the operators – Shell, Ultra and Questar – proposing the massive Anticline project to drill 4,399 gas wells in a year round scenario have taken the EPA critique.
“We haven’t had any discussion with the operators from the Pinedale office on this at all yet,” Otto said. “I’m sure they’re apprehensive about it, though.”
Baker said local residents are “the ones who should really be the most concerned about what the EPA had to say.”
“‘They need a plan’ – that’s what the EPA was saying,” she said. “‘The BLM has done a shoddy job of being transparent with the public.’”
The EPA letter and review can be found at www.uppergreen.org/libary/docs/FinalEPAcomments or http://www.epa.gov/region8/compliance/nepa/nepadocs/comments.html.
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