Volume 103, Number 16 - December 21, 2006
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BLM proposes 4,399 new wells on Anticline through 2023
The Bureau of Land Management’s Pinedale Office has released its long awaited analysis of industry’s proposal to expand drilling on the Anticline by waiving winter wildlife stipulations.
The BLM’s report looks to add 4,399 new wells to the 1,139 already approved on the Anticline. Drilling on the field would be authorized for another twelve years, to 2023.
Currently, drilling on the Anticline is restricted to protect big game crucial winter range, though the BLM has lifted these restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Industry’s proposal, examined in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) released last week, would lift the winter restrictions for a core area of the Anticline.
Energy representatives claim that by drilling year-round in concentrated areas, they can reduce habitat fragmentation, protect wildlife corridors and, in general, reduce impacts to wildlife by completing the drilling faster. This will allow them to reclaim land faster as well.
The SEIS examined several options, a No Action proposal, a Preferred Alternative and the Proposed Action, which is the plan submitted by Ultra Resources Inc., Shell Exploration and Production, and Questar Exploration and Production. These three companies control over 90 percent of the Anticline’s gas reserves. The Proposed Action plan developed by the companies seeks approval to drill up to 4,399 additional wells on 12,278 acres. The companies would like to drill at a rate of 232 wells per year.
The BLM’s Preferred Alternative accepts the number of wells and disturbed acres industry proposed. It is estimated that, if approved, this drilling expansion on the Anticline would generate over $16 billion in royalties, half of which would go to the State of Wyoming.
The Anticline Decision, from 2000,approved 1,139 wells, 500 of which have been drilled. The surface disturbance approved six years ago authorized 4,484 acres. The project is expected to have a 60 year life.
Diana Hoff, Questar’s Pinedale Division Manager, explained in a November interview, that with this proposal, the companies are not looking at the next “five years, but the length of the project.”
Through the unusual alliance forged by the companies in pursuit of lifting winter restrictions, Hoff noted that they hope to manage their leases while minimizing the negative impacts. According to the alliance, this expanded proposal with unlimited year-round drilling will minimize negative impacts, if considered over the life of the project.
The Preferred Alternative, which mimics industry’s plan, would allow the concentrated development of 19 acres at any given time, which would be divided among the companies.
According to the BLM, this plan “could cause significant adverse impacts to the human and natural environments.” Industry touts the plan as providing predictability for the workforce and communities of the area.
The BLM’s modeling indicated that approval of this plan would not result in exceedance of National or State Ambient Air Quality Standards. With the ubiquitous disclaimer that the BLM does not regulate air quality, the agency highlighted visibility as the major air quality issue, and not health concerns from particulates or other emissions.
The BLM’s report notes that visibility in Pinedale and surrounding areas “may be significantly impacted in the future. ‘Significant’ in this context means there may be a noticeable change in visibility over several days per year.
This year, the BLM has concurred with the Wyoming Game and Fish recommendation that winter activity could harm the mule deer population, which along with sage grouse, has suffered significant declines over the past years of development. The BLM restricted the lifting of winter activity stipulations this year.
Because development will be constrained to only 19 acres at a given time, the BLM agrees with industry that this plan will reduce habitat fragmentation. Directional drilling practices will also reduce the amount of surface disturbance. The agency also noted that “operators will develop an area, reclaim and move on the next area,” meaning acreage will be developed “for shorter periods of time over the 60-year life of the plan.”
“The areas will then be reclaimed faster for the use of wildlife, rather than developing the entire area over the entire 60 years and not allowing any wildlife use.” The BLM added that this plan will provide undisturbed areas to allow wildlife movement.
Green groups contend that even this limited development will cause too much disturbance to species during critical times of the year.
If approved, both industry and the BLM acknowledge that traffic levels on and to the Anticline will increase, though Ultra and Shell have said they will commit to constructing a Liquid Gathering System like Questar’s, which reduces truck traffic. This proposal would result in six percent of the Anticline’s Project Area being developed. The project area is about 200,000 acres.
The BLM has estimated that 21 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered by this new plan.
The BLM is accepting public comment on the SEIS through February 12, 2007. Copies of the document can be viewed online at http://www.wy.blm.gov/nepa/pfodocs/anticline/seis/. Hard copies are also available at the Pinedale Field Office at 432 East Mill Street. Written comments can be sent to the Bureau of Land Management, Pinedale Field Office, c/o Matt Anderson, PO Box 768, Pinedale, Wyoming, 82941. Emails may be sent to WYMAIL_PAPA_YRA@blm.gov.
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