Press Release from:
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL
THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE
SALT LAKE CITY (June 18, 2012) — A coalition of environmental leaders today condemned the Interior Department’s decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region.
Below are the reactions of leading voices that oppose the Interior Department’s plans to approve the Gasco project, which has been criticized in editorials across the country and whose calls for a compromise decision were rejected:
“The wild public lands of Desolation Canyon are a national treasure that belong to the American people and should be protected for generations to come,” said Representative Maurice Hinchey(D-NY), lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would protect some 9 million acres of BLM wilderness in Utah, including Desolation Canyon. “Unfortunately this decision ignores the counsel of myself and several other Members of Congress who made the modest request that 1,100 wells be drilled instead of 1,300 – thereby preserving the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area. What took millions of years for nature to create should not be destroyed by this irresponsible decision at the Department of the Interior.”
“Secretary Salazar absolutely made the wrong decision to approve the Gasco project which will result in significant, long lasting damage to the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness,” said Peter Metcalf CEO/President of Black Diamond, Inc. “This decision makes no sense, particularly when there was a viable alternative supported by congressional leaders, conservation organizations, the American outdoor industry, and tens of thousands of citizens endorsed an alternative drilling plan that would have allowed Gasco to develop the majority of the project area and at the same time protected the sanctity of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness. This decision doesn’t square with my understanding of President Obama and Secretary Salazar’s call for a balanced approach to energy development.”
“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,” said Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Such a 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. The Interior Department should have followed the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce the project’s footprint and protect the Desolation Canyon wilderness, while still allowing for significant development.”
“Secretary 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,” said Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “With this decision, the Secretary’s rhetoric of a collaborative approach to tackling difficult problems has fallen flat.”
There are more than 1,000 approved BLM drilling permits going unused by oil and gas companies in Utah alone.
“Desolation Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon along the Green River are some of the wildest places left in Utah, and they should be protected from drilling,” said Nada Culver, Director and Senior Counsel of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “With this decision, we see some recognition of the need to preserve the spectacular wilderness-quality lands, the rare and extraordinary rock art, and the threatened plant and wildlife species in Desolation Canyon –now that recognition needs to become a reality on the ground.”
“Desolation Canyon is an essential part of one of the nation’s most important wildlife areas, the Book Cliffs,” said Mark Clemens of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club. “We call this area America’s Serengetti. To mar this area permanently over 200 new natural gas wells is a serious error in land-management decision making.”
Background on Today’s Decision:
The BLM has described the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness as one of the largest unprotected roadless complex in the lower 48 states. Centered around the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, the area’s spectacular solitude and endless vistas are awe-inspiring. In approving the so-called Gasco Energy, Inc. development project, the Interior Department authorized 215 new wells, along with roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure in an area that conservationists and federal officials agree is a wilderness caliber landscape. This approval comes in the face of calls by the Environmental Protection Agency, congressional leaders and tens of thousands of citizens from across the country to approve an alternative to Gasco’s proposal that would have allowed for more than 1,100 new natural gas wells while protecting the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.
The Interior Department considered two alternatives to the company’s proposed action, both of which would provided ample drilling opportunities for the company but barred drilling in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and afforded greater protections for the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon badlands. But the administration ended up supporting the company’s plans to drill in all these sensitive places. Gasco – a Colorado-based natural gas company – is now authorized to begin permitting for more than 1,300 new gas wells in the area, including more than 215 new wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas. This approval comes at a time when natural gas prices are at near-record lows due to an abundance of gas supplies, and companies are idling drilling rigs in developed fields in the Uinta Basin. In addition, Eastern Utah has experienced several years of record high winter-time ozone levels that is largely linked to oil and gas development. According to Gasco’s own data, this project will add to those unsafe pollution levels.
BLM Press Release
WASHINGTON – In support of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, the Bureau of Land Management today approved a natural gas project in Utah’s Uinta Basin that would drill up to approximately 1,300 new wells over 15 years.
The approved plan, which includes a number of measures to minimize impacts on sensitive areas, such as reduced surface disturbance, directional drilling, and extensive environmental protections, will support nearly 200 jobs and guide development of an area that could yield nearly three trillion cubic feet of gas over the next several decades. The Record of Decision (ROD) for the Gasco Uinta Basin Gas Development Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), signed today, will boost America’s energy production and strengthen local economies while responsibly protecting the key landscapes and recreational resources of the project area.
No drilling or infrastructure will be developed in or near Desolation Canyon. The nearest proposed drill site is about four miles northwest of the Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark and five miles north of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area.
“As we move forward with President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, we must strive for balanced, environmentally appropriate development of our nation’s energy resources,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This plan reflects our commitment to responsibly address public concerns regarding resource and land use issues in the Uinta Basin area. Working together with Gasco Energy, Inc., we have made substantial improvements to protect land and water resources, safeguarding iconic areas such as Desolation and Nine Mile Canyons, while supporting Utah’s economy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”
As originally proposed by Gasco Energy, Inc., the plan called for nearly 1,500 gas wells and the same number of well pads, with a total disturbance area of 7,533 acres, including well pads in Nine Mile Canyon north of Desolation Canyon.
The final plan approved today reduces surface disturbance, eliminates floodplain impacts, protects the viewshed for Green River, Desolation Canyon, and Nine-Mile Canyon, and reduces impacts to water, soil and air quality. In response to comments received on the reduced-impact plan set forth in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, today’s decision reflects additional protections, including reduction in the size of the area covered by the decision and assurance that before production wells are drilled in sensitive areas, the company will provide BLM with a development plan that includes protections for those areas.
The plan allows a maximum of 1,298 wells that will be drilled from no more than 575 well pads. Surface disturbance has been reduced by one-half to 3,600 acres, or about two percent of the total development area of 206,826 acres. The plan also incorporates directional drilling to reduce surface impacts. The plan prohibits any wells below the rim of Nine Mile Canyon, in the 100 year floodplain, or in critical habitat for endangered fish.
“Today’s announcement is a prime example of the successful collaboration among the BLM, Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Uinta and Duchesne Counties,” said Juan Palma, the Bureau of Land Management’s Utah State Director. “Together, we worked with Gasco to step up and find ways to minimize impacts to wildlife habitat, air quality and other resources in the Uinta Basin while harnessing important energy resources for our nation.”
Additionally, the number of evaporating ponds was greatly reduced and their disturbance area was halved. The amount of water needed for drilling was substantially lowered, and 94 percent of the water used for the project will be treated and recycled production water. A water monitoring plan will address all water quality impacts.
To protect historic and pre-historic cultural resources in the area, the cooperating agencies signed a programmatic agreement in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to address potential cultural impacts. In addition, visual and noise mitigation requirements have been established to reduce impacts to recreationists and viewsheds. Final siting of wells and infrastructure will be designed to minimize these impacts.
Today’s announcement is part of the Obama administration’s commitment to developing America’s abundant natural gas resources in a way that can help fuel the Nation’s economy and, according to independent estimates, support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. In 2011, U.S. natural gas production grew by more than 7 percent – the largest year-over-year volumetric increase in history – and easily eclipsed the previous production record set in 1973. Similarly, in 2011 domestic oil production reached its highest level in eight years, with foreign oil imports continuing to decline.
The Record of Decision on the Gasco project is available online at: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/vernal/planning/nepa_.html