Right way to drill
There are drilling projects for gas and oil that have followed a responsible development outline so that environmental concerns are aired and addressed. And then there is the other kind.
The Anadarko Greater Natural Buttes expansion project is one of the former. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it will approve the Anadarko plan to sink 3,675 wells in eastern Utah's Uinta Basin. The company has promised to use emission controls on all its gas field equipment, and it will stay out of a potential canyon wilderness area on the White River.
Anadarko has also agreed to protect some private riverside property by purchasing a conservation easement. The White River site is popular as a family river-rafting area.
The project, and the way in which various stakeholders collaborated, should provide a model for future oil and gas development. The company's project will continue the economic benefits to Utah and the Uinta Basin of energy extraction while protecting a valuable natural resource and taking pains to avoid worsening the area's air quality.
The Anadarko project would increase the existing number of oil and gas wells in Utah by a third if all 3,675 are developed, creating many new jobs. Utah now has about 6,100 producing gas wells and about 4,000 oil wells in production.
Setting precedent for environmental sensitivity are this project, the Bill Barrett Corp. drilling project near Nine Mile Canyon, as well as a plan by Enduring Resources to drill for gas. All resulted from reasonable collaborations among energy developers and conservationists to sink wells in ways that minimize the potential damage to historically significant cultural artifacts and sensitive natural areas.
On the other end of the spectrum, doing business in the old way that usually ends up in a court fight, is the Gasco company with its West Tavaputs plan to drill 1,298 wells in Uintah and Duchesne counties that would potentially damage the world-renowned river float destination of Desolation Canyon on the Green River.
The BLM seems ready to approve the Gasco plan to place 223 of the wells in a stretch of Desolation Canyon that even the agency describes as possessing wilderness characteristics. The BLM should slow down and listen to its colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency who have said the plan does not meet federal environmental review standards.
Those who want to protect Utah's valuable outdoor recreation resources and wilderness are not going away. Working with them benefits everyone, including regulators and developers.