Friday, July 30, 2010

SUWA, energy company reach historic deal on drilling near Nine Mile

In a unprecedented pact, a major energy company and its longtime environmental nemesis have agreed on a plan to drill for natural gas on eastern Utah’s West Tavaputs Plateau near relic-rich Nine Mile Canyon — and they did so without a lawsuit. The compromise by Bill Barrett Corp. and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance will significantly reduce the project’s environmental impact while still allowing drillers to capture much of the natural-gas resources they sought.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management signed off on the deal in its final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the West Tavaputs Natural Gas Full Field Development Plan. Under the final EIS, Barrett and other operators plan to drill 626 wells from 120 pads, shaving the initial proposal by 181 wells and 418 pads. It also reduces surface impacts from 3,656 acres to 1,603 acres, according to the BLM.

SUWA attorney and energy-program director Stephen Bloch said the agreement marks a “hard-fought compromise” negotiated over many months that will protect federal Wilderness Study Areas as well as additional lands with wilderness qualities near picturesque Desolation Canyon. The unusual negotiations between Barrett and SUWA, which headed up a coalition of conservation organizations in the talks, were separate from January’s “programmatic” agreement between the BLM and Barrett.The January accord was reached in cooperation with Carbon, Duchesne and Uintah counties, as well as cultural-preservation advocates, environmental organizations and others to protect the rugged and scenic areas from Nine Mile Canyon to Desolation Canyon along the Green River.

The final EIS is subject to a 30-day appeal to the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals. The atmosphere for compromise did not exist before the November 2008 election of President Barack Obama, according to Bloch and others. The Salt Lake Tribune