BLM Sanctions Tavaputs Plateau Drilling Program
The United States Bureau of Land Management's Price field office has approved the Bill Barrett Corporation's West Tavaputs Plateau drilling program in Carbon County.
The Price BLM office concluded that the project, which would include wells on the West Tavaputs Plateau and pipelines in Nine Mile Canyon, would have no significant impact on natural, cultural or other resources of the area.
The BLM's decision to approve the drilling project comes after more than seven months of review and the completion of an in-depth environmental assessment.
The analysis included the consideration of more than 200 comment letters from the public and the BLM's consultation with Native American tribes, other land management agencies and local government, according to the federal agency.
"We have taken every reasonable and necessary precaution to protect cultural, archaeological and natural resources" indicated Patrick Gubbins, Price field manager. "The proposed action will not have a significant impact on the environment when combined with the required mitigation measures for this project."
Barrett's proposal includes 12 vertical wells on federal lands and 10 wells on lands administered by the Utah State School Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
The proposed wells are located on the Tavaputs Plateau and would not impact the visitor experience in Nine Mile Canyon significantly. None of the wells would be in Nine Mile Canyon.
If conventional drilling operations prove successful, an additional 16 directional wells could potentially be drilled from the existing pad sites, noted the federal agency.
To help reduce potential visual and audible impacts to visitors in the Nine Mile Canyon area, BLM selected an alternative that approved two buried gas lines located in Dry Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon.
In addition, a compressor station at Water Canyon will be moved to an existing site at Dry Canyon.
Extensive visual simulations were conducted to ensure buried pipelines would blend into the area as seamlessly as possible.
To ensure cultural resources are protected, a 300-foot wide corridor was inventoried for cultural and historical resources including standing structures and rock art.
In all cases, the pipeline avoids the resources, pointed out the federal agency.
To further ensure protection of undiscovered buried cultural resources, a geomorphology study was conducted to identify the age of material the pipeline would be buried in.
Where possible, the pipeline will be routed through material that is younger than the cultural resources occurring in the canyons.
BLM will require Barrett to take meticulous measures to protect cultural resources including a requirement to provide a permitted archeologist who will monitor all pipeline construction activities.
The analysis conducted by the BLM estimates a maximum of 255 acres of surface impacts dispersed over a project area of more than 43,000 acres, note the federal agency.
The acreage represents less than one-half of 1 percent of the total project area.
BLM's review of the project proposal included consultation with Native American tribes, the Utah Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with federal requirements.
In a July 16, memorandum, the Utah field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurred with the BLM's biological assessment, stating the proposed action with required mitigation, "may affect but is not likely to adversely affect" threatened and endangered species, including the Mexican spotted owl.
The USFWS also concurred with the BLM's determination that the project will not result in adverse modification or destruction of designated critical habitat.
"The West Tavaputs project decision reflects our agency's commitment to environmentally sound energy development, an approach that ensures protection of cultural resources while considering other important resources, such as recreation, watershed protection, and wildlife habitat conservation" noted Gubbins. "The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 requires us to balance management of public land resources in the mariner that best serves the public. Energy production is an important part of that multiple-use mandate."
Copies of the West Tavaputs Plateau drilling program environmental assessment and the decision record are available for Carbon County residents to review at the Price BLM field office.
The documents will also be posted on the Price field office's website at http://www.ut.blm.gov/westtavaputs.