SALT LAKE CITY – After visiting Southern Utah last night to ceremoniously dedicate National Conservation Areas that had long since been designated, to wit: some three years ago in 2009 by former Sen. Bob Bennett, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved north in Utah today to conduct more ceremony, signing Record of Decision for a major natural gas project in Utah’s Uinta Basin.
Salazar was accompanied by essentially the same entourage of representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and environmental groups that had joined him in the Tuacahn Amphitheatre May 7. Today’s presiding participants included Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, BLM Utah Director Juan Palma and representatives of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, the Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
The company gathered at the Kern River Compressor Station in Salt Lake City for today’s ceremonial signing.
According to Salazar’s press release, the project could develop more than 3,600 new wells over the next decade, while safeguarding air quality and assuring the protection of critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation values.
Salazar maintained that the project supports President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, and the Obama administration’s goal of continuing to expand responsible oil and gas production; and that the project will support up to 4,300 jobs during development.
By signing the Record of Decision for the Greater Natural Buttes Project, proposed by Anadarko, the secretary approved up to 3,675 new gas wells in an existing gas producing area in Uintah County, Utah. The decision follows what Salazar characterized as a landmark comprehensive public consultation and conservation stakeholder involvement effort that resulted in a balanced approach to energy production and environmental protection that will boost America’s energy economy.
The project encompasses approximately 163,000 acres – but will bring new surface disturbance to just five percent of that area (approximately 8,100 acres) as a result of the 1,484 well pads approved in the ROD, which would be drilled over a period of 10 years.
Salazar’s press release stated that 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 our economy and, according to independent estimates, support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. It also asserted that 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, the secretary’s release claimed, in 2011 domestic oil production reached its highest level in eight years, with foreign oil imports continuing to decline.
“The President is focused on expanding safe and responsible production of natural gas as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs,” said Salazar. “This agreement is a great example of how collaboration can allow us to uphold America’s conservation values, while bringing growth to Utah’s economy and further reducing our dependence on foreign oil by developing our resources here at home.”
The new gas wells proposed under the Administration’s plan are forecast by them to support an annual average of 1,709 jobs directly and 1,212 jobs indirectly. At peak development, the project would support 4,302 short-term jobs, and support an average of 875 long-term jobs over the production life of the project.
“Secretary Salazar’s action today represents the culmination of a comprehensive public involvement effort involving tribes and numerous cooperators at the federal, state and local level to ensure we are addressing environmental concerns early in the process, allowing energy development to move forward with the support of everyone at the table,” Abbey said.
The BLM prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project in coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Uintah County, which participated as formal cooperating agencies during the EIS process. The BLM also closely coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure their concerns were addressed.
As a result of a collaborative process among federal, state, local and tribal governments, Anadarko and the Utah conservation community, the project will implement best management practices in the project area to safeguard air quality and protect crucial big game winter range, sage-grouse and sage-grouse habitat, sensitive soils, visual effects and recreational use.
The process that led to today’s decision, according to Salazar’s release, is also in line with President Obama’s Executive Order to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies responsible for overseeing domestic natural gas development.
The leases proposed for infill development in the FEIS have valid existing rights, some of which date back to the early 1950s. The total estimated cumulative disturbance, including the existing gas development and proposed project, would be 20,615 acres, or about 12.7 percent of the area.
The ROD was prepared after a 30-day waiting period on the FEIS, which was released on April 5, 2012.
St. George News invited Sen. Mike Lee to comment on this matter and was advised that he declined to do so.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.