Published June 22: Updated June 25
The Bureau of Land Management announced its approval of the Uintah Basin Gas Project, and despite the large amount of money it could bring into the state, not everybody is happy.
The project will allow Gasco Energy, Inc. to drill 1,300 new wells in search of three trillion cubic feet of natural gas. At last year’s average wellhead price of $3.95 per thousand cubic feet, this project could bring in more than $12 trillion dollars into Utah’s community over a span of about 30 years. Gasco Energy, Inc. projects this will translate into a $613 million in economic activity annually.
Just getting the project approved required cooperation and coordination with a number of different government agencies.
“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, in a news release.
A big part of that collaboration was addressing important environmental concerns.
“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,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior. Those ways include reducing the number of well pads, reducing the amount of water used for drilling, and designing the project to reduce impact on visitors to the area.
Some express concern over the proximity of these wells to a historic landmark despite the precautionary steps taken.
“We realize that there is concern and a misperception by some that Gasco’s project area is within close proximity to Desolation Canyon,” said W. King Grant, CEO and President of Gasco, in a news release. “In fact, our project area is six miles from the northern edge of Desolation Canyon.”
That’s not enough for some people. In an area where wintertime ozone levels are already high, this project would just exacerbate the problem. “Gasco’s own environmental statement confirms that the air quality will get worse,” said Steve Bloch, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM could have done the responsible thing and approved the project with a slightly smaller footprint while protecting the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.”
When asked about the potentially negative impact on tourism, Irene Hansen, economic development director for Duchesne County, relates the story of taking her children to Disneyland. She was fine driving past the relatively ugly factories, offices and shops to get there, because she knew all Californians can’t work in theme parks.
“Similarly, in the Uintah Basin, our residents cannot all be employed by tourists, thus creating the need for the energy industry,” Hansen said. “We are just especially lucky that the energy industry also does so many great things for Utah and America.”