BLM extends public comment period on expansive drilling project

2013-01-06T15:11:00Z 2013-01-07T05:41:03Z BLM extends public comment period on expansive drilling projectBy ADAM VOGE Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 06, 2013 3:11 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The federal Bureau of Land Management will allow nearly two extra months for the public to comment on a large drilling project expansion in Wyoming’s Red Desert.

The agency will allow 45 extra days — until March 6 — for the public to comment on a draft environmental impact statement on the Continental Divide-Creston Natural Gas Drilling project between Rawlins and Rock Springs. The agency will also hold a Jan. 15 open house in Rawlins to discuss the project.

The proposal includes more than 20 companies, led by BP American Production. If approved, the expansion could add about 9,000 wells on just over 6,100 well pads in a 1.1 million-square-mile area stretching from 25 miles west of Rawlins to 50 miles east of Rock Springs. The majority of the land is federally owned.

BLM Project Manager Mark Ames said last week that the decision to extend the comment period was necessitated by the project’s scope and the timing of the impact statement’s release. Ames said the agency preferred to hold an open house to address any questions on the project but knew it couldn’t do so until after Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The comment period was originally slated to end Jan. 21, just six days after a since-planned open house.

“It would be inappropriate to end the comment period so quickly,” Ames said.

The agency instead opted to give the public another 45 days. The timeline after the comment period closes is unclear.

BP American Production declined comment on the extension, but a spokesman for the company said BP is still reviewing the BLM’s impact statement and plans to send representatives to the open house.

The project would be an expansion of two existing fields in the Red Desert — the Continental Divide/Wamsutter II and Creston/Blue Gap natural gas fields. The group of applicants first applied to expand the area in 2006. The project area excludes Adobe Town, a series of unique rock formations southeast of Rock Springs.

Companies involved have proposed drilling the new wells over 15 years and producing the wells for 40 years. The project could produce about 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and directly create 2,500 jobs.

Because much of the area has been developed since the 1950s, landowner and conservation groups in Wyoming have been slow to object.

Bruce Pendery, program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said last week his organization is not categorically opposed to the new development.

“We do accept the idea there could be energy development in the area,” he said. “But that said, we do want to see the companies and the BLM do it right.”

Among the council’s planned proposals are efforts to ensure all wells are drilled horizontally. Pendery also said his group will support additional wildlife protections and a cap on the number of wells that can be drilled under the plan — something that isn’t currently included.

The council doesn’t plan to object to the project’s size specifically, although it could be historically large.

“I’m not aware of anything even remotely as big as this project,” Pendery said. “That, I guess, is a concern. But really, fundamentally what we’re going to try and focus on is the environmental impacts.”

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