The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Kemmerer, WY, office wants a broader cross-section of public comment on a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Moxa Arch Area (MAA) Infill Gas Development Project before selecting a preferred alternative -- something the agency has rarely if ever done before.

The DEIS, issued earlier this month, analyzes impacts based on an infill drilling proposal for the 475,808-acre MAA project area in the Wyoming counties of Lincoln, Sweetwater and Uinta. The review and public comment period ends Dec. 10, and project leader Michele Easley said BLM hopes to obtain more comments before moving forward.

"We did an initial scoping period already, but we didn't get a broad range of comments," Easley told NGI. "We received comments from industry, and we received some local comments from livestock owners, but we want to redouble our efforts because there were just so few comments. We really want a broader viewpoint."

Despite the growing controversies over expanded gas development across parts of the West -- especially in Colorado -- Easley said her agency was not withholding a recommended preferred alternative because of possible protests. In fact, she said that when her office decided to issue the DEIS without a BLM preferred alternative, she was told by the agency that BLM "doesn't usually do that. At least in Wyoming, I think, this is the first time we've issued a draft without a preferred alternative."

However, "there are some things that some of us don't know for sure," she said. The proposed project area has been identified as crucial winter range for antelope and elk, as well as habitat for other wildlife. "We know this area has wildlife, that it is used for recreational use, some hunting of antelope, but it's hard for us to know what else people use that area for. An old, established gas field already existed in the area, but what else? That's what we want to know."

The expanded drilling proposal, submitted by Houston-based EOG Resources Inc. and other energy operators, is a long-term development plan that would include drilling 1,861 additional wells at the rate of about 186 wells per year. The plan would be carried out over 10 years, or until the resource base is fully developed. The average anticipated life of a well is expected to be 40 years; anticipated gas reserves produced over the life of the project are 3 Tcf.

Under the operators' plan, wells would be drilled in formations to depths of 11,000-12,000 feet. About 1,226 wells would be drilled in the "core" area and another 635 wells would be drilled in the "flank" area. Densities would range from four to 12 wells per section in the core, with two wells per section in the flank. The area of surface disturbance would be about 18,650 acres over a 10-year drilling schedule.

"What we'd like to know is what other uses are out there for this land," said Easley. "If it's not being used for anything other than gas development, well...Why not?"

Once the BLM reviews all of the comments, Easley said BLM is planning to issue a final EIS with an BLM-preferred alternative by May 2008. BLM has three alternatives in the DEIS. Under the "no action" Alternative A, the project would not be implemented; wells analyzed and approved under the 1996 EIS and 1997 Record of Decision would continue to be drilled and put into production. Alternative B evaluates full-field development; Alternative C evaluates drilling up to 16 well pages per square miles in the "core" of the MAA and up to four well pads per square mile in the "flank" of the MAA.

Easley noted that BLM worked cooperatively with local, state and federal officials to develop a "range of reasonable management alternatives" listed in the DEIS to meet the purpose and need for the project while providing adequate environmental protections to support habitat needs for wildlife and special status species, maintain air and water quality, and support rangeland resources necessary for continued livestock grazing.

"This will be a sifting process," she said. "I kind of want to see what happens." The proposed oil and natural gas projects now on the drawing board at BLM are not necessarily taking longer now because of the public comment period, she said, because public comment periods have always been part of the process. However, BLM now works cooperatively with other agencies, so the "level of intensity" is higher. "It's not because we have more comments that it takes longer, but it's because we have more partners. I have seen a level of interest there among our partners that maybe wasn't there four years ago."

The DEIS is available at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/kfodocs/moxa_arch.html. Public comment can submitted electronically at: kemmerer_wymail@blm.gov. Requests for information may be sent to: kemmerer_wymail@blm.gov with "Attention: Moxa Arch DEIS Information Request" in the subject line.

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