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EPA Slams BLM Plan to Allow More Pinedale Gas Drilling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has slammed a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan that would allow more natural gas wells to be drilled on the Pinedale Anticline of Wyoming. The EPA cited deficiencies in BLM's analysis on how development would impact air quality and groundwater.

In a letter to BLM earlier this month, EPA Regional Administrator Robert E. Roberts said the BLM's revised draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) could only receive a rating of "3" because the SEIS contained "environmentally unsatisfactory/inadequate information." BLM issued the SEIS last year (see NGI, Sept. 3, 2007).

The rating, said Roberts, "indicates EPA's belief that the draft SEIS is not adequate" for the agency's review, and he recommended that it be formally revised and reissued for public comment. "The impacts are of sufficient magnitude that the proposed action should not proceed as proposed." The "3" rating, he said, also indicates that the project may be suitable for referral to the White House's Council for Environmental Quality, which acts as a watchdog for compliance with federal environmental laws.

BLM proposed two options to develop about 4,400 new gas wells on 12,300 acres of the Pinedale Anticline. One proposal would require a buffer or a "flanks" zone around the development area for at least five years; BLM would determine when the flanks could be reopened. Another proposal would include winter drilling restrictions, but the year-round drilling plan would allow for "full recovery of the natural gas resource." In either case, producers would be allowed to develop a core area, using directional drilling to access pockets of gas in other locations.

Roberts stated that the BLM proposal "discloses the significant and unanticipated impacts to visibility that occurred since implementation of the 2000 Pinedale Anticline" Record of Decision (ROD), which allowed more than 600 gas wells to be drilled. He said the nitrogen oxide emissions from all sources operating in the Pinedale area in 2005 were five times the analysis threshold set in the 2000 Pinedale Anticline ROD. Air pollution, said Roberts, now is affecting the Bridger and Fitzpatrick wilderness areas of the Wind River Range of Wyoming.

"Given the unforeseen and significant impacts that have occurred from development of the 642 producing oil and gas wells approved under the 2000 Pinedale Anticline...EPA recommends the revised draft SEIS [that] provides a plan to mitigate the significant air quality environmental impacts resulting from the existing oil and gas development" on the anticline. The monitoring data on the groundwater in the area also "suggest that current drilling and production activities on the [anticline] have contributed to contamination of an aquifer used as a drinking source. Further, benzene and other hydrocarbons have been detected in 88 of approximately 230 water supply wells monitored."

To review the SEIS, visit the BLM Wyoming website at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en.html or click on Pinedale Anticline Project Area.

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