The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released an environmental assessment (EA) of XTO Energy Inc.’s proposed Riverbend gas project and is seeking public comment by Oct. 10.

XTO is one of a half-dozen publicly held exploration and production (E&P) companies targeting the Uinta. BLM has already approved gas drilling projects involving Gasco Energy Inc. and others. Gasco proposed up to 1,500 wells that would have disturbed 7,533 acres, but what was eventually approved was nearly 1,300 wells on 3,600 acres, which is less than 2% of the 206,826 acres of federal land BLM manages in the Uinta.

BLM’s EA for the XTO project looks at four alternatives, ranging from only 16 wells to more than 484 wells. The federal agency supposedly prefers a “moderate recovery” scenario that would allow up to 250 new gas wells, but would minimize environmental impacts.

Several years ago as part of an earlier project proposal for the area 34 miles south of BLM’s Vernal, UT, offices, concerns were raised about air quality impacts in the Uinta. Since that time there have been three petrochemical models of the basin, including the Uinta Basin Air Quality Study, a second by Gasco as part of its approved BLM plan, and the Greater National Buttes Study.

BLM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborated on and came to agreement regarding the latest EA, BLM said. Federal authorities have been silent so far on XTO’s eventual E&P project in the Riverbend area. While the comment period goes on, it was pointed out by BLM officials that the project had an initial public comment period in late 2008 and the first week of 2009.

To further determine the magnitude of impacts to air quality from well numbers, the BLM said in the case of XTO it has created “moderate development” and “reduced development alternatives.” This and other emissions studies and comparisons caused BLM to call for a new public comment period for the EA.

“All comments that were received on the original EA have been treated as scoping comments in that they were taken into account during the revision of the EA, but a formal response to the comments was not included in the [latest] EA,” BLM said.

Some analysts view the Uinta as an area where some production consolidation among operators eventually will kick in, as the basin is the home to many small field owners and operators.