The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved Gasco Energy Inc.’s proposal to develop nearly 1,300 natural gas wells over 15 years in Utah’s Uinta Basin, the agency said Monday.

The record of decision for the Gasco Uinta Basin Gas Development Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) “will boost America’s energy production and strengthen local economies while responsibly protecting the key landscapes and recreational resources of the project area,” BLM officials said.

When Gasco’s plan was first endorsed by BLM earlier this year, a coalition of environmental groups criticized the action, saying it would jeopardize the “unique and rugged beauty of Desolation Canyon wilderness.” The groups — Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and Wilderness Society — oppose the development of remote parts of the Uinta Basin shale play (see Shale Daily, March 20).

But the revised project approved by BLM includes no plans to drill or build infrastructure in or near Desolation Canyon. “The nearest proposed drill site is about four miles northwest of the Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark and five miles north of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area,” the agency said.

Gasco’s initial proposal had called for nearly 1,500 gas wells and the same number of well pads, with a total disturbance area of 7,533 acres, including well pads in Nine Mile Canyon north of Desolation Canyon. The plan approved by BLM “reduces surface disturbance, eliminates floodplain impacts, protects the viewshed for Green River, Desolation Canyon, and Nine-Mile Canyon, and reduces impacts to water, soil and air quality,” BLM said. It allows a maximum of 1,298 wells that would be drilled from no more than 575 well pads, and it reduces surface disturbance to 3,600 acres, or about 2% of the total development area of 206,826 acres.

The approved plan also prohibits any wells below the rim of Nine Mile Canyon, in the 100 year floodplain, or in critical habitat for endangered fish, reduces the number of evaporating ponds and substantially lowered the amount of water needed for drilling, with 94% of the water used for the project to be treated and recycled production water.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation in March that seeks to have BLM turn over to the state the public lands it manages, a maneuver that was expected to be the opening shot in a legal war between several western states and the federal government. State lawmakers said they want both title and administrative control of the state’s public lands. The law exempts national parks, military installations, Native American reservations and federally approved wilderness areas and monuments, and mainly zeros in on U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands.

Gasco holds almost 42,000 net acres in the Uinta Basin, according to company reports. ExxonMobil holds the largest position in the Uinta with 260,000 acres, followed by QEP Resources (255,200 acres), Newfield Exploration (230,000 acres), Anadarko Petroleum (189,000 acres) and El Paso Corp. (176,000 acres).