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BLM Accepting Comments on Wyoming Natural Gas Development

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is accepting through Jan 21, 2013, comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed 8,950-well natural gas drilling project on 1.1 million acres in Wyoming's Red Desert.

The project, known as the Continental Divide Creston Natural Gas Development project, will involve conventional and coal bed natural gas development in Carbon and Sweetwater counties in south central Wyoming. The project will further natural gas development near the existing Continental Divide/Wamsutter II and Creston/Blue Gap gas fields.

Between 100 and 500 coal bed gas wells would be drilled using a combination of vertical and directional drilling techniques over the next 15 years, BLM said in a Dec. 7 statement. The development will stretch from approximately 25 miles west of Rawlins, Wyo., to roughly 50 miles east of Rock Springs, Wyo.

BP American Production Co. has proposed facilities that would include well pads, gas and water collection pipelines, compressor stations, water disposal systems, an access road network and an electrical distribution system. The project is an important step for BP and important for Wyoming's economy and its future, BP spokesperson Brett Clanton told Rigzone in an email statement.

"The BLM and the state have worked hard by reaching out to various stakeholders on preparing the draft EIS, and we will continue with them as they finalize the process," Clanton commented. "This project underscores BP's commitment to being a leading provider of clean, domestic energy for the American people and a significant contributor to the Wyoming and U.S. economies."

The Continental Divide Creston Natural Gas project was first developed in the 1950s; it currently supports over 4,000 wells. Development would take place on a mix of federal, state and privately-held lands, 59 percent of which would be federal, 37 percent private and four percent state-owned.

BLM estimates that 12.02 trillion cubic feet of gas and 167.3 million barrels of liquid condensate will be produced from the project. BLM also expects the project to generate $2.5 billion of gross products and ad valorem tax revenue during the life of the project to Carbon and Sweetwater counties. An estimated $9.3 billion in public sector taxes and royalties on gas and condensate production is expected to be generated during the project's life.

Due to the industrial nature of the area, sensitive wildlife such as desert elk and sage grouse have largely been driven out of the developed areas already, Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with the Biodversity Conservation Alliance, said in a Dec. 7 statement. Because of development within the Wamsutter field, the land has zero value for sage grouse leks, or breeding sites, except in the eastern portion of the project, Molvar told Rigzone.

However, a number of species ranging from the pygmy rabbits to Wyoming pocket gophers and mountain plover still survive within the project boundaries. Only 47 individual pocket gophers have ever been documented since their discovery in 1875; the Red Desert is the only place for which they are known, Molvar said. Only between 10,000 and 12,000 mountain plovers, a type of small bird, exist worldwide, and were on the Endangered Species List until a couple of years ago, Molvar added.

However, gas resources could be extracted while maintaining the local habitat if BLM avoids drilling in a few key wildlife areas that are presently undeveloped, requires directional drilling from already existing wellpads, and caps well densities at one wellpad per square mile in undeveloped areas.

"The BLM has an opportunity to get it right in the Continental Divide Creston project if they require the gas industry to use advanced technologies like directional drilling and clustering wells to minimize the surface footprint on the land and avoid a few key natural areas that are important habitat for wildlife," Molvar commented, noting that the project could actually become the first big drilling project that gets some support from the conservation community if it's done right.



Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com.

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