BLM environmental assessment finds wildlife impacts minimal in proposed drilling area
Impacts to most wildlife in a proposed natural gas drilling area northeast of Parachute will be minimal, although mitigation will be required to protect mule deer, according to a Bureau of Land Management environmental assessment released this week.”Williams (Production) will do off-site habitat enhancement,” said Steve Bennett, the associate field manager for the BLM’s Glenwood Springs office.The company will also equip all of its wells with telemetry equipment so they can be monitored electronically, which will reduce the number of trips to each well.Williams Production has leased 22,500 acres of BLM land that runs for approximately seven miles from the Parachute area east along Interstate 70. It’s called the Wheeler to Webster Geographic Area, and is about 1.5 miles wide.The plan proposes 38 new surface drilling locations, plus the use of 21 existing pads, for a total of 160 new wells. The majority of the well pads would have multiple well bores at each location, which could result in the drilling of 118 directional wells and 42 vertical wells.A total of 4.75 miles of new roads would be built. There are already several dozen gas wells on private land immediately north of the interstate.The BLM has worked with Williams Production and the Denver-based Greystone Environmental Consultants on the environmental assessment for the past year.”One of the biggest challenges has been ensuring conformance with the new lease terms, which have set a high standard for environmental protection,” Bennett said.The plan, which is contained in two documents that combined are more than 6 inches thick, includes mitigation plans for each well, plus mitigation plans for the area as a whole.Mule deer will be most impacted in their severe winter range. As for other wildlife, elk rarely use the area during any season, the environmental assessment said. There will be no effects on black bear and bighorn sheep, and little effect on mountain lions.Human impacts, most notably on view planes and visual impacts, are addressed. The environmental assessment considered five key observation points (KOPs) when viewing the drilling area: Battlement Mesa, Morrisania Mesa, Holms Mesa, Parachute Creek, and along Interstate 70.The assessment assigns three classes for visual impacts:-Class II – The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be low. Activities may be seen, but should not attract the attention of the casual viewer.-Class III – The objective in Class III is to partially retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be moderate.-Class V – The objective in Class V is applied to areas where the characteristic landscape has been so disturbed that rehabilitation is needed.The assessment says most well locations will be difficult to discern from any KOP “because they are located at distances ranging between 0.5 miles and 3.5 miles from the KOP.”Most Class II locations would comply with Class II objectives if the following visual protection measures are applied. The measures include:-Positioning wells off ridgetops to prevent “sky lining.”-Using existing vegetation and topographic features to screen walls, facilities and roads.-Use nonreflective paint that harmonizes with the surrounding landscape.-Avoid straight line-of-sight road construction.-Design roads through wooded areas to take a curvilinear path.-Align roads with the contours of the topography rather than cutting straight across contours.-Placing slash on cut-and-fill slopes to vary texture and color of cuts until vegetation has been re-established.Some sites require additional mitigation.Up to 40 wells will be drilled each year for the next three to five years. Bennett said he expects the BLM’s Glenwood Springs office will make a decision on the environmental assessment by mid-July. If it is approved, Williams can start drilling immediately.The BLM will hold a public meeting to discuss the drilling plan and environmental assessment at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 12. Questions will be accepted, and copies of the assessment will be available, but a press release said, “the meeting will not be a forum for making oral comments.”The BLM will accept written comments until July 5.
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