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BLM partners with gas companies

RIFLE ” An unusual partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and natural gas production companies is taking shape in the northern Piceance Basin.

An outmoded resource management plan issued in 1997 for the BLM’s White River Field Office in Meeker called for development of 1,100 gas wells over a 20-year period.

That number now looks to be between 10,000 and 15,000 wells, field office manager Kent Walter told the Northwest Oil and Gas Forum in Rifle Thursday.



Although the BLM was prepared to handle impacts from 1,100 wells, it does not have a handle on what 10 times that amount will mean in terms of planning for land management and environmental protection.

Requests for drilling permits have more than doubled in the past three years, Walter said, from 87 in 2004 to an expected 230 permits this year.



Although the resource plan is due to be revised in 2008, “We couldn’t wait that long, so we partnered with industry” to address likely impacts from such accelerated development, he said.

Natural gas companies operating in the Piceance Basin, which spans parts of Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, agreed to pay for an environmental impact statement to analyze the impacts of realistic gas development.

“BLM selects the (EIS) contractor, while industry pays,” Walter said. “BLM is in control.”

Since the BLM announced the plan in the Federal Register Wednesday, June 14, a scoping period opened during which the public can comment on what needs to be analyzed in the EIS. Several public meetings will be held in Meeker and Rangely during the period that ends July 31, Walter said.

“We haven’t exceeded the 1,100 well (environmental impact) threshold,” he said. “We’re not in crisis mode yet.”

In the meantime, the BLM is encouraging companies to present long range development plans for the northern Piceance. So far, EnCana, ExxonMobile and Riata have submitted plans for several years of drilling and production.

“We’re also seeing some interest on the (White River) National Forest” lands northeast of Meeker, Walter said.


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