BLM initiates more stringent review of North Fork gas development
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Environmental Impact Statement expected February 2014

The public is getting another chance to tell the federal government how they feel about an expanding natural gas development currently underway on land surrounding the North Fork Valley in northwest Gunnison County.


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After considering the public comments and information amassed during a Environmental Assessment (EA) and public review period for a Master Development Plan to drill 146 natural gas wells on private and federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management is calling for a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be completed over the next year and a half.
A scoping report released by the BLM earlier this month says, “Based on the preliminary EA, the BLM determined it necessary to prepare an EIS due to projected air quality impacts.”
 Gas development can affect air quality in a number of ways, from the dust and emissions resulting from dozens, if not hundreds, of truck trips required to drill and stimulate a gas well, to the potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) vented during the extraction process and then from condensate tanks and the various apparatus used to store, transport and prepare methane for market.
This Master Development Plan proposal is the latest version of a document gas developer SG Interests Ltd. started with the BLM in 2008. The BLM manages federal mineral rights, which constitute most of the natural gas in a 20,000-acre development area known as the Bull Mountain Unit, about 30 miles up-valley from the town of Paonia.
While most of the minerals in the unit are owned by the federal government, by a ratio of about 2 to 1, the surface of the land is split between private and public lands and so far about 22 wells have been developed. But much more is planned for the future.
SG Interests’ original 2008 MDP called for 55 wells, but in March 2012, the BLM released a draft EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for an updated Master Development Plan that calls for 146 natural gas wells, four wastewater disposal wells and all of the related roads and pipelines.
When the EA was released last March, BLM Uncompahgre field office manager Barb Sharrow said, “An approved MDP provides an environmental analysis in which subsequent Applications for Permit to Drill and NEPA efforts would be tiered,” said Sharrow.
“Approval is also subject to onsite examinations of each proposed well, pipeline and road location, including current cultural and biological resource surveys.”
If the MDP is approved, it would give the agencies a broad-strokes environmental analysis to follow when reviewing subsequent Applications for a Permit to Drill for each of the 27 wells SG hopes to drill every year, until the entire unit is developed in about six years.
After the release of the EA in March 2012, the BLM opened two public comment periods, as opposed to the one generally made available as a matter of policy, extending the amount of time people had to weigh in on the MDP proposal and the FONSI.
From that, the BLM got almost 300 unique comments in addition to a lot of form letters from non-profit environmental groups hoping to get the BLM to consider reversing its decision to allow the development to go forward with a Finding of No Significant Impact.
Some of the public’s concerns that came through in the comment period were related to water and air quality, since the North Fork Valley is a long-time ranching and agricultural area that has, in the last couple of decades, become known for its organic produce and wines.
There were also a lot of comments related to impacts on the abundant wildlife and wildlife habitat in the area as well as potential changes to the overall rural character of the valley, and the property values that have grown because of that identity.
Based on those concerns, the BLM will develop some alternative plans that will be included in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is anticipated in February 2014 and will start the first official 45-day public comment period related to SG Interests’ Master Development Plan.
After the comments have been reviewed, the BLM will revise the proposal and release a final EIS. A copy of the scoping report is available on the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office website. For more information or to be included in the BLM’s mailing list, email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it