3,700-well Utah gas project OK’d
A 10-year drilling program in Utah’s Uintah Basin could provide a needed boost to the economy on the Colorado side of the state line, industry officials said.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Tuesday approved the Greater Natural Buttes project by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to tap about 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The 10-year drilling program on about 163,000 acres across the state line west of Rangely is expected to provide an annual average of 1,709 direct jobs and 1,212 other jobs, the Interior Department said in a press release lauding approval of the development in Uintah County.
The Interior’s approval of the plan will have significant cross-state benefits, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“Generally, what’s good for the Uintah Basin is good for Grand Junction,” Ludlam said, noting that Grand Junction remains a central hub for a variety of businesses serving the energy industry in the Intermountain West.
Anadarko is planning to drill nearly 3,700 wells from 1,484 pads to tap the basin’s “wet” gas.
Wet gas is an industry term for natural gas that contains significant amounts of ethane, propane and butane, which can be condensed at the surface and marketed separately from gas, the price of which is now bumping along at about $2 per million British Thermal Units. Uintah Basin gas, like gas from the Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado, remains marketable in low-price times because it contains those hydrocarbons.
The basins are tightly bound as well by the people who work on them, said Sam Tolley, well-service manager of the western Rockies for Monument Well Service in Grand Junction.
About 20 percent of the Grand Junction office’s business is on the Utah side of the state line, Tolley said, calling the Natural Buttes project a great opportunity.
“Anytime you get something proactive out of this administration, it’s good for all of us in the oil industry,” Tolley said, noting that there is a specific Colorado connection to the project.
“Folks may not realize Grand Junction plays a key role in eastern Utah’s energy development,” Tolley said. “After all, the energy business is a relatively tight-knit family and positive decisions like this provide the foundation for a vibrant and lasting domestic energy sector.”
Salazar said the approval was in line with President Barack Obama’s intent to expand the “safe and responsible production of natural gas as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs.”
There are plenty of chances to do just that, said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.
“We call on Interior to move forward with 14 other projects across the West that have been held up for over three years as well,” Sgamma said. “These projects collectively could create another 49,340 private-sector jobs” over the lives of the projects.
Texas-based Anadarko has been working on the project for 3 1/2 years, spokesman John Christiansen said, noting that several groups were involved in the development of the project, including federal, state, local and tribal officials and environmental organizations.
“We had constructive discussions with all groups — and I can’t emphasize the word ‘constructively’ enough,” Christiansen said. “We hope that this is sort of a new model for collaboration on how you can move through the process.”
That would be a welcome development, Ludlam said, likening the project to two stalled projects, the Roan Plateau and Vermillion Basin development plans.
The Greater Natural Buttes decision “shows we can have our cake and eat it, too, when clean air, safe water and a strong economy are the goals,” Ludlam said.
The Interior Department touted the collaborative effort as one that will implement best-management practices to protect air quality and crucial big game winter range, sage-grouse habitat and sensitive soils, while minimizing visual effects and allowing recreational use.