The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public input regarding a proposed oil and gas operation about 25 miles south of Moab near Wilson Arch and Looking Glass Rock.
Wesco Operating, a Casper, Wyoming company, has submitted plans to drill an exploratory oil rig next to the unincorporated community of Wilson Arch in San Juan County. The company expects to start producing oil at the site in 2019. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will accept comments on the proposed project through Nov. 14.
The proposed well pad is located on public lands less than 1 mile from homes and home sites in the Wilson Arch community. The 5.5-acre well site would be accessed via U.S. Highway 191, and county maintained state Route 179, which crosses private property through the Wilson Arch community.
Phillip Glaze, the area’s owner-developer, and full time resident of the neighborhood, said that he is concerned that the area’s ground water could become contaminated by the proximity of the oil and gas operation. He said he has already drilled three water wells, and plans to drill a fourth to serve the water needs of the community.
Glaze cited concerns about the prospect of the nighttime lighting used with oil and gas development, as well as increased truck traffic in the neighborhood. Depending on the quantity of oil produced, there could be one truck per day transporting crude oil through the community, said Wesco Operating spokesman Steve Degenfelder.
“Obviously, traffic with big trucks going through the neighborhood doesn’t make sense,” Glaze said.
A report filed with the BLM by Wesco Operating states no water wells will be created for the well site and the water supply for construction, drilling and operations will be purchased and hauled to the site. Water will also be used to suppressed dust on the roadway.
A pipeline corridor has been considered for the site, the report states, “but will be applied for once production is achieved.”
Oil-based drill cutting waste materials will be contained within two proposed lined pits onsite, containing a synthetic liner of 16 millimeters in minimum thickness, and then transported to an approved solid waste disposal facility. In the event that rocks are encountered during the construction of the pits, a felt liner will be used to reinforce the pit lining, the report says.
No “extremely hazardous” substances will be used or disposed of at the site.
“The BLM is offering this public scoping period because it is important to hear from the local community and landowners who could be affected by this proposal,” said Christina Price, BLM-Moab field manager. “That way we can better address concerns and make sure we have all the necessary information for a well-reasoned decision. Public input can also help us determine if there are additional mitigation measures or resource protection measures we should consider to minimize potential impacts.”
“There are different ways of addressing issues that are brought forward during the scoping period,” said Lisa Bryant, BLM-Moab spokesperson.
Proposing a different access route could be an alternative, as well as “no action” if the project is deemed unacceptable. With respect to visual impacts, Bryant said the company can use low-profile tanks. Neighbors who object to the sounds of industrial activity could request mufflers on drilling equipment, she said.
Wesco spokesman Degenfelder said the crude oil produced would likely be sold to Salt Lake City refineries. He said he did not know how the oil would be transported. Wesco’s proposal does not specify the direction the trucks will go on U.S. Highway 191, Bryant said. Similar trucks carrying gasoline enter Moab regularly, Degenfelder said.
“We have about 30 productive wells in the area,” Degenfelder said. “Trucks take the crude oil off the location — I just don’t know if it’s trucked to Salt Lake or unloaded where there is a pipeline.”
Eighty-three-year-old Glaze said he has a lot to lose financially if the rig is approved.
Currently, there are 18 homes in the community, plus 41 lots that have been sold. At least one sale fell through after the buyers learned about the proposed oil rig, said Glaze’s bookkeeper Dawn Howe, of Monticello. None of the homeowners were contacted when the project was first proposed, she said.
Howe said she is concerned about the impact that the proposed oil and gas development could have on the community.
“It’s really a neat area; the views are just spectacular,” Howe said. “I just can’t imagine anyone would come to visit or live if they knew there was an oil rig in the backyard.”
Blaze and Howe contend that the BLM should have considered the area’s natural beauty and the fact that Wilson Arch is a well-known and often photographed natural feature in Utah.
“Enough is enough; we don’t have to develop every piece of property,” Howe said.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams disagrees.
“The parcel has been leased for a long time, (since 2001)” he said. “We’re supportive of the extractive industry.”
Adams says the well would be there only for a short time.
“It might be offensive for a few months,” he said. “But the long-term (effects of) these wells don’t seem to pose that much of a problem. Most generally, San Juan County is supportive of extraction. That’s how we’ve survived as long as we have. So, no, I have no serious objections to the well.”
Rachel Moody, principal broker and owner of the Real Estate Company of Moab, has a property listed for sale in the Wilson Arch area.
“Placing a well so close to private land, when there are thousands of public acres in other areas further away from private land, makes no sense,” Moody said. “The BLM should be sensitive to the 4.5 percent of land that is privately held in Grand and San Juan counties. [The BLM] owns so much land, there is no sense in violating the values of the limited private properties in this area.”
The BLM said it welcomes additional information or facts, and that comments that specifically address the proposal are the most helpful. In a news release, the agency also noted that a person’s entire comment, including personal identifying information may be made publicly available.
For more information contact BLM natural resource specialist Douglas Rowles at 435-259-2100. Additional information, including a map of the area, is available for review on the BLM’s ePlanning site: go.usa.gov/xPnyA. To comment online select the “Comment on Document” button.