August 1, 2011

Cover Story

Energy Development in Utah

Gov. Gary R. Herbert sent a strong message to Washington during his State ...Read More

Featured Articles

Around Utah

At Your Service


Legal Briefs
Climate Change

Ask the Experts
Close to Home

Ask the Experts
Damage Control

Editor's Note
Do the Math

Economic Insight
Friends in High Places

In the Pipeline

Ask the Experts
Layered Security

Let’s Make a Deal

Business Trends
Look Before You Leap

Out of Reach

Ramping Up

Industry Outlook

Living Well
The Suite Life

Ask the Experts
Web Insights

Money Talk
Window of Opportunity

Work of Art

Ask the Experts
Close to Home

Alex Lawrence

Jenni Smith



Energy Development in Utah

Weighing the Costs and Benefits

Heather Stewart

August 1, 2011

“Our concern is the effect that energy development will have on [wilderness-caliber] lands, and if it’s surface development that comes along with the drilling of the wells or the mining of coal, oil shale or tar sands—and then all of the other aspects of energy development that come part in parcel: the roads, the pipeline, the other infrastructure that’s necessary to make that development happen,” says Stephen Bloch, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).

The organization has fought to mitigate some of the impacts of energy development in the region. But that does not mean SUWA is completely obstructionist: it has worked with at least three energy companies on development plans that minimize harm to the delicate ecosystem and waterways.

Bloch points to a settlement between SUWA and the Bill Barrett Corporation, which wanted to drill in the environmentally sensitive West Tavaputs plateau.

“The company significantly reduced the footprint of the project while still maintaining access to the overwhelming majority of the gas resources. So they are lighter on the land in terms of where their surface locations are,” says Bloch. The company’s original proposal called for 800 wells, 200 of which would be located in “areas that the BLM acknowledged were wilderness value. At the end of the day, the project that was approved by the BLM had less than six of those locations.”

Bill Barrett will actually be able to get even more gas than it originally predicted, says Bloch. But more importantly, the landscape that is now spared from drill rigs “is just west of the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. This is an area that’s extremely remote, popular for river runners, renowned for its solitude, for its natural quiet—the fact that they won’t be having wells within sight or sound of the river is significant.”

The disfigurement of beautiful scenery is only one of the environmental impacts of drilling. The large drill pads, generally spaced 10 acres apart, fragment wildlife habitat and migratory pathways. The heavy trucks emit pollutants into the air, and drilling processes can pollute the air and groundwater.

Newer processes have diminished many of these problems, says Anadarko’s Miller. For one thing, the company now drills up to four wells from each drill pad. “One, it ended up saving us money, and two, it reduced our [habitat] fragmentation. It reduced our truck traffic significantly, so we’re not bothering the habitat near as much,” he says.

The company uses a gas-gathering system and low-bleed valves to prevent natural gas from seeping into the air from drill sites. “We’ve done a lot of things to ensure we have minimal release of natural gas or volatile organic compounds,” says Miller.

In the drilling process, pressurized water is surged deep into the ground. Anadarko recycles 90 percent of those “stimulation” fluids. “When we go to the next well, we only have to bring about 10 percent of that volume...Two, three years ago, we would have hauled the water by truck. That took about 550 truck loads of water to move from one location to the next—each day.”

Now the company uses irrigation pipe to pump the water from location to location. That measure alone has reduced truck traffic by 2.5 million miles per year, says Miller, and saved the company about $50,000 per well.

“A lot of these things we’re doing for the environment are saving the company a significant amount of money,” he says.

Buried Treasure
The other, as-yet untapped resource in the Basin is oil shale—rock containing trapped organic material, from which oil can be produced. Several companies are itching to start mining and processing the shale, often with new and unproven technologies.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the BLM to develop a research and development leasing program for oil shale on federal lands. The BLM issued a call for proposals, and six “demonstration” projects were given the green light with 160-acre parcels and a first-preference right for nearly 5,000 additional acres if the projects proved successful.

In 2010, the BLM approved three additional demonstration projects. However, none of these projects have moved beyond the research and development stage.

Although 72 percent of the country’s oil shale resources are on BLM lands, many companies are pursuing oil shale development on state, tribal or private land.

Several companies discussed their plans and technologies at a recent conference on unconventional fuels hosted by the Institute for Clean and Secure Energy at the University of Utah. Earth Energy Resources, for instance, has developed a patent-pending process that uses a bio-solvent to liberate hydrocarbons from sand grains. The process will leave only “clean” sand that can be used to backfill the mine, according to D. Glen Snarr, president and CFO of Earth Energy.

Page 1234
Utah Business Social
UB Events View All
Best Companies to Work For 2015Utah Business Event
Dec 10, 2015
Utah Business magazine is thrilled to announce the 2015 Best Companies to Work for Event! This y...
Community Events View All
Empowering Self and Others: Become and Awakener
Dec 1, 2015
Uncover the secrets of empowerment. Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a Coach, you’ll find ...
Secrets to Financing your Business
Dec 1, 2015
Register:  |  90 South 400 West, Ste 650 Salt Lake City, Utah 84101   |  (801) 568-0114

Advertise with Utah Business

Submit an Event

* indicates required information
* Event Name:
Price (general):
Website (if applicable):
Coordinator's Name:
Coordinator's Email:
Coordinator's Phone:
Venue Name:
Venue Address:
Venue City:
Venue Zip:
Event Capacity:
* Event Description: