Salazar says Interior, EPA coming together to speed gas projects

Salazar announced a step forward in the proposed project that sounds mundane — an air quality supplement to the draft environmental impact statement — but one he called a template that will provide a model to guide other projects.

“There are some critical lessons here that are important for us to move forward with and institutionalize, so that we can move forward with other projects around the country,” Salazar said.

He said that BLM and EPA are crafting a formal memorandum of understanding about how to review and resolve air quality issues related to oil-and-gas development on public lands.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said ensuring strong controls on the proposed new drilling in Utah — which he said would disturb an additional 8,000 acres — are vital due to air quality problems in the region.

“In places like Vernal, Utah where winter time ozone levels can sometimes be among the highest in the country, in part due to oil and gas development, we must be especially vigilant that such projects proceed the right manner and with the right mitigation,” he said in a statement.

The project, first proposed in 2006, has been delayed in part over air-pollution concerns, according to Interior.

The Uintah Basin region experienced 23 days in the first two months of 2011 in which ozone pollution exceeded acceptable levels, according to Interior, and five days that were considered “very unhealthy.”

The thousands of new wells planned for the Utah project could produce up to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas over 10 years, according to Interior.

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