Moneta Divide project EIS due early '18

Oct 11, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Gas developer Aethon Energy has taken steps to move forward with its Moneta Divide project east of Shoshoni, with a draft environmental impact statement expected to be produced in early 2018.

Kristin Yannone, a planner for the Bureau of Land Management, said a finalized environmental impact statement is expected to be complete in early 2019, with a record of decision coming by the end of that year.

Yannone noted, however, that the timeline doesn't mean it will be more than two years before there can be any development.

She said the BLM has an "interim drilling plan" for Aethon that indicates the company can have four wells on each drilling pad, with a total of 100 acres of disturbance allowed each year.

Given the depressed gas prices, Yannone said that level of development is about all Aethon is currently interested in.

When Yannone briefed Fremont County Commissioners on the project's status Tuesday, Commission chairman Travis Becker said he'd like to use any leverage possible to accelerate development.

"I'm always interested in economic development for our citizens," he said. "This would be a shot in the arm for the county."

Yannone said the BLM's priority is to "ensure that degradation of public lands does not occur," but said her office has also received "instructions from Washington to move as fast as they can."

She said the draft EIS will be produced without receiving a stamp of approval from Washington. The draft also won't have a "preferred agency alternative" -- or an alternative plan the BLM produces to compete with Aethon's.

"It's the faster way for us to get this draft out there," she said.

Since purchasing the associated mineral rights from Encana in 2015, Aethon has altered the original plans for 4,100 drilling wells.

Encana originally had planned to treat all produced water to the highest quality standards and send it to Boysen Reservoir.

Aethon, instead, has nixed the idea of pipelines to Boysen and instead has planned for more surface dispersal of the water in the Moneta area.

Aethon also has planned for more directional drilling, while Encana had planned to rely primarily on vertical drilling.

However, for the sake of expediency, the BLM plans to base its EIS off of Encana's original plan, while including Aethon's plans in alternative proposals.