Mountain bike trail advocate Sharon Hogan, left, asks BLM recreation planners Jeffrey “Rock” Smith and Kathleen Stevens questions during an open house on a proposed oilfield development in a popular recreation area near Moab. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

Fidelity Exploration & Production Company is proposing to construct 16 new oil well pads, access roads and pipelines in a popular recreation area about 10 miles north of Canyonlands National Park.

If approved, the Fidelity West Fertilizer 16-pad Oil and Gas Project would extend northwesterly from the Gemini Bridges Road, across state Route 313 and Bartlett Flat, to the head of Hell Roaring and Spring canyons.

The area is popular with mountain bikers, campers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and is also home to oil and natural gas deposits buried in the Paradox formation 8,000 feet below the surface.

Fidelity representatives, as well as officials from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Moab Field Office, answered questions about the proposal at an open house on Wednesday, Aug. 12. The BLM hosted the informal meeting at the Grand Center to help the public in preparing comments for an Environmental Assessment.

“We are pleased to be conducting early and proactive public outreach for this project and encourage citizens who have an interest in the project to participate in the process by providing comments,” Moab BLM Field Manager Beth Ransel said.

Local mountain bike trail advocate Sandy Freethey told the Moab Sun News that two proposed well pads are in direct conflict with popular trails in the area, and that another three along the Mineral Point Road will impact people’s experiences at the Horsethief Campground.

“We have two wells that are right on top of our trails,” she said.

Freethey said that a pad just south of state Route 313 in the vicinity of the Coney Island and Rocky Top trails is in the middle of a large, treeless meadow, and that it will be “highly visible from a long distance.”

“The view of the well site and tanks, along with the smell and noise, will be objectionable to many mountain bikers hoping to enjoy the quiet areas of this trail,” she said.

Freethey said that a proposed pad near the 7-Up bike trail would require “very destructive” tree removal and that traffic on newly created haul roads will compromise biker safety. Bikers on the trail will have to cross the haul road a minimum of three times, she said.

“I understand the need for a diversified economy in Moab, which will include more wells,” she said.

“But these two wells are in direct conflict with the optimum mountain bike experience.”

Fidelity spokesman Tim Rasmussen said his company appreciates input that the BLM received from the mountain bike and recreation community, and that his company understands the agency’s needs to balance a variety of resources in its environmental analysis of the project.

“We have and will continue to evaluate concerns raised by the recreation community and other stakeholders in the area,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said Fidelity is sensitive to the area’s scenic, wildlife, cultural and recreational resources, and that it has worked with state and federal land management agencies to minimize impacts to the area.

“A primary consideration of our development has been the analysis of the viewshed and the strategic placement of wells,” he said.

Four of the proposed well sites lie within an area the BLM has determined to have “wilderness characteristics,” and according to Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance staff attorney Neal Clark, 11 total are located within lands that are proposed for protection under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

“Unfortunately, as currently proposed, the project would result in new oil wells near Labyrinth Canyon and along the rim of Hell Roaring Canyon,” Clark said. “It is but one more piece in Fidelity’s plan to industrialize the remaining wildlands on Big Flat in the interest of its bottom line.”

Moab BLM Field Office Outdoor Recreation Planner Bill Stevens said that there would be impacts to lands with wilderness characteristics, but that the agency’s hands were tied when dealing with valid, existing leases.

“We’re not managing it for that (wilderness) resource,” he said. “We do what we can and we work with the operator.”

Fidelity has held leases in the area since 2005, which it purchased from a previous lease holder. It began developing the first phase on Big Flat in 2008.

Under the West Fertilizer proposal, up to 48 new wells would be drilled directionally from 16 five-acre pads. The development would utilize mostly existing roads but would require 2.3 miles of new road construction. Almost 13 miles of existing class D roads would need to be upgraded.

Rasmussen said that consolidation of wellbores, or holes – by up to three from one pad – minimizes road and gathering line construction and reduces impacts to the land. The company also uses vertical pole pumper units, rather than horse-head pumpers, to reduce visibility near tourist-traveled routes.

If all well pads contain a productive well, approximately 23 miles of gathering line would be buried to collect produced natural gas and convey it to the recently completed Dead Horse Lateral Pipeline.

The mostly above ground, 24-mile pipeline currently captures natural gas from wells in the Big Flat area near the entrance to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky District. Prior to the pipeline’s construction, natural gas was flared off into the atmosphere.

Rasmussen said that optimistically, the project would be ongoing for the next eight to 10 years, but that ultimately, the market would be the determining factor.

“This area continues to be a core asset in Fidelity’s portfolio,” Rasmussen said. “We continue to work with the BLM to discuss prudent development of this resource. Timing of development will depend on drilling approvals and overall project funding.”

Recreationists say several planned sites conflict with popular local trails

The BLM will be accepting comments on the West Fertilizer 16-pad Oil and Gas Project through Friday, Aug. 28. Comments can be mailed to: Bureau of Land Management, Moab Field Office, Attn: Tanner Nygren, 82 East Dogwood, Moab, Utah 84532.