GREAT FALLS (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on the proposed drilling of a gas well in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in southern Blaine County..
The agency is taking comments until Nov. 30 about the plan by Texas-based NFR Bear Basin LLC to drill in the Bullwhacker Coulee area of the monument. The monument straddles the Missouri River for about 150 miles in central Montana.
Don Judice of the BLM said the company wants to re-establish production for an existing lease that otherwise would have expired, and would like to start drilling within 60 days if the well is approved.
"The area is largely unexplored so determination of the quantity of gas is difficult to obtain," Judice told the Great Falls Tribune. "There is gas production in the area and there has been gas production from the adjacent well to the west that produced in previous years."
The company's original lease was issued in 1970, and it began producing in 1975. The BLM said production ended in 1999, and the well was plugged in 2005.
The newspaper reports that the proposed well is in elk and mule deer winter range, that the access road passes through sage and sharp-tail grouse winter and nesting habitat, and is near two sage grouse leks and a sharp-tail grouse lek. Leks are breeding grounds.
The proposed well is also within a few hundred feet of an existing pipeline and access road.
"This one, to us, is one that is not as complicated as some of the others where new roads and potentially new pipeline would have to be built," Judice said.
The Montana Wilderness Association in Great Falls is studying the plan.
"We'll be taking a look at this to determine what kind of impacts it will have to wildlife, vegetation and other values association with a national monument," said spokesman Mark Good.
Judice said Ohio-based Kykuit Resources is also considering drilling for natural gas in the area. The company bought the leases from Macum Energy Inc. of Billings. Macum's plans to drill were stopped in 2004 when a U.S. District Judge ruled the BLM needed to do a better environmental analysis and gather more public comment.
That drilling injunction is still in place. Judice said the BLM will petition the court to lift the injunction because it has complied with orders in the ruling.