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ACTIVISTS ANGRY TO FIND 2 GAS WELLS

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Environmentalists who claimed victory in successfully blocking energy development in eastern Utah are angered that two natural-gas wells already have been drilled.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club recently discovered the wells in the so-called Desert Springs Unit about 40 miles south of Vernal near Desolation Canyon.One of the wells is capped and the other is not producing, but that hasn't made the finding any easier for environmentalists to accept.

"I was stunned," said SUWA staff attorney Scott Groene of Moab. "It's an ugly site. These are the mystery wells, ghost wells that have shown up without justification and without proper public notice."

A consortium of oil and gas companies that holds public-land leases in the Desert Springs Unit had expressed an interest in developing a field of wells and pipelines since 1991.

The Bureau of Land Management's Vernal District decided to allow 52 natural-gas wells in the region straddling Uintah and Duchesne counties, but it was overturned by Utah BLM Director James Parker in December 1992.

Parker sided with the SUWA and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, which had argued that the Vernal District did not adequately study impacts of the energy field.

The BLM's 1992 ruling suspended all drilling applications for Desert Springs, but Vernal BLM District Manager David Little said the two wells were an exception.

He said those wells, located on opposite sides of the Green River near Kings, were staked by Houston-based ANR Production Co. before BLM decided that a full-scale field development environmental assessment was needed.

"These were approved as exploratory wells, not as a field development," Little said.

Notice of staking of the well on the east side of the river was filed with the BLM on Dec. 14, 1990, while a similar notice for the west was filed on Dec. 10, 1991.

But SUWA's Groene said the Vernal BLM should have at least posted notice of the applications for the drilling on the statewide computer bulletin board service.

Little said he determined that existing environmental plans covered the impacts of the two wells and he approved the drilling under his "administrative determination" authority. Public notice was posted at the BLM's Vernal office.