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This project is located in Carbon County in east central Utah. The project proponent was seeking a permit from BLM for the development of an oil and gas field, including drilling for new federal wells and pads, an expanded network of pipelines, removal of an existing compressor station, additional compressor capacity at existing stations, new roads and improvements to existing roads. An extensive and detailed Environmental Assessment (EA) was required for the 43,373-acre area.

The Nine-Mile Canyon county road, a designated Backcountry Byway, traverses the over 50-mile length of the canyon known locally as “the world’s longest art museum” due to its thousands of ancient Native American pictographs and petroglyphs (Fremont culture 300-500 A.D). These artworks, sensitive to disturbance by vibration from vehicles and oil and gas operations as well as by visitors, were a major factor in the decision to prepare a detailed EA on the proposed project. The other important factors were potential impacts to visual resources and riparian zones.

Ellsworth and Associates, landscape architects, inc. was contracted by the proponent to conduct a complete BLM Visual Resource Management (VRM) analysis including development of computer visual simulations for use in the contrast rating (CR) process. Eight Key Observation Points (KOPs) were established and utilized in the CR process.

Eleven computer visual simulations were developed from six of the KOP’s. Various changes to the visual resources were depicted, including proposed pipelines either buried or laid on the surface. In some locations, the new pipelines would be adjacent to existing roads, so it was important to depict and analyze the relative difference in visual contrast between the two conditions.

In one location, a proposed new pipeline would descend several hundred feet from a mesa top to the valley floor below. Working on-site with representatives of BLM and the project proponent, Ellsworth and Associates, landscape architects, inc. developed a visual simulation showing the pipeline on an alignment that takes advantage of existing rock outcrops to conceal much of the exposed pipeline.

Impacts to both visual resources and riparian zone vegetation and habitat was revealed in a series of two visual simulations showing the proposed expanded diameter pipeline laid on the surface with careful vegetative screening, or buried then backfilled and revegetated.


In the buried pipeline alternative, there would be stream crossings that would need to be carefully constructed to maintain riparian vegetation and habitat as much as possible, and minimize erosion.

To help mitigate visual impacts, the project proponent offered to remove an existing compressor station that was in close proximity to the Backcountry Byway road. Two visual simulations were produced to show the short- and long-term visual change. Another compressor station in a less visually sensitive location would be expanded to accommodate this removal.

After careful contrast rating analysis, detailed visual resource mitigation measures were proposed by EALA and adopted by BLM and the proponent. The result was a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) and the project was permitted.

EALA's work added value to the West Tavaputs Plateau Oil and Gas project in the following ways...

  • Significantly decreased costs to the oil and gas proponent by providing a clear and accurate picture of the project intent in the planning and permitting process
  • Made full use of the required BLM VRM system including computer visual simulations and detailed contrast rating analysis
  • Provided a shared visual reference for all stakeholders involved in the project, including the public
  • Provided valuable recommendations and criteria in the design and planning phase of project facility siting
  • Increased the level of cooperation and partnering between the project proponent, BLM, and stakeholders
  • Provided practical and reasonable mitigation strategies and solutions for maintaining the visual integrity of the highly scenic and culturally sensitive canyon thus allowing project permitting
  • Provided an example of excellence in visual resource analysis and management for use on oil and gas projects in areas of high sensitivity for visual as well as other resources including archeological, cultural, and riparian



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