The Bureau of Land Management Casper Field Office has approved three drilling projects that could bring as many as 444 new oil and natural gas wells to eastern Wyoming.

The federal agency on Wednesday released decision records and findings of no significant impact for three projects — the East Converse, Highland Loop Road and Spearhead Ranch exploratory areas — which cover parts of Converse and Niobrara Counties.

The East Converse project area is in the extreme northeast of Converse County and extends about 10 miles in a small part of Niobrara County. The Spearhead Ranch area is in the extreme northwest of Converse County, about 40 miles north of Rolling Hills. The Highland Loop Road project area extends about 40 miles north from Douglas, covering much of north-central Converse County.

The agency conducted environmental assessments in the three project areas in response to staking notices and drilling applications in those areas. Companies left unnamed in the BLM’s decision have proposed 111 total well pads in the three projects, which could accommodate between 100 and 450 wells on 1,000 predominantly private square miles.

Parts of the Thunder Basin National Grassland abut each of the three project areas, but those parcels were withdrawn from consideration.

According to the agency, three companies are interested in exploring leases in the East Converse project area, four companies are interested in the Highland Loop Road project area and five are interested in Spearhead Ranch, but the agency didn’t name the companies. Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy and Samson Resources all filed comments with the agency in support of the project, but none of the three indicated whether they had plans to drill in the areas made available.

Wednesday’s announcement marked the end of a public scoping period aimed at gauging reaction to the project proposals.

Comments released by the agency show private citizens concerned about possible noise and emissions caused by gas flares that could accompany some products. The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners’ group based in Wyoming, asked the agency to mandate an environmental impact statement for each project due to the expected need for water.

“Significant amounts of water will be consumed – and irretrievably lost – during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes for the wells,” the council wrote. “BLM has not proposed measures to mitigate those impacts.”

The council also expressed concern over possible impacts to air quality caused by truck traffic and other emissions. The Alliance for Historic Wyoming also questioned whether the assessment was thorough enough, especially as it relates to historic trails and viewshed.

Several other groups offered comments on the project, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

“If exploration is to occur, we would like to see it completed in an environmentally responsible manner,” wrote representatives of the Niobrara Conservation District. “Even at the exploration phase the protection of the natural resources should be of the highest concern.”

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

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