[REGIONAL NEWS] Oil drilling comes to Utah wildlife refuge. Will rules keep birds, plants and fish safe?

In this 2008 photograph, Johnson Water Gap, a section of the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge in Uintah County./Photo courtesy of Ouray National Wildlife Refuge

By Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune

A Dallas energy company expects to recover 400,000 barrels of oil from two wells it proposes to drill inside eastern Utah’s Ouray National Wildlife Refuge but only after agreeing to onerous concessions to avoid disturbing habitat used by migratory birds and threatened species of plants and fish.

The project taps the very heart of the refuge, formerly irrigated fields known as Leota Bottom framed by a big eastward bend in the Green River.

To protect the rare yellow-billed cuckoo, for example, Thurston Energy can perform no construction or drilling during the summer nesting season, and then must adhere to strict hours of operation. Tanker trucks may pass through only between 1 and 4 p.m., moving no faster than 10 mph.

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