By John Rogers
The Bureau of Land Management has decided to proceed with the sale of oil and gas leases in Uintah County despite doubts from several quarters. Uintah County officials have joined the National Park Service and others in opposition to the energy development that abuts Dinosaur National Monument. The opponents fear that drilling activities will detract from the appeal of the national monument.
The 75 leases along the San Rafael Swell, which will be offered for sale online Dec. 11, encompass approximately 145 square miles. The BLM cited Pres. Donald Trump’s goal of increasing domestic energy production in making the announcement last week.
Gov. Gary Herbert has previously voiced concern about three specific lease parcels that abut the 330-square-mile Dinosaur National Monument. Herbert’s spokeswoman, Kirsten Rappleye, said the BLM had deferred action on two of the three parcels but that the third was one of the 75 that will be sold.
“It appears the BLM did a thorough job in balancing out the feedback that the governor shared,” Rappleye said in an statement to the Associated Press.
The national monument draws about 300,000 visitors annually, according to statistics from the National Park Service.
In its news release announcing the decision to proceed with the sale, the BLM said energy companies would be required to take steps to protect air and water quality when drilling begins. Other restrictions are designed to reduce light and noise pollution and limit visibility of drilling equipment from the monument, the agency said.
Meanwhile, conservation groups say they’ll challenge the BLM’s decision. Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy for The Wilderness Society, said the decision continues what her group sees as a disturbing trend of turning over public lands to the fossil-fuel industry without considering the effects on landscapes she called “irreplaceable.”
“Everyone — from the National Park Service, local residents, the governor of Utah, conservation groups like The Wilderness Society — all raised concerns that many of these lands are not appropriate for leasing,” she said.
Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said oil wells on one parcel that could be opened for drilling would be visible from the Dinosaur Quarry visitor center. He said he believes the BLM’s decision to open up the San Rafael Swell in central Utah dismisses the region’s unique values, “which is an area of rich cultural density, and archeological and cultural value. There’s a lot of rock art, there’s structures, there’s evidence of thousands of years of habitation in this area and that has all been put at risk.”
Newell said his group and others will file an administrative protest with the BLM’s Utah director before the agency’s competitive oil and gas lease sale in December.