BLM OKs potash exploratory drilling project near Labyrinth Canyon
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Nov 07, 2013 | 2496 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Exploratory drilling for potash could begin near Labyrinth Canyon as early as next February, despite objections from environmentalists.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Moab Field Office signed off on a decision in late September that gives American Potash LLC the right to drill four core holes in the Spring Canyon Point area.

BLM Assistant Field Office Manager Lisa Bryant found that the company’s site-specific and short-term plans would not have significant impacts on the environment within the project’s 17-acre footprint. Based on her agency’s review of the Green River Potash Exploration Project, she determined that there was no need to complete a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal.

Mike Sieb, president of parent company Magna Resources, told The Times-Independent that American Potash worked closely with the BLM to reduce the project’s impacts on the surrounding environment.

“The drill hole locations could be more optimal, but the focus from the outset was for a minimal impact in areas closest to existing roads,” he said Nov. 5.

The company also made a concerted effort to steer its exploration work away from riparian areas, creeks, wetlands and other sites that the BLM identified as areas of concern, Sieb said:

“We took special care to stay away from any sensitive areas.”

But the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) accused the BLM of sacrificing wilderness-quality lands, including slickrock domes and canyon rims high above the Green River northwest of Moab.

SUWA field attorney Liz Thomas could not be reached for comment. But in a posting on the group’s website, she wrote that some roads will have to be widened or upgraded in order to accommodate drill rigs and other equipment. The company will also have to build several new routes across the desert, she wrote.

The BLM is currently reviewing its overall management plan for the area, and Thomas suggested that the agency should have deferred its decision on the exploration project until that process is complete.

Sieb is aware of SUWA’s concerns. But he voiced confidence that the agency will protect high-priority areas.

The company plans to build drill pads, as well as vehicular turn-outs on existing roads and short-distance access roads that will lead to and from the pads.

Two of the three drill pad sites in the area meet the BLM’s criteria for lands with wilderness characteristics, and the agency found that those areas would be affected in the short term.

But American Potash will ultimately reclaim all but 3.25 acres inside the project area, leading the BLM to conclude that the remaining 13.7 acres will revert to a natural state within 11 years at the most.

The project, which includes plans to drill four additional exploratory holes on state-owned lands, is expected to last for about six months from beginning to end.

Sieb said he hopes to begin drilling the first two holes by February or March of next year. Once that work is complete, the company plans to get started on the remaining holes, he said.

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