The Grand County Council voted unanimously on July 1 to send a letter that asks the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review and revise its preliminary Master Leasing Plan proposals.
The draft alternatives aim to guide future management of new oil, gas and potash leases on more than 783,000 acres of land the agency administers in Grand and San Juan counties.
The BLM is not expected to issue a final decision on the plan until January 2016. Between now and then, the agency will examine the potential impacts that each alternative could have on development, recreation and other identified uses of those lands, according to BLM Canyon Country District Manager Lance Porter.
In the meantime, the public will still have a chance to comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement.
“We’re not at the decision phase yet,” Porter said.
By that time, the county council may have developed more specific recommendations about the approach it would favor.
As of right now, though, the BLM’s “no action” alternative — which would keep the status quo in place — is the only one that it can support, the council’s letter says.
Two of the three additional alternatives would severely limit opportunities for future development in Grand County, while the most restrictive alternative is “completely unacceptable” to the council, the letter says.
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he fears the more restrictive stipulations, if adopted, could lead to significant reductions in county revenues from oil, gas and potash projects.
“That should be of some concern to us,” he said July 1.
Porter maintains that active leases in areas with strong development potential could still continue. Future development, meanwhile, could also move forward in those same areas, potentially subject to additional restrictions, he said.
The most restrictive alternative under consideration would close more than 726,000 acres to new potash leases.
No-surface occupancy restrictions could also apply to anywhere between 138,103 acres to 564,990 acres of new oil and gas leases, and 0 to 138,103 acres of new potash leases.
Depending on the situation, however, Jackson said those restrictions may not be appropriate.
“That works in some cases and instances, but there’s limits to that,” he said July 9.
The BLM has said that resources under those no-surface occupancy areas could be developed through horizontal or directional drilling on nearby lands where no such restrictions are in place. But Jackson noted that those drilling rigs have their limits.
For instance, if the BLM closed a 10-square-mile area to surface occupancy, there would be no way for a company to develop its lease, according to Jackson.
“I think the concept of no-surface occupancy has been taken beyond its practical value,” he said.
As an alternative, Jackson suggests that impacts to recreational assets or other resources could be addressed by imposing controlled-surface use or timing limitations on specific areas.
But Chile Pepper Bike Shop owner Tracy Reed calls that approach a short-sighted one that could hurt Moab’s tourist industry.
“I just think that if there is a controlled-surface use or a timing limitation in those high-use recreation areas, it could just severely damage my business, because why would you want to go ride your bike in active oil and gas areas?” Reed said.
People come to Moab to recreate, she said.
“The reason they do that is because it’s such a unique and beautiful landscape,” she said. “Changing that landscape would have a huge impact.”
Reed said she understands that the community has to strike a balance between energy development, recreation and environmental protection.
“We know that this development is going to happen,” she said. “We just have to be careful about how we do that.”
Jackson said he takes those concerns to heart.
“I don’t dismiss what she says at all,” Jackson said. “She’s got a business model, and it needs to work for her.”
It will ultimately take hard work, compromise and some innovative ideas to come up with a solution that works best for everyone, Jackson said.
According to Jackson, the county council will try to do its part by continuing to “plug away” with the recreational industry, energy companies and the BLM.
“We’re all trying to find some kind of a happy medium out there,” he said.