City opposes subsurface oil and gas drilling in Sand Flats

Public comment on matter opens Feb. 20

This map shows two of seven parcels proposed by the Bureau of Land Management for subsurface oil and gas extraction activities. The two are located inside Sand Flats Recreation Area, beneath the Slickrock bike trail and Fins & Things. Map imagery by Google; map data from BLM; the Bureau of Land Management; Adventure Projects, Inc.; and the National Park Service; compiled by Carter Pape

The Moab City Council at Tuesday’s meeting unanimously approved a resolution formalizing members’ opposition to the Bureau of Land Management leasing two parcels in the Sand Flats Recreation Area for oil and gas extraction.

Although no drilling would occur on the surface of the protected area, which contains among its various attractions the world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail, the areas could become subject to underground, horizontal drilling from adjacent areas if the BLM determines to auction leases for them.

The two parcels are among a total of seven in eastern Utah that are to be considered for competitive oil and gas lease sales in June, pending a public comment period on the matter. The period for public comment is Feb. 20 to March 23.

Although the seven parcels are scattered throughout Uintah, Grand and San Juan counties — two are directly adjacent to Green River, one is coincident with a Potash pond and the largest is a 2,400-acre site next to Highway 191 south of Spanish Valley — the two in the Sand Flats Recreation Area have drawn the most attention due to their proximity to iconic Moab features and the valley’s sole groundwater aquifer.

Parcel 11, the extent of which is 640 acres, a square mile, sits below a large portion of the Slickrock trail, and the other parcel in Sand Flats, numbered 12 in the lease sale documents, contains a large portion of Fins & Things, a popular off-road vehicle route. Both sit within viewing distance of Arches National Park, just across the Colorado River, and both intrude on the valley’s aquifer.

This line in the sand depicts the border of parcel 12, an area inside Sand Flats Recreation Area that the Bureau of Land Management is considering leasing for oil and gas extraction. Photo by Carter Pape

“Allowing oil and gas development in the sole source aquifer presents significant risk to the reliability and integrity of the City of Moab’s water supply and is not the best use of resources in that area,” reads the resolution passed by the city council Tuesday, Jan. 28.

The resolution concludes by resolving that the City of Moab “calls on the BLM to exercise caution and ensure that any oil and gas leases on land in the Moab area be conducted in a way that will not negatively impact tourism, quality of life, or water resources in the area.”

Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann wanted to bring a resolution similar to that which the city passed Tuesday and it will now go before the county council, according to Mayor Emily Niehaus.

According to the BLM’s ePlanning website, the bureau will seek comments during the public comment period “that identify issues relevant to the proposed action or contain new technical or scientific information,” which it says will be addressed in the environmental assessment of the proposed bids for leasing.

Comments containing “opinions or preferences, or comments that are essentially identical to other comments will not be specifically addressed in the environmental documents,” although they “may be considered in the decision-making process.”

Once the public comment period closes, officials will determine whether the parcels can go straight to lease sale or whether they must be subject to additional environmental assessments.