County opposes Sand Flats oil, gas lease sales

Moab’s Sand Flats Recreation Area, which has been the subject of recent discussion regarding oil and gas extraction, encompasses a large portion of Grandstaff Canyon, shown in this photo. The canyon is not part of the proposed oil and gas leasing parcels, but much of the surrounding area is. Photo by Carter Pape

The Grand County Council united in opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s potential selling of oil and gas leases near the Sand Flats Recreation Area.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan did not mince words in the resolution she drafted, saying the parcels targeted for potential drilling are on top of Grand County’s sole source aquifer, that federal law requires that it be protected as the area’s only source of drinking water, and that, “if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health”

Sloan also cited the Environmental Protection Agency, which has determined that, “in the Moab area, the aquifer is of very high quality, able to be used as a drinking water source with the minimal treatment required by the State of Utah. This constitutes a limited resource in this immediate area that if contaminated would create a significant hazard to public health and result in significant economic, social and environmental costs.”

She also pointed out the EPA has identified “petroleum, mineral exploration, and geophysical drilling” and “abandoned but unplugged petroleum, mineral and geophysical wells, tunnels” among the most serious potential sources of contamination of the … system.”

The Moab City Council in late January approved a similar resolution. The county resolution points out the city nearly 20 years ago adopted a general regulations in a Drinking Water Source Protection Plan. The State’s own Safe Drinking Water Act requires public water systems to protect drinking water from contamination and to adopt plans that identify water protection plans for all wells and springs “that provide water for a public water system.”

Audience member Marc Horwitz suggested residents might take drastic action to protect the aquifer.

“Better minds than mine are going to oppose this,” said Horwitz, adding, “The Trump administration put us in this position. This is why the Second Amendment, a well-regulated militia, might defend the watershed.”

Council Member Curtis Wells took a less inflammatory approach to voice his opposition.

“While I’m an advocate for multiple use and economic diversification in Grand County, the location of these proposed leases directly on top of Sand Flats Recreation Area and concerns related to the aquifer are valid and justifiable.”

The BLM is evaluating the parcels for its June oil and gas lease sale. The specific parcels are numbered 11 and 12. Sloan pointed out parcel 11 also overlaps the adjacent Skakel Spring Drinking Water Source Protection Plan.

The resolution further explains more than 191,000 people recreate at Sand Flats each year. The site includes the Slickrock and Porcupine Rim bike trails, she said, and almost 30 miles of 4X4 trails. The annual direct revenue attributed to Sand Flats was nearly $700,000 and worth close to $7 million in net value to the local economy.

The county’s resolution does more than oppose the lease. The BLM has been asked to remove the two parcels from its June sale list and it opposes other oil, gas or mineral development or extraction activities in Grand County’s sole source aquifer and the city’s drinking water protection zones, including Skakel Spring.