The Bureau of Land Management’s plans to possibly lease two parcels in the shadow of Sand Flats Recreation Area for oil and gas exploration were dashed last month after local government leaders successfully lobbied for their removal from July’s lease sales.
It was the first salvo fired in what’s shaping up to be a battle over how public lands are used. On March 18, the Washington Post reported the BLM has received more than 230 anonymous oil and gas lease nominations covering more than 150,000 acres of land on the doorsteps of Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Bears Ears National Monument and Dead Horse Point State Park. For perspective, the total acreage of the nominated leases is greater than the size of three of Utah’s five national parks: Arches, Zion and Bryce.
These leases go on sale in September in line with President Trump’s aggressive fossil fuel policy.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other nongovernmental organizations have protested the sale, citing climate change and the damage that emissions would cause to one of the world’s most visited regions.
“Climate change requires immediate action. The BLM must put a halt to all new leasing of public lands if there is any chance of avoiding the most severe impacts of a changing climate,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Development of these leases will exacerbate the climate crisis, while also marring one of the nation’s most iconic red rock landscapes.”
SUWA in a statement noted the land is within the Moab master leasing plan, which was completed four years ago and, at the time, was hailed “as one that would provide certainty to all stakeholders about where leasing might be appropriate and under what terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the current administration has weaponized that plan and is now promoting leasing in a magnitude and scope that was never intended.”
There are nominated leases within a mile and a half from Arches; a half-mile from Canyonlands, three-quarters of a mile from Dead Horse Point, one mile from Bears Ears and a quarter mile from the Green River. There are more than 130 nominated leases within a few miles from the three parks, 25 apiece for Arches and Canyonlands; 15 for Dead Horse Point; 30 for Bears Ears and 45 for the river.
According to SUWA, the lands in question include Duma Point, Goldbar Canyon, Hatch Canyon Horse Thief Point, Hunters Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon.
“In the face of our climate crisis, the BLM is barreling in the opposite direction,” said Sharon Buccino, director of Lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This foolish plan would dig us into a deeper hole and sacrifice magnificent Utah lands. It’s truly shameful, and we aim to stop it.”
“The BLM must deny these egregious requests to open oil and gas development outside of Arches — on lands double the size of the national park itself,” said Erika Pollard, associate director for the Southwest Region of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The BLM has the opportunity to reject this industry wish list that will only advance the climate crisis and threatens our national parks and treasured public lands, the Colorado River and the incredible outdoor experiences that millions of people come to enjoy each year.”
The BLM conducts its lease sales every quarter in accordance with the Mineral Leasing Act. It is unclear how the public lands in question were determined to be open for leasing through the BLM’s land use planning process.
It should be noted that once parcels are leased, operators must submit exploration or development proposals to the BLM, which would then conduct an environmental analysis regarding environmental impacts.
The BLM also points out that half the royalties that are paid are earmarked for Utah — and that less than 1% of BLM land, about 245 million acres, is developed for oil and gas resources.