Oil and gas leases around Moab have received national attention in recent months, first after an anonymous party nominated two parcels in the Sand Flats Recreation Area for oil and gas leases and more recently after Prairie Hills Oil & Gas of North Dakota nominated parcels around Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park for drilling.
The Bureau of Land Management, which controls the vast swaths of land in Grand County and San Juan counties that have recently received the attention of oil and gas developers, eventually deferred leasing bids on the parcels in Sand Flats from potential leasing after public outcry over the matter.
Now, 99 more parcels locally have been nominated, some lying directly between Canyonlands and Arches. The bureau deferred leases on 26 of those parcels, primarily those directly between Canyonlands and Arches, leaving 73 that may go to bid following an ongoing period of public comment. Of those, 55 are clustered near Moab, and some are less than a mile north of Canyonlands National Park.
The parcels newly proposed for lease bear a key difference from the two parcels the BLM dropped in February. Whereas the Sand Flats Recreation Area showed almost no promise of producing oil — all holes drilled in the vicinity have come up dry, according to state data — there are already wells currently producing oil near the newly proposed parcels.
That is, the potential for producing oil from at least one of the parcels is better than zero. Whether oil is actually present beneath the vast desert land east of Arches, north of Canyonlands and southwest of the La Sal National Forest will not be known unless the areas are drilled.
The northernmost cluster of the 55 parcels near Moab shows the least promise. The cluster stretches just west of the Canyonlands Field Airport to near the Colorado River, across the stream from a wildlife management area. No wells in the area currently produce oil, according to state data tracking the location, status and productivity of oil and gas wells.
The central cluster of parcels, which sits less than a mile from Canyonlands National Park, is near the greatest number of wells currently producing oil, compared to the two other clusters. The parcels sit next to existing oil fields and 25 wells already producing oil, along with one producing lithium. In the same field, 23 additional wells have been approved for drilling, including two that are currently under construction, according to state data.
The southernmost cluster, which intersects partially with Highway 191 between La Sal and the southern tip of Spanish Valley, also sits next to a known oil field but fewer active wells. Five wells in the two adjacent drilling units currently produce oil, and one new well has been approved.
Overall, southern Grand County and northern San Juan County have not historically been hot spots for oil and gas development. Although the area does contain some known and active oil fields, most of Grand County’s drilling activity has been concentrated farther north, and most of San Juan County’s activity has been concentrated farther south.
However, drilling activity has been slowly expanding toward Moab over the years. Of the 26 new wells currently approved for construction in Grand County, 23 of them are in the area north of Canyonlands. Many of the active or plugged wells in the area were drilled in or after 2000 while many of the plugged wells in the northern part of the county were drilled in the 1980s or prior, according to state data.
The BLM is seeking public comment on the 73 parcels, plus four deferred from a June lease sale, now through July 9. Developers that win lease bids in September are subject to environmental review per drilling site where they seek to dig, according to the bureau.