The Bureau of Land Management finalized a plan laying out how and where oil and gas leasing will occur around treasured public lands near Moab, Utah, and took another step toward doing the same in the area of Green River, Utah.
The agency approved a plan that it said in a news release “will guide responsible mineral development …. while also protecting important natural resources, iconic scenery, and recreational opportunities.”
The plan closes 145,000 acres to oil and gas and potash leasing out of nearly 800,000 acres of public land covered by the plan and managed by the BLM’s Moab and Monticello field offices. The closures include lands near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
The plan also imposes no-surface- occupancy stipulations on more than 300,000 acres open to leasing but valued for their scenery and recreational uses. And it provides that leasing for potash, a mineral used as a fertilizer, occurs in different areas from oil and gas leasing to reduce conflicts from overlapping development.
The BLM’s shift toward the use of master leasing plans dates to reforms launched in 2010. The idea is to reduce litigation and community protests over oil and gas leasing by getting early stakeholder input about where energy development is appropriate and how to protect other resources.
The Moab plan is the first in Utah, although the BLM has finished or undertaken a number of others in the region, including ones in the Grand Junction area and near Dinosaur National Monument.
Along with announcing its final Moab plan, the BLM released preliminary alternatives for what it calls its San Rafael Desert plan, which will cover more than 500,000 acres primarily south of Green River. Some of the alternatives seek to address concerns about potential impacts of drilling on areas such as the Horseshoe Canyon portion of Canyonlands National Park and the Green River corridor.
The plan also seeks to resolve whether to cancel, modify or lift current suspensions on 16 leases that are being legally challenged.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in the BLM news release that the Moab plan “takes a landscape-level approach to balancing the protection of the iconic scenery in and around Moab with access to the rich energy resources found there. As the first Master Leasing Plan in Utah, the collaborative process is a model for how communities can work together to support thoughtful development while protecting world-class environmental, cultural and recreational resources.”
The Outdoor Alliance, a coalition of outdoor enthusiasts, said in a news release that it is “thrilled to see the Department of Interior and the BLM working to protect Moab’s world-class recreation resources while also planning for responsible energy development. Outdoor recreation in Moab attracts millions of visitors every year, but the incredible mountain biking, climbing, and paddling is also valuable to residents and local businesses.”
The plan also has the support of the Outdoor Industry Alliance. And the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said in a release that the plan will protect wild places such as Fisher Towers, Porcupine Rim, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon from oil and gas development, either by closing them to future leasing or imposing no- surface-occupancy stipulations.
Stephen Bloch, legal director of SUWA, said Friday that the plan takes into account areas around Moab that are important to motorized and non-motorized recreation, limiting but not prohibiting leasing and development in some of the most popular landscapes around Moab.
“It’s a much more thoughtful approach, I think, to where leasing and development can occur and where it’s simply not appropriate,” he said.
“I think that the BLM is to be commended for really having a thoughtful and engaging process with all the stakeholders to come up with a plan that is going to protect the most sensitive lands in and around Moab as well as provide certainty for the oil and gas and potash industries for where they can lease and develop,” Bloch said.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, said her group is looking forward to working with the Trump administration to roll back red tape along the lines of the Moab plan, which she said stifles job creation and economic growth.
Sgamma said, “The bottom line is that BLM is moving forward with policies that move from multiple uses of public lands — whereby many uses co-exist, from ranching to energy to recreation — to preservation only where only one use is allowed. We in the oil and natural gas industry don’t try to shut down other people’s jobs. In fact, we sustain millions of jobs with higher wages than the outdoor industry medium income, and we not only transport people to the West’s great landscapes, but the modern outdoor industry wouldn’t survive without the nylon, Gore- Tex, polyester fill and other synthetic fibers … made from oil and natural gas.”
Bloch said that while the Moab plan could be legally challenged, it couldn’t be undone by a simple stroke of the pen by a President Donald Trump. Creating the plan and amending local BLM land-use plans as part of it took years, and so would any effort to try to further revise them, he said.
Meanwhile, he’s glad to see the BLM undertaking the same kind of effort in the Green River area to determine where leasing and development do and don’t make sense there.
“I think it has some of the same issues as Moab but it’s a little bit sleepier,” Bloch said.
The BLM also is undertaking development of what it calls the Cisco Desert master leasing plan just across the Colorado border northeast of Moab.