Frustrated and worried members of the Moab and Grand Country communities met Tuesday, Nov. 24, to hear from Bureau of Land Management officials and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s Scott Braden at a meeting organized by Telluride alum Josie Kovash of Red Rock Forests.
The story behind the relatively last-minute meeting: 240 parcels of Utah’s BLM land have been added to a Dec. 19 action of oil and gas leases, in what many Moab area residents believe to parting shots in the public lands war from the Bush Administration. One parcel in particular alarmed area residents, as a drilling platform could be visible (and audible) from Delicate Arch, just one of the very sensitive areas in which oil and gas leases are up for grabs with little or no restrictions. And those being sold with some restrictions – for example, no surface occupancy – are often adjacent to other unprotected pieces of land, which can be used for directional drilling with little governmental oversight and no public protest process. Several threatened parcels can be accessed only by driving directly through Arches National Park.
Because many threatened parcels are last-minute additions to the upcoming BLM lease auction, there is very little time for public input into the lease-and-drill process. Even agencies like the National Park Service and preservation organizations like SUWA are scrambling to react effectively to an auction they first heard about on Nov. 4.
Deadline for public protest is Dec. 4.
Members of the audience were invited to ask questions of the BLM representatives at the meeting, and the answers were not what they had had hoped to hear. No, there is no way to extend the protest timeline; no, no voting process was involved; and yes, even though the next Administration will have a much more community- and environmentally friendly attitude towards its citizens, nothing can be done to reverse the lease sales, once they’re completed.
The tension was palpable as BLM representatives stated that without new information directly affecting planning and parcel designations in the BLM Resource Management Plan (i.e., information proving it to be either faulty or based on inaccurate information), there is almost no chance that the sale of these parcels could be deferred, or pulled from this auction and resubmitted in the next quarter.
To this, SUWA’s Braden cried foul, and encouraged everyone to put pressure on the politicians at the local and state levels and to generate as many letters as possible, an action that has yielded parcel deferment in the past. With enough documented public outrage, he warned, this type of deferment could happen again. Well-aimed criticism does work: One especially controversial parcel, #225, was deferred after the county identified a conflict with local ordinances.
Most of the audience expressed the hope that community input could identify viable conflicts quickly.
Participants broke out into work groups to identify potential areas of new information, many voicing concerns that air quality concerns about support transport for drilling was not properly considered in the BLM process. Castle Valley Mayor Damian Bollermann was especially concerned about the little-understood fractured sandstone surrounding his watershed being contaminated by the highly toxic extraction process used by drilling. Many concerns were voiced about drilling within the unmapped Moab aquifer; members of the business community focused on the potential impacts on the recreation economy and the viewscape.
Sample protest letters are available for download at HYPERLINK "http://www.redrockforests.org" www.redrockforests.org, as is information about up-for-leasing parcel numbers and suggested information regarding the sensitivity of certain sites. Calls to officials and letters are the only permitted forms of protest; mailing and contact information is also available on the site. No email is accepted – only faxes and snail mail are permitted (fax number is 801/539-4237.
There has been an outpouring of international support for these deferments from tourists and recreaters who visit Southeastern regularly; many neighboring Colorado residents would also like to see this area preserved.
So if you don’t already have your representatives phone number on speed dial, find their contact information at HYPERLINK "http://www.congress.org" www.congress.org – just enter your zip code.
Southeast Utah Public Lands in Crisis
Slickrock Trail, Arches National Park, Porcupine Rim, Desolation Canyon on Short List for Drilling!