Bitter Creek proposed wilderness (Book Cliffs). Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA
Published February 1, 2019
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Less than three business days after the end of the partial government shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to sell more than 217,000 acres of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah during its upcoming March 2019 lease sale. The BLM plans to auction off 156 oil and gas lease parcels, including parcels in Utah’s culturally significant Four Corners region near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as the wild and remote Book Cliffs.
Utah BLM staff worked during the federal government shutdown to prepare for this lease sale. Taken together, the parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy.
Oil and gas leasing and development in Lockhart Basin would dramatically alter the beauty of this spectacular wild landscape. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA
Throughout the course of three lease sales conducted over the past 12 months, the Trump administration’s BLM has systematically leased more than 112,000 acres in southeast Utah’s Four Corners Region, blanketing one of the densest accumulations of cultural resources in the country with oil and gas leases and setting the stage for the area to be drilled and developed. A map illustrating the BLM’s all-out assault on this fragile region is here.
“The BLM is placing the final pieces to complete its puzzle of oil and gas leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The BLM has done so without considering the big-picture impacts to these national monuments and surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies, air quality, and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”
The National Park Service, the BLM’s sister agency in the Interior Department, has written the BLM on two occasions – before the March 2018and now the March 2019 lease sale – urging the BLM to not lease parcels on the doorstep of Hovenweep National Monument. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns.
In response to the BLM’s notice of the March 2019 sale, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma have demanded that the BLM defer selling leases in the area until the agency conducts a thorough cultural resources review of the region. The Hopi Tribe has previously written the BLM demanding the same review. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns, either.
“The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This approach has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases, which should come as no surprise given that it’s the same Bush political appointee – David Bernhardt – now steering the Trump Interior Department.”
In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, the BLM plans to lease nearly 100 parcels in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and Book Cliffs region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, largely due to the BLM’s ineffective and lax management of oil and gas leasing and development. Rather than take steps to bring the Uinta Basin into compliance with air quality standards, the BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development. The Book Cliffs are a wild and remote region prized by hunters and guides for trophy big game.
“With BLM staff already stretched thin, it’s hard to believe that the six days the government was open since comments were submitted on this lease sale could be sufficient to address the many risks to wildlife, wilderness and archaeological resources on 217,000 acres of public lands,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “And the fact that all of these parcels are still in the sale raises some red flags.”
“How many times can we say this? This is another egregious example of short term profit margins being put ahead of invaluable cultural and archeological resources – with areas near Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancient national monuments being put back on the chopping block for the third time in a year,” said Utah Sierra Club Director Ashley Soltysiak. “Once lost, these incredible places are gone forever.”
There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development,with only forty-five percent of its total leased land in development. There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (see here and follow hyperlink for Table 2, Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year – the last year in which BLM has provided oil and gas statistics. At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6, Acreage of Producing Leases).
More information regarding BLM’s March 2019 lease sale is available here.