Utah governor: Rethink lease sites

Herbert urges BLM to consider possible impact on Dinosaur monument

Gov. Gary Herbert

Utah’s Republican governor is asking the Bureau of Land Management to rethink its plans to offer oil and gas leases near Dinosaur National Monument due to potential disturbances that would result for visitors there.

In a letter submitted to the agency this week, Gov. Gary Herbert said the state “wishes to ensure leasing of these parcels does not impact visual resources or cause light or sound disturbances” within the monument.

Herbert’s letter doesn’t outright call for the agency not to offer the leases in December, but appears to suggest that as a possibility. He asks that it re-evaluate the leases “to determine whether there is a better choice of leasing category.”

BLM resource management plans categorize lands as being open to leasing under standard lease terms, open with restrictions, or closed to leasing. Herbert’s letter says that while an environmental assessment on the leases includes lease stipulations that could sufficiently mitigate the impacts of drilling, “the State encourages BLM to provide a thoughtful review of these parcels to ensure energy developments can successfully coexist with outdoor recreation.”

One of the far-northeastern Utah leases would be adjacent to the monument and the other two would be within a mile of it. Some of the acreage is in the area of the monument’s main entrance road and within a mile of the Quarry Visitor Center.

The National Park Service believes the parcel would be within sight of the center, and also is worried about noise, air and light pollution, and other impacts if drilling occurs on the lease parcels. Some conservationists and recreationalists object to the proposed leases, while the Western Energy Alliance says national park and monument boundaries don’t have an implied buffer around them to prevent multiple uses and nearby lands shouldn’t always be off-limits to oil and gas development.

A master leasing plan adopted by the BLM in Colorado aims to help better protect Dinosaur National Monument from impacts of oil and gas activities, but it doesn’t extend into Utah.

Herbert’s stance on Dinosaur is notable in that he is generally supportive of oil and gas development. In his letter, he endorsed offering 61 of the 64 lease parcels the BLM wants to auction off in Uintah and Duchesne counties in northeastern Utah in December, and said a successful sale would boost employment in an area hurt by a downturn in oil prices. He said an executive order issued by President Trump promoting energy development supports the proposed lease sale, which would enhance domestic energy independence while promoting the local economy.

However, Herbert opposed a BLM proposal to offer acreage near Zion National Park in a lease sale in September, and the agency dropped that plan after also encountering opposition from the public and gateway communities to the park.


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