The dramatic promontory of Hatch Point could soon be marred by exploratory potash wells. Copyright James Kay.

The Moab office of the BLM has approved a mining company’s proposal to drill four wells to explore potash deposits on Hatch Point, a scenic promontory that draws thousands of visitors every year.

K2O Utah LLC is the creature of a large Australian mining company.  Both seem perfectly happy to forfeit natural values when the smell of profit is in the air.  And the BLM is perfectly willing to let it happen.  Of course, there is already important economic benefit to the region from the tens of thousands of visitors who flock to Hatch Point and the Needles Overlook every year.  Will they continue to come when the view is sludge pits, tanker trucks and industrial equipment?

Exploration and Leasing Is Premature
The BLM has acknowledged that its current management plan (rushed out the door in the last hours of the Bush administration) failed to correctly identify areas where oil, gas and potash development should occur.  Agency staff at the Moab office are scurrying around to correct this blunder, scarcely an unusual one.  In a sane world, exploration, leasing and drilling decisions would wait for that process to reach a conclusion.  It all becomes more bizarre in light of the fact that the Utah BLM director entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to allow K20 to drill exploratory wells on Hatch Point after his agency commenced its new leasing review process. After all, the BLM’s new leasing plan can consider, among other things, closing the Hatch Point area to leasing.

Winnowed down, here’s what has happened: the BLM failed miserably in its duty to draft a proper mineral leasing plan.  It set out to rectify that error, then perverted the new process by approving exploratory drilling in advance of its completion.

The BLM’s remedial draft leasing plan is scheduled for release later this summer and the final plan in a year.  All of this will be too late to save Hatch Point from the four exploratory wells.  However, SUWA will hold the BLM’s feet to the fire to complete its new leasing plan before issuing potash leases to K20 for full-scale potash development on Hatch Point.

We try always to heed the old dictum, “Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence.”  But that gets harder with each new, phony mea culpa from the agency.  And each one strengthens the case for better protection for the lands in the Greater Canyonlands area.

—Liz Thomas

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, summer 2013 issue)