Utah’s most popular National Park threatened by sight and sound of development
For Immediate Release: January 12, 2017
Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
Cory MacNulty, National Parks Conservation Association, 801.521.0785
SALT LAKE CITY – National Park advocates, local residents and conservationists are stunned over a just announced proposal by the St. George field office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer two oil and gas leases less than two miles from Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. If developed, the two parcels could easily be seen from Utah’s most popular national park. The parcels are also next to the rural residential gateway community of Virgin and dissected by the North Creek drainage – a perennial stream which flows into the Virgin River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River.
“This is a completely inappropriate location for oil and gas leasing and development,” said Steve Masefield, former Chairman of the Virgin Planning and Zoning Commission and a town resident. “Drilling on these leases would not only degrade the scenic vistas enjoyed by visitors driving to Zion. Nearby rural neighborhoods would be devastated by industrial smells, noise, lighting and traffic. Our water – and the water used by communities downstream – could be polluted.”
“As a life-time resident and a retired owner of several hospitality and tourist-related businesses in Springdale, Utah, I know how crucial the greater Zion National Park area is to our visitors and local residents alike,” said Louise Excell. “I cannot imagine how visitors will feel as they discover pump jacks and flares from oil and gas drilling are visible from both inside and outside the park. Not only will the sight be jarring for visitors and residents, but other important natural resources and quality of life will be affected, including diminished air quality, loss of natural soundscapes, and night skies.”
There are currently no producing wells in this region, and BLM is under no requirement to offer these parcels for lease. Moreover, the oil and gas industry has roughly 2 million acres of BLM-managed lands in Utah already under lease that they have not developed. Despite the extensive leased lands, in 2016 the drilling of new oil and gas wells in Utah reached a 30-year low. There is clearly no need to offer these two leases for sale and put Zion National Park and the surrounding region at risk from mineral development.
“With over 4 million annual visitors to Zion National Park, BLM should be working collaboratively with the National Park Service to protect – not threaten – the world class resources those visitors come to enjoy and be inspired by,” said Cory MacNulty, with the National Parks Conservation Association. “The doorstep to one of America’s ‘Best Ideas’ is not the place for oil and gas leasing and development.”
“BLM’s proposal to sell these two leases is déjà vu all over again. Just like its proposal in 2008 to sell leases adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, this is an entirely ill-conceived plan that should be rejected,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This lease first, think later approach to oil and gas leasing has been rejected time and time again. It’s hard to understand what would compel BLM to propose offering these parcels but whatever their motivation, BLM should rethink its proposal which threatens Utah’s most popular National Park.”
The two oil and gas lease parcels near Zion National Park, as well as a third parcel located adjacent to the Black Ridge Wilderness Area, are proposed for sale at BLM’s June 2017 competitive oil and gas lease sale (environmental assessment available here). BLM is accepting comments on its controversial proposal through February 10, 2017 (more information available here).
The proposed lease parcels overlap lands identified by BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics (i.e., outstanding opportunities for solitude and recreation) and which are proposed for Wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, H.R. 2430, S. 1375 (114th Congress).
Photographs taken from the lease parcels are available here.
About Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. For more information, visit www.suwa.org.
About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.