Press Release: Leasing plan for lands near Moab could reduce impacts to wilderness areas and national parks

Contacts:
Steve Bloch, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
Jennifer Dickson, (303) 650-9379, jennifer_dickson@tws.org

Moab, UT (August 14, 2015) – A draft Bureau of Land Management plan released today could guide energy development away from sensitive lands near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and many outstanding proposed wilderness areas that are too wild to drill, though places like Labyrinth Canyon and Indian Creek could still be threatened. The BLM’s Moab Master Leasing Plan will help the agency better manage oil and gas development and potash mining to avoid conflict with other resources on more than 900,000 acres of public land in eastern Utah.

“The draft Moab Master Leasing Plan is a significant step toward better BLM management of oil, gas and other minerals in the heart of Utah’s red rock country,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.   “Once finalized, the MLP will give industry certainty where leasing and ultimately development could take place, and companies will understand the terms and conditions for those activities.  Likewise, the public and local communities will know that many of southeastern Utah’s stunningly beautiful canyons and mesas won’t be marred by the sight and sound of drill rigs and pump jacks.  While more work remains to be done to preserve places like the Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River and its popular side canyons, BLM’s hard work on this draft plan has definitely paid off.”

Increased energy development in eastern Utah has fueled air pollution that threatens human health and internationally acclaimed dark night skies, as well as recreation opportunities that contribute millions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. With more than 90% of BLM lands available nationally for leasing the agency must find better ways to permit development while safeguarding wild places and other values of public lands.

“Some of our most treasured places are at risk from development and master leasing plans are a way of identifying what could be the right places for energy while also committing to conserve places where drilling and mining shouldn’t happen,” said Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “With an MLP, we can all play from the same rulebook – knowing what to do and how to do it. Master Leasing Plans like the Moab MLP and others around the West are modernizing the way we do business on our public lands.”

The Moab MLP would specifically:

  • Protect wild places that are currently under threat from oil and gas leasing and development, including Fisher Towers, Porcupine Rim, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon.  These landscapes would either be closed to future leasing or subject to “no surface occupancy” stipulations that prohibit physical development on the lease.
  • Provide strong protections for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks’ classic southern Utah vistas, dark night skies and clean water.
  • Require that the majority of all future leases issued in the MLP area be subject to common sense ‘controlled surface use’ stipulations. These are essential to give both industry and the public certainty about the ground rules for future development.

The plan will not:

  • Protect well known landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon and its side canyons.  These places remain threatened by oil, gas and potash development.
  • Prevent potash leasing development immediately adjacent to the Green River and in important side canyons (Red Wash and Ten Mile Wash).  Potash leasing and development could also occur on Hatch Point and Indian Creek, a scenic area that can be seen from Canyonlands National Park and Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park.

The BLM also announced additional Master Leasing Plan efforts today to better balance development and conservation in the San Rafael Desert and Cisco Desert, while highlighting other MLPs in progress in places like Western Colorado.

“BLM’s decision to begin work on the San Rafael Desert and Cisco Desert MLPs is also welcome news,” said Bloch.  “Though less well known than the Moab area, these places harbor important cultural resources and big game habitat.  They also offer solitude and a chance to explore Utah’s untrammeled backcountry.  BLM’s current plans don’t adequately account for these values and that has led to past conflicts; the MLPs offer the opportunity to get it right and balance protection with development.”

* All photos copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

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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. http://suwa.org/about-suwa/

The Wilderness Society is the leading public lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org