March 20 Lease Sale Sold Leases on Public Lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, along with Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah
Updated March 20, 2018
Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263
Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, 303.915.8308
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635
Salt Lake City (March 20): Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off parcels of federal public lands in southeastern Utah’s spectacular redrock country for oil and gas leasing and development. Included in BLM’s lease sale are approximately 54,000 acres of public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge area of critical environmental concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers. Conservationists have protested the sale of 32 parcels as being contrary to federal laws and regulations. A map of the proposed lease parcels is available here.
In addition to conservation groups’ protests, the National Park Service (NPS) raised significant concerns about the impacts of this oil and gas lease sale and later-in-time development, including impacts to air quality, dark night skies, scenic values, soundscapes and groundwater quality to parks in southeast Utah including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments (NPS’s letter available here).
- NPS requested that BLM remove lease parcels near its parks, stating “we are concerned that continuing to offer parcels for oil and gas exploration and development in proximity to our parks will be detrimental to the experience of the visiting public.”
- NPS explained that BLM had “not fully evaluated” its concerns regarding dark night skies and soundscapes, stating “[w]e are disappointed that there is no recognition in [BLM’s environmental reviews] of the significant potential for degradation of dark night skies and soundscapes that would result from oil and gas exploration and development on the lease parcels.”
- NPS critiqued BLM’s failure to respond to NPS’s detailed air quality recommendations.
BLM ignored all of these concerns and offered the 13 parcels based on its shoddy analysis and ill-founded decision that leasing would not jeopardize these resources and values.
“We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”
“BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.’”
In addition to offering leases adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and close to Bears Ears and Hovenweep National Monuments, BLM also plans to offer leases in culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:
- Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. BLM briefly considered leasing in this area in 2015, but acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from the proposal. The agency is putting these cultural sites at risk without collecting and reviewing that information;
- Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
- Several tracts in proposed wilderness areas including in Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon near Moab, Utah, and in Cross Canyon, immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
“These lands and cultural artifacts belong to the American people. Instead of managing them in the public interest as the law requires, the Trump administration is using its Polluter Dominance strategy to plunder them for the benefit of big businesses and a wealthy few,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of Lands for the Nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Even beyond that misguided policy, this leasing can’t be justified when nearly two million acres of public land in Utah sit leased but unused.”
“Secretary Zinke and the BLM have acknowledged that some places should not be put at risk from oil and gas drilling, as we saw in his recent reprieves for lands around Chaco Canyon and the town of Livingston, Montana. The extraordinary cultural resources and wilderness values of these Utah lands deserve the same protection,” said Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center.
“The Trump administration is heedlessly rushing to sacrifice irreplaceable wild rivers and wildlife to satisfy the fossil fuel industry’s greed,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ancient native fish of Utah’s San Juan and Green rivers deserve a chance at survival, but Trump’s oil and gas auction puts them at deadly risk from habitat loss and fracking pollution.”
“Utah’s oil and gas industry has stockpiles of unused leased lands. We must not hand over our parks, monuments and archaeologically-rich canyons to them too. It’s time to re-balance the scales of development and conservation so future generations can breathe clean air, drink clean water and have access to nature,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Utah Sierra Club Chapter director.
On January 2, 2018, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested BLM’s decision to auction off these federal public lands for leasing and development (see here and here). BLM has yet to respond to those protests but nonetheless is moving forward with this sale. BLM’s environmental assessment is available here and its Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.
Like in most western states, there is a surplus of BLM-managed lands in Utah that are under lease but not in development. At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect). 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). With less than forty percent of the total land under lease there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.