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Proposed BLM oil, gas auction stirring up protests

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 6:49 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to offer up to 28 parcels of land for potential oil and gas leasing at a February auction. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to offer up to 28 parcels of land for potential oil and gas leasing at a February auction. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

MOAB — In a move that is already drawing criticism from some Grand County residents, the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to offer up to 28 parcels of land for potential oil and gas leasing at a February auction.

Another 11 parcels are the table in the Monticello area.

Comments on the proposal are being accepted until Oct. 19, and the federal agency has released an environmental assessment for the public to review the offering, which involves 51,693 acres.

The document details the potential environmental impacts of the lease/sale of the parcels. It also notes that 71 parcels up for consideration were withheld due a variety of concerns, such as water quality impacts, proximity to wilderness study areas or their value for cultural sites or sage-grouse habitat.

Still, Kiley Miller sees the threat of oil and gas development as a landscape changer for an area world-renowned for its red rock beauty.

"Millions of people all over the world love this place," Miller said. "I don't think they want to see it contaminated."

She said water wells that feed an organic farm and multiple subdivisions in the Lisbon Valley south of Moab are at risk if natural gas extraction takes place.

"For me, too, it is beyond water contamination," Miller said. "I am very concerned about air quality. We are on the brink of non-attainment (for meeting federal air quality standards) in this region. The National Park Service has done studies on the issue."

The BLM notes, however, that one parcel, No. 039, was removed from consideration after it was found to overlap a drinking water protection zone. None of the remaining parcels proposed for leasing overlap aquifers or protection zones, and the leases, if won through bid, do not allow any ground surface disturbances until additional environmental reviews take place.

Shelley Smith, director of the BLM's Canyon Country District Office in Moab, said the Lisbon Valley is no stranger to industrial development. The Moab field office area has an estimated 317 active wells.

"We were on a community radio show the other day, trying to explain our process," Smith said. "People believe that oil and gas leasing is a whole new day for Moab, but really it has been part of Moab and Grand County for literally a century."

Any of the 29 parcels up for consideration still have the possibility of coming out until the environmental assessment process is complete, she said.

"If we know something is a show-stopper, we take it out," Smith said.

She, too, stressed that awarding a lease does not mean the parcel will be developed for gas or oil extraction. In fact, only one in 10 leases is ever developed, Smith said.

"And we don't know where on that parcel where it will be drilled," she said.

Parcels can be up to 2,560 acres or a lot smaller, Smith added.

But Miller said she fears the wide-open vistas of the area will be spoiled with a view of an oil rig.

"It may be 15 miles away from Arches National Park, but anyone who is there and looks toward the mountains will be able to see them," she said.

Written comments on the Environmental Assessment can be mailed to: Bureau of Land Management, Moab Field Office, 82 E. Dogwood, Moab, UT 84532, or emailed to BLM_UT_MB_Comments@blm.gov, with "lease sale" in the subject line.

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