Deal reached to delay oil, gas project in Utah's Book Cliffs

Published: Friday, Sept. 13 2013 5:55 p.m. MDT

Segundo Canyon, in the Book Cliffs, is among 3.4 million acres  of trust lands managed by SITLA, an independent state agency. (Sitla) Segundo Canyon, in the Book Cliffs, is among 3.4 million acres of trust lands managed by SITLA, an independent state agency. (Sitla)

SALT LAKE CITY — Exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas in a roadless part of Utah that is revered as a mecca for wildlife has temporarily been put on hold.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. still plans to study the potential development of oil and gas resources in the 18,000-acre Bogart Canyon area of the southern Book Cliffs, company spokeswoman Robin Olsen said Friday. But, the Texas-based firm has agreed not to start operations in the area until Jan. 1, 2016.

The area covers less than 19 percent of the 96,000 acres the company leased late last month from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration in a deal that drew immediate and pointed criticism from Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, sportsmen's groups and others.

Representatives from Herbert's office, Bishop's office, SITLA and Anadarko met in private on Thursday to hammer out a compromise that would keep the Bogart Canyon area off-limits to development for the time being. The resulting agreement was announced Friday.

"We did make some concessions," Olsen acknowledged, "but we wanted to make sure we were addressing the concerns of everyone involved."

Herbert called the deal "a mutually-beneficial agreement," in a statement released by his office Friday.

“By being willing to listen and respond to stakeholder concerns, Anadarko is once again demonstrating it is a responsible corporate citizen and one of the more socially-conscious energy producers in the nation,” the governor said.

Bishop, who is working on a public lands initiative that seeks to balance conservation and development goals in eastern Utah, also praised SITLA for taking a "cooperative approach" after the controversy over the lease erupted.

“Providing time to work out a broader lands initiative through a more inclusive and balanced approach is a win-win for all Utahns, especially Utah’s school children,” the congressman said in a statement.

Despite the compromise, the original contract between SITLA and Anadarko is largely intact. It calls for oil and natural gas exploration on three large school trust parcels in the southern Book Cliffs, which straddle Uintah and Grand counties.

“Though our sole legal obligation is to Utah’s public school system, which is owner and beneficiary of the entire Book Cliffs block of land, we’ve listened to concerns from Congressman Bishop, Gov. Herbert, and sporting interest groups, and have reached a satisfactory arrangement,” SITLA Board Chairman Steve Ostler said.

The 27-month delay in exploratory drilling activity falls in line with Anadarko's initial plan for the leased area, Olsen said. It also gives SITLA and the company time to gather feedback about wildlife management and mitigation options in the Bogart Canyon area.

"In all the areas where we operate, we work proactively with all stakeholders," Olsen said. "This (compromise) is just one more example of that. It's the way Anadarko does business."

Casey Snider, Utah coordinator for Trout Unlimited, said he knew "conversations were taking place" about the controversial lease, but didn't know specifics. The deal announced Friday provides the time needed to explore all the options for protecting prime habitat for fish and wildlife in Utah, he said.

"A little bit of time, that's all we needed," Snider said. "We've gotten a little breathing room, now we've got to get down to the real work."

The modification of the contract must still be approved by SITLA's board of trustees, which intends to address the issue during its Sept. 26 meeting in St. George.

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