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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal for potential oil and gas development in the popular Slickrock Trail recreation area in Grand County is stoking opposition from local elected leaders, outdoor recreation companies and even Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who says the leases should be pulled.
“The governor appreciates the unique beauty of the Slickrock area and wants to ensure that nothing is done that would be detrimental to the visitor experience or local water quality. He has asked the Bureau of Land Management to defer the lease sales and consider more fully how they might impact those factors,” said Herbert’s spokeswoman Anna Lenhardt.
In a teleconference Tuesday, Grand County and Moab elected officials said a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to open two parcels of land in a June oil and gas lease sale snubs the importance of the outdoor recreation economy and puts local drinking water supplies in jeopardy, if acted upon.
“Grand County has no alternative drinking water source,” said Mary McGann, chairman of the Grand County Council, pointing out the drilling would take place over a deep water aquifer serving 11,000 people and the millions of tourists who visit each year.
The two parcels are within a mile of Arches National Park and span more than 60% of the Slickrock Trail in the Sand Flat Recreation Area, which is jointly managed by the county and the BLM.
It hosts close to 200,000 visitors a year and generates $700,000 in direct revenue for the county, McGann said.
Both the Grand County Council and the city of Moab have passed resolutions in opposition to the parcels being offered, asking them to be pulled.
In addition, a coalition of 80 companies from around the country sent a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to highlight the importance the recreation area and its nexus with tourism, jobs and quality of life. The letter urges Bernhardt to acknowledge the value of the recreation economy and improve the mineral leasing process.
Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling, said directional drilling would involve heavy truck traffic in geologically complex country that has already been deemed of low oil and gas potential, so it is troubling that the parcels are even up for consideration.
She added that the U.S. Department of Interior’s “energy dominance” agenda is in conflict with the recreation value of the land and is playing out under a 1920 federal oil and gas exploration law that is badly out of step with current times.
“The system is outdated and it is time for an update,” she said.
Korenblat stressed she has to demonstrate the economic viability any time she gets a permit from the federal government, but the same is not true for oil and gas companies that nominate parcels for potential development.
“There’s no burden for them to prove economic viability,” she said.
Herbert has stepped in before on sensitive land parcels offered by the BLM, including asking for reconsideration in leases that were on the table three years ago near Dinosaur National Monument.