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BLM backs off on drilling near national parks

BLM backs off on drilling near national parks

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Drilling leases on and near the border of national parks in Utah have been pulled from an auction block.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced its decision late Tuesday after negotiations with National Park Service officials who objected to noise, lights and air pollution near Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, all in Utah.

Some of those parcels were within 1.3 miles of Delicate Arch, a freestanding span of 33 feet that is the signature landmark at Arches near Moab, Utah.

Hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Utah will still be auctioned off Dec. 19 for oil and gas drilling.

In all, the Park Service objected to 93 parcels where drilling could drown out the sounds of wind, water and wildlife for visitors, possibly contaminate nearby seeps and springs, and worsen ozone levels, Mike Snyder, the Denver-based regional Park Service director, wrote Monday in a protest letter to the bureau.

BLM maps that showed the agency will remove 34 parcels from the December auction, including those bunched along park boundaries.

That was little more than a third of what the Park Service wanted eliminated.

Snyder, however, showed no disappointment. "Working with Selma Sierra, the BLM Utah state director, has resulted in the kind of resource protection that Americans want and deserve for their national parks," he said in a joint statement.

Snyder couldn't be reached for an interview late Tuesday.

The BLM left some drilling parcels -- including parts of three tracts near Arches park -- on the auction list which critics say could still ruin park views.

"I don't know why we're that desperate to compromise the extraordinary values of the national parks. Any industrialization of areas adjacent to park creates irreparable damage," said Dave Nimkin, a regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

The BLM, he said, "would burn the Rembrandts to heat the castles."

Other leases certain to draw objections from conservation groups include parcels on high cliffs along whitewater sections of Desolation Canyon, an area little changed since explorer John Wesley Powell in 1896 remarked on "a region of wildest desolation" while boating down the Green River to the Grand Canyon.

Still others extend to plateaus populated by big game atop Nine Mile Canyon, home to thousands of ancient rock art panels.

"This lease sale continues to be a disaster in the making," said Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "The Park Service has concerns about a number of other parcels close to the national parks, and it seems evidence they were rolled, and couldn't maintain their opposition."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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