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BLM defers controversial oil and gas leases near Utah national parks

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Aug. 12, 2020 at 1:48 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Conservation groups are praising the decision by the Bureau of Land Management to defer 87,000 acres of public lands for potential oil and gas development that critics said were too close to some of Utah’s national parks.

“We are relieved that the Bureau of Land Management has made the decision to defer lease sales that would have greatly impacted Utah’s national parks,” said Phil Francis, head of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “Oil and gas leases should not be permitted where they will impact resources at America’s special places.”

“We are grateful to all of the park advocates, tribal communities, partners and members of the public who raised their voices in protest. While we must continue to be vigilant in the fight to protect our national parks, today we celebrate the victory,” he added.

Groups that include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance raised their concerns over the parcels that were nominated for an oil and gas lease sale in September.

Steve Bloch, legal director for the alliance, praised the federal agency for its decision announced Tuesday, but said the parcels — located on some of Utah’s “wildest” lands — demonstrate why the “odious” practice of oil and gas leasing on public lands needs to stop.

Bloch emphasized that the proposed leases, if developed, would have scarred the land for decades, if not permanently, and risked impacting Native American cultural resources.

“If you were to throw a dart at Utah it would be hard to come up with a more controversial place to propose to sell leases than in the heart of Utah’s red rock country,” Bloch said.

Erika Pollard, associate southwest director at the National Parks Conservation Association, said the BLM made the right decision to protect vital natural assets such as Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks.

“This decision is a huge victory for the many park advocates, tribal communities, outdoors enthusiasts, and local governments and residents who spoke out against these dangerous plans and have now successfully protected some of Utah’s wildest public lands,” she said.

“This victory will ensure, for now, the spectacular views at Arches and Canyonlands remain unspoiled by industrialization, while protecting the parks from air pollution caused by oil and gas drilling, and preserving the visibility of their famous dark night skies.”

The auction in September still leaves more than 27,000 acres of public lands up for bid.

Bloch said the alliance and other groups will evaluate those parcels for possible protest.

“They are scattered around the state,” with some in the Uinta Basin and in the Richfield area, he said.

“We are concerned at an overarching level the impact that oil and gas development has in contributing to the climate crisis. We will evaluate which parcels remain on the sale list and see how long BLM will give groups to protest.”

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