Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is expected to announce Tuesday an oil and natural gas lease sale for eastern Utah, including sections of Desolation Canyon, White River, Diamond Mountain, Bourdette Draw and other lands in the Nine Mile Canyon region -- home to Ancient Puebloan rock-art images and ruins.
These public lands had largely been declared off-limits to new oil and natural gas leasing because of a series of federal court and administrative decisions overturning prior BLM leasing decisions.
The lease sale is scheduled to take place on Dec. 19. The BLM said it will publish the Utah sites that will be up for lease Tuesday. In the Federal Register Friday (Oct. 31) the agency announced the approval of five resource management plans (RMP) covering 9.5 million acres that determine which Utah lands are suitable for oil and gas production.
The BLM said it was committed during the RMP process to protecting environmentally sensitive areas while supporting energy resources in Utah. In the new plans, 53% of the acres open to oil and gas leasing are subject to stricter environmental controls, with 18% of the lands within the planning areas unavailable for leasing under any circumstance.
"Previous administrations proved that there can be a balance between wilderness protection and oil and gas development," said former BLM Director Jim Baca, who served under the Clinton administration. "Unfortunately the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to appease the oil and gas industry no matter the cost to our national heritage of wild and untamed places."
Environmental groups complain that many of the leased Utah lands are idle. At the end of fiscal year 2006 there were about 4.6 million acres of BLM-managed lands in the state under lease, but only slightly more than one million acres were in production, said the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Wilderness Society. In August environmental groups sued BLM for approving 25 gas wells on the West Tavaputs Plateau in central Utah (see NGI, Aug. 11).
And while the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 9,724 permits to drill between Jan. 1, 2001 and Sept. 30 of this year, an estimated 3,640 approved permits have not yet been used to drill, they said.
"At a time when oil companies already hold millions of acres of public lands under lease -- but are not being developed -- there is simply no reason for BLM to rush ahead with this lease sale," said Bobby McEnaney, staff advocate for NRDC.
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