SALT LAKE CITY — Environmental groups are seething over the Bureau of Land Management's proposal to offer oil and gas leases adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument's western boundaries.
The BLM in Utah completed an environmental analysis on a plan to offer 98,639 acres for potential oil and gas development on 79 parcels in western and central Utah, some of which are also in the San Rafael region that critics say is rich in archaeological artifacts.
“This is an outrageous proposal to lease and develop some of Utah’s most culturally rich and wildly scenic federal public lands. BLM has quickly come full circle and brought us back to the ‘drill now-drill everywhere’ days of the early 2000s, and once again Utah is front and center on the national stage for these disastrous policies,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Mark A. Foust, superintendent of the Dinosaur National Monument, wrote the BLM in May, detailing worries that oil and gas exploration could compromise the experience of the monument's 300,000 visitors who come each year.
Parcels of particular concern are those on the western boundary of the monument and the Green River District Entrance Road in Jensen, as well as those located near the Canyon Visitor Center in Dinosaur, Colorado, he noted.
Foust asked that the BLM pull those parcels from consideration in the analysis or if they aren't pulled from the December auction, require that they come with stringent regulations that include "no surface occupancy" by industry.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said one of the parcels was withdrawn by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009 after the botched auction interrupted by activist Timothy DeChristopher.
Salazar ended up directing an on-the-ground review of the controversial parcels in the wake of environmental protests and lawsuits.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance — which represents independent oil and gas producers — said she believes the BLM's environmental analysis of the proposal addresses the concerns raised by the park service.
"They consulted with Dinosaur National Monument and mitigated those impacts and specifically put in place stipulations that minimize noise. Visual impacts are well below the threshold that would be noticed by the casual visitor to the monument."
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance added that the proposed leases at the western edge of the San Rafael represent the third time in five years that the federal agency is targeting the Molen Reef, an area with high cultural and archaeological density and popular for recreation.
Each time before, the agency withdrew the leasing proposal and noted not enough information was known about the cultural resources.
SUWA contends the BLM has only surveyed less than 1 percent of the proposed parcels and the leasing "flip-flop" jeopardizes yet-to-be discovered cultural resources covered under the analysis.
Sgamma said environmental groups always raise objections to potential oil and gas development on public lands.
"They don't want any development anywhere so that is not surprising. Environmental groups also like to ignore all of the restrictions BLM puts on these leases to address real environmental concerns. The bottom line is the environmental groups want to keep it in the ground, so they are going to protest everything."