Lands stripped from Utah monuments open to claims, leases

This May 8, 2017, file photo shows an aerial view of Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. | Photo by Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via Associated Press, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The window opened Friday for oil, gas, uranium and coal companies to make requests or stake claims to lands that were cut from two sprawling Utah national monuments by President Trump in December —but there doesn’t appear to be a rush to seize the opportunities.

For anyone interested in the uranium on the lands stripped from the Bears Ears National Monument, all they need to do is stake a few corner posts in the ground, pay a $212 initial fee and send paperwork to the federal government under a law first created in 1872 that harkens back to the days of the Wild West.

This May 1997 file photo shows the varied terrain of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Boulder, Utah. The window opened Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, for oil, gas, uranium and coal companies to make requests or stake claims to lands that were cut from two sprawling Utah national monuments by President Trump in December but there doesn’t appear to be a rush to seize the opportunity | AP Photo by Douglas C. Pizac, File, St. George News

They can then keep rights to the hard minerals, including gold and silver, as long as they pay an annual fee of $155.

It was unclear if anyone was doing that Friday.

The Bureau of Land Management declined repeated requests for information about how they’re handling the lands and how many requests and claims came in.

The agency says it must comply with a complex web of other laws and management plans.

Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said he was told by the BLM Friday afternoon that inquiries were made but no claims sent in.

He said other conservation groups that have sued to block the downsized monument boundaries are watching closely to ensure no lands are disturbed in the short-term, hoping a judge will side with them and return the monuments to the original boundaries.

Two of the largest uranium companies in the U.S. — Ur-Energy Inc. and Energy Fuels Resources Inc. — said they have no plans to mine there. The price of uranium, which has fallen to about $22 per pound — down from more than $100 in the mid-2000s — would “discourage any investment in new claims,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Colorado-based Energy Fuels asked for a reduction of Bears Ears last year in a public comment, but spokesman Curtis Moore said in a statement that the company has higher priorities elsewhere. He noted the lands were open to claims for 150 years prior to President Barack Obama creating the national monument in 2016.

“There probably isn’t any land available for staking that would be of much interest to anyone,” Moore said.

In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — part of a major coal reserve that a company was preparing to mine before President Bill Clinton protected the lands in 1996 — has been made available again but it appears unlikely any company will immediately jump at the chance this time.

Out-of-state demand for Utah’s coal had led to a drop in coal production to about 14 million tons in 2017, down from about 27 million tons in the mid-2000s, said Michael Vanden Berg, energy and mineral program manager at the Utah Geological Survey.

If a new mine were to open, it would be competing with existing mines in Utah for limited demand,” Vanden Berg said.

Popovich called it “doubtful given market conditions and other factors” that companies interested in coal would put in a lease request.

Vanden Berg noted that a potential coal port in Oakland, California, could open up an Asian market and that technology could be developed to change market forces.

There’s some potential for oil and gas at Grand Staircase, Vanden Berg said. But Kathleen Sgamma, president of an oil and gas industry group called Western Energy Alliance, said heavy oil shale in the area would require an intensive mining operation that doesn’t make sense in today’s market.

There’s no fracking trucks at the border waiting to rush in,” Sgamma said.

President Trump downsized the Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half. It earned him cheers from Republican leaders in Utah who lobbied him to undo protections by Democratic presidents that they considered overly broad.

Bears Ears, created nearly a year ago, will be reduced to 315 square miles (815.85 sq. kilometers). Grand Staircase-Escalante will be reduced from nearly 3,000 square miles (7770 sq. kilometers) to 1,569 square miles (4063.71 sq. kilometers).

Conservation groups called it the largest elimination of protected land in American history.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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14 Comments

  • PogoStik February 3, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi-1970: “They paved paradise and put up a parkin lot” … or a coal mine.

  • Proud Rebel February 3, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    I don’t imagine that you will see any big companies interested in this since it looks like the environment idiots will have it tied up in court for many years.

    • bikeandfish February 3, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      Lawsuits are proper action when the Executive acts without explicit legal authority. These types of decisions are technically in the hands of Congress. Trump and his Administration knew this but acted knowing full well that many groups would challenge him.
      Maybe the courts will find a legal justification for his actions but the odds are slim.

  • 12345 February 3, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    going to be awhile all them nudist tree huggers are going to be all over this

    • mesaman February 3, 2018 at 8:32 pm

      Hope they get infested with bark beetles.

  • PlanetU February 3, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    Thank God for environmentalists and “nudist tree huggers” to save this earth!

    • jaybird February 3, 2018 at 9:32 pm

      Yes, any of those resisting tbe conservationalist opposition with their stupid opinions better hope they are not down stream from those mines. Trump has deregulated the dumping of mining sludge into streams. So drink up fools when an Oklahoma coal mining co moves in as a neighbor. Drink up. Us tree huggers will stand by and let you be the test bec for dirty water.

    • Real Life February 3, 2018 at 9:38 pm

      A huge percentage of the sheeple that live here feel that ” God will provide”. So don’t worry. Unless of course you need to build a giant silly straw across the desert to a half empty lake. Dig it, drill it, and strip it, but you don’t ever get it back folks.

  • bikeandfish February 3, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Lawsuits are proper action when the Executive acts without explicit legal authority. These types of decisions are technically in the hands of Congress. Trump and his Administration knew this but acted knowing full well that many groups would challenge him.
    Maybe the courts will find a legal justification for his actions but the odds are slim.

  • Chris February 3, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    oil, coal, uranium–massive world-wide glut in all three commodities. no one will be interested in extraction from the former monument lands for many years.

  • commonsense February 4, 2018 at 6:44 am

    Aren’t the lands back in the same hands they were in 2016 before Obama broke the Antiquities Act by overextending the boundaries necessary for protection? Nothing has changed. No one staked claim to these lands before and the process of actually mining on BLM lands is very complicated and unlikely.

    • bikeandfish February 4, 2018 at 10:08 am

      Yep, the lands were available for claims before designation. There are some minerals in the area but nothing that’s a high priority given current values.

      But Obama didn’t “break” the Antiquities Act. Courts have supported large designations in the past, including GSENM. Ironically, the state and federal recommendation for the area includes expanding ranger patrols for the original BENM boundaries which actually proves there are Antiquities to protect which justifies the original size.

  • Caveat_Emptor February 4, 2018 at 10:37 am

    The Utah religiouslature, and elected federal representatives, alienated many constituents by pushing for monument downsizing. They did exactly what their campaign donors demanded……
    To the credit of folks in Garfield and Kane counties, they adapted to the GSENM designation over 20 years ago, and have developed a tourist-centric economy. Marketforces will determine the future of thermal coal, including demand from Asia.
    Bears Ears is more complex, with Native American involvement. National Monument designation does not mean “wilderness”, which is extremely restrictive.
    The “marketforces” are working, and it seems like a collective yawn by energy developers………

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