Environmentalists oppose lease sale of 200,000 acres of public lands in Utah for oil, gas development

A stock image shows the silhouette of a gas well like the ones that could be built on public lands in Utah after an auction by the Bureau of Land Management sold leases for 200,000 acres of land for fossil fuel development on Sept. 11, 2018 | Photo by cta88/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off over 200,000 acres of public lands in Utah for fossil fuel development in a lease sale earlier this month.

Some of the land is in the San Rafael Desert in Southern Utah near Canyonlands National Park and along the Green River. Of the 109 parcels offered up for sale, 69 received bids in the Sept. 11 online auction, which amounted to about 134,000 acres sold. The sale made about $3.3 million for the federal government.

The sun starts to rise over snow-dusted Canyonlands National Park in San Juan County, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

Oil and gas leases were awarded for a term of 10 years and for as long as needed beyond that if there is production of oil and gas in paying quantities. North American Helium was the biggest spender at the auction – paying $435,591 for a lease on a 1,971-acre parcel.

The sale drew protests from dozens of Utahns who gathered in front of the Bureau of Land Management office in Salt Lake City to oppose the sale Sept. 11.

“Selling parcels adjacent to our beloved parks and monuments is appalling, yet has been business as usual here in Utah,” said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. “Our national parks remain plagued with poor air quality and auctioning lands for dirty fuel development at their doorsteps only stands to worsen users’ experiences and threaten environmental health.”

Opponents of the sale made the point that fracking in these regions may threaten endangered or sensitive species like the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, greater sage grouse, white-tailed prairie dog, kit fox and burrowing owl.

Fracking destroys public lands and wildlife habitat with networks of fracking wells, compressor stations, pipelines and roads, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Oil industry activities also pollute the air with dangerous toxins linked to human illness and death, the press release stated.

The Trump administration is turning Utah into a sacrifice zone to reward fossil fuel companies,” said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“These policies are wreaking havoc on our treasured landscapes, the plants and animals that call them home, the health of our communities and our climate. This is a dangerous, irresponsible use of our public lands.”

According to the BLM, its official policy is to promote oil and gas development if it meets the guidelines established by laws like the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which ensures the environment is protected when land is developed.

“The sales are also in keeping with the (Trump) administration’s goal of American energy independence, which includes development of fossil fuels and coal, as well as renewable energy,” according to a press release from the BLM.

Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the lease sale is a “full-on assault” against pristine, untouched lands across Utah. Environmentalists will continue to oppose efforts to sell Utah’s public lands, he said.

“The oil and gas industry has been trying to get its hands on this remote, wild corner of Utah’s red-rock country for years and we’ve fought them off,” Bloch said. “They’re not going to get it this time either without a fight.”

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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26 Comments

  • iceplant September 20, 2018 at 5:46 am

    “The sales are also in keeping with the (Trump) administration’s goal of American energy independence, which includes development of fossil fuels and coal, as well as renewable energy,” – BLM

    As well as renewable energy? Right. Trump isn’t interested in anything other than fossil fuels and polluting the atmosphere. Rolling back emissions standards set in place by Obama. Get real. Let’s make America polluted again.

    States around Utah are taking several steps forward while Utah takes two steps backward. Utah is the West Virginia of the western US.

    • tazzman September 20, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Funny you mention the states around us. This was a FEDERAL decision, not a state one. And states around Utah have vast amounts of federal acreage too. Wyoming has hundreds of natural gas leases. Nevada has more land managed and owned by the federal government than we do. Utah just happens to be rich in these resources. So stop making this sound like the Utah state government did this. It did not.

      • Red2Blue310 September 20, 2018 at 8:26 pm

        Yes but our Utah politicians were licking their fangs over this.

      • Lee Saunders September 21, 2018 at 2:32 pm

        You are right, this was not directly a State of Utah decision, but a decision about lands within the State of Utah. It would be hard to imagine that politics didn’t enter into the decision, however. You mention Wyoming, which is also a solid red state and with lots of oil and gas leases. Also, Voting in Nevada has traditionally run with Idaho, Utah and other conservative mountain states of the West on most political issues. Do you perhaps see some common thread here when it comes to non-renewable resource leasing on public lands and the politics of the state?

  • hiker75 September 20, 2018 at 7:57 am

    To cater to his donors, Trump and his administration is missing an opportunity for the US to be a leader in developing renewable energy. Honestly, I think he wants to take us back to the Industrial Revolution. I just wish a company would explore fields near one of his most beloved golf courses. I bet he would sing a different tune then.

  • Striker4 September 20, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Well that’s your opinion icepubble but that’s about all it is. 0% fact and 100 % rant Trump is doing an excellent job and Utah is constantly moving forward …..I was trolling St George news at 8: 10 am when I came across this article

    • iceplant September 20, 2018 at 9:15 am

      “Trump is doing an excellent job and Utah is constantly moving forward.”

      I pity anyone who has been duped into thinking Trump is “doing an excellent job.”
      You keep telling yourself these things, Strikeout. One day you might just believe them.

      • Happy Commenter September 20, 2018 at 11:03 am

        Pity from a frozen vegetable, now that’s funny right there!! hahahaha!

      • tazzman September 20, 2018 at 1:26 pm

        Yeah that lowest unemployment on record and rising wages for the first time in years is terrible. Terrible!

      • Redbud September 20, 2018 at 3:01 pm

        Trump truly is doing a fantastic job, and the only reason you are sour, is because of his success. You only dream of having such success in your own life, and you’re just jealous you lack the confidence of President Trump.

      • Red2Blue310 September 20, 2018 at 8:28 pm

        An excellent job of giving our union off to Putin and the Chinese, bit by bit.

    • Real Life September 20, 2018 at 10:29 am

      It’s refreshing to know that you finally accept your true meaning in life.

  • Happy Commenter September 20, 2018 at 10:17 am

    What do you expect from Henny Penny clueless tree huggers?

    • iceplant September 20, 2018 at 11:28 am

      All you seem to do is hurl insult after insult. Why is that?
      Do you realize that the very state we live in has laws to protect the environment put in place by Republican lawmakers? Do you care? Thankfully, much of the land in Utah is owned by the Federal Gov’t because most Utah lawmakers want to tear it apart and “drill baby, DRILL!!!” Talk about clueless… Utah Republicans are a beacon in the night for the clueless.

      • tazzman September 20, 2018 at 1:27 pm

        Uh, this story is about the very Federal government you mention leasing to oil and gas companies, not the state government. Genius.

    • Real Life September 20, 2018 at 11:36 am

      Sure thing there “happy commenter”.

  • Real Life September 20, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    It really is a shame what is happening to our lands here in Utah. Greed has taken precedent over conservation. Once you carve it up, you don’t get it back. Future generations will look down upon this one if we continue to go down this path. It’s crazy that many years ago men like John Muir, Ansel Adams , and Teddy Roosevelt saw the writing on the wall, and acted to do something to save these precious lands, and now we are going backwards?

    • Redbud September 20, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      I’m actually excited for the changes coming and the jobs it will create. President Trump is a great leader and will continue to move this country in the right direction, and protect our freedoms.

      • Real Life September 20, 2018 at 5:37 pm

        I am not a Trump hater, actually I agree with some things, like controlling the border. But I feel he is wrong on this, and there are a lot of greedy people waiting in line to exploit.

      • Red2Blue310 September 20, 2018 at 8:31 pm

        Sorry bub, not many jobs in an oil field. Also drink drink drink that polluted water and eat those polluted watermelons from Green Valley once the fields are up and at it.

        • Happy Commenter September 21, 2018 at 9:48 am

          You’ve been drinking that leftist kool-aid, what’s the big deal?

        • Redbud September 21, 2018 at 11:35 am

          There is already arsenic in the local water, so a little oil ain’t gonna hurt nothing.

  • Happy Commenter September 20, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Progressive punch destroys brain cells!

  • Whatteverrr September 20, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Nov 16 will be day # 666 of his clown show.
    Stay tuned.
    He truly is the devil.

    • Happy Commenter September 21, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Progressive punch destroys brain cells! Didn’t take long for an example to show up!

  • Lee Saunders September 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Interesting… The US is the largest petroleum producing nation in the world and our petroleum products export has increased dramatically in the last decade. In 2012 the US produced an average of 18,487,000 barrels of oil per day, while exporting 3,205,000 barrels per day. In 2016 we produced 19,687,000 barrels per day. That year we exported 5,261,000 barrels per day. In 2017 we produced 19,958,000 barrels per day and exported 6,376,000 per day for a 2017 annual total production of 7,284,569,000 barrels and export of 2,237,156,000. I’m all for exporting US products to help alleviate the trade deficit, but lets not say we need to do more drilling to make America energy independent while exporting that much petroleum products. After looking at these numbers, it becomes pretty clear that the point of these leases is not for energy independence, but for energy companies to continue to export our petroleum products and increase profits, not energy independence. And, meanwhile, our man in the White House admonishes OPEC to do something to bring our US gas prices down. Priceless!!! Maybe I’ll go buy some non-renewable energy stocks, can’t lose with this administration’s energy policies.

    https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=37053

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