ST. GEORGE – A controversial proposal for oil and gas development on land near Zion National Park has been deferred, at least for now, the Bureau of Land Management announced Friday.
Three parcels totaling 4,730 acres in Washington County were nominated for oil and gas lease sale; two parcels are within 1.5 miles of the border of Zion National Park and near the town of Virgin. The tracts span the Kolob Terrace Road, a popular access to the central part of Zion National Park.
“After conducting environmental review and in response to substantial feedback from the public, local and state government, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, BLM-Utah has deferred offering three Washington County parcels totaling 4,730 acres,” BLM Public Affairs Specialist Ryan Sutherland said.
After it was announced, the prospect of oil and gas development along Kolob Terrace Road quickly became controversial.
“The BLM received over 40,000 comments in the EA (environmental assessment),” Sutherland said. “The public raised the concern that indirect impacts to Zion National Park were not adequately assessed in the 1999 St. George Field Office planning process.”
Washington County Commissioners objected to the proposal, along with residents, environmental advocates and Zion National Park officials.
“Due to the resource conflicts identified in the process of the environmental analysis along with the concerns raised by the public, the land use allocations in the current RMP should be re-evaluated through the FLPMA planning process which identifies land use allocation,” Sutherland said.
The parcels will be further evaluated for possible reallocation under the planning process authorized by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Sutherland said, adding that reallocation could entail additional resource protection stipulations or potentially closing the parcels to leasing.
The BLM is tasked with facilitating development of energy infrastructure and commercial recreation on public lands that create jobs and help local communities grow, BLM Utah State Director Edwin Roberson said.
“At the same time, based on the environmental review and recognizing the rapid growth of recreational visits and tourism on adjacent public lands, the BLM believes that deferring these parcels for further review is the right decision,” Roberson said.
The Washington County parcels were nominated for oil and gas extraction in December 2016, and the proposal was made available for a 30-day public review and comment period in January.
In response to requests from the National Park Service and others, the public comment period was extended for an additional 30 days.
Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh weighed in on the issue, asking the BLM to defer the decision in light of the need for further discussions about protecting visitor experience, community values and resources on BLM lands surrounding the park.
Conserve Southwest Utah strongly opposes the leases, citing concerns about air and water quality, traffic congestion, wilderness access and the loss of tourism and outdoor recreation.
The National Parks Conservation Association and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance also oppose the leases, and a petition along these lines on Change.org garnered 5,488 signatures.
The third Washington County parcel that has been deferred is located near Anderson Junction at the site of a future reservoir and has raised concerns about contamination.
Other leases proceed
The Bureau of Land Management is proceeding with a planned quarterly oil and gas lease sale for nine parcels covering 14,943 acres in the Fillmore Field Office, with the sale tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14.
The September sale will be conducted using the EnergyNet internet-based auction system. Additional details about the internet auction process are included in the Notice of Competitive Lease Sale.
More information about the parcels, including maps, the environmental assessment and unsigned Finding of No Significant Impact can be found on the BLM’s National NEPA Register.
The Notice of Competitive Lease Sale initiates a 30-day public protest period. All protests must be received no later than 4:30 p.m., July 3.
Protests should be as specific as possible. Those which contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.
Protests may be faxed to Sheri Wysong at 801-539-4237 or mailed to:
BLM-Utah State Office
440 West 200 South, Suite 500
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84101
For information on how to file a timely protest, please refer to the September 2017 Notice of Competitive Lease Sale, which can be accessed online.
Before including an address, phone number, email address or other personal identifying information in any comments, be aware that the entire comment – including personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. Requests to withhold personal identifying information from public review can be submitted, but the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to do so.
For additional information about oil and gas leasing in Utah, please contact Sheri Wysong at 801-539-4067.
Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 to leave a message or question with the above individual. The relay service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Replies are provided during normal business hours.
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