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Utah Oil and Gas Leases Called Biggest Threat in Years

More than 2 million acres of public land are already leased for oil and gas development in Utah. (Edgar Zuniga Jr./Flickr)
More than 2 million acres of public land are already leased for oil and gas development in Utah. (Edgar Zuniga Jr./Flickr)
July 27, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – The Bureau of Land Management is proposing leasing more than 300,000 acres of land in Utah for oil and gas development. And conservation groups fear not enough public input is being sought.

Under the Obama administration, oil and gas lease sales were limited to only one region of the state at a time. Under Trump administration policies, the BLM can open sales statewide.

The lease sale being proposed for December would impact several parts of the state, according to Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

"This sale is, without question, one of the biggest threats that we've seen to these wild places in years," says Newell.

Newell says the areas being proposed for oil and gas development include popular hunting, fishing and recreation areas, as well as wildlife habitats along the White and Green rivers. The sales also could bring additional development in the Uinta Basin, where current oil and gas industry activities already have been shown to contribute to high ozone pollution.

The BLM is now taking scoping comments on the proposed lease sales through Tues., July 31.

After the BLM reaches its final decision, the public protest period will be brief. Under Trump administration leasing reforms, opportunities for public protest have be shortened from 30 days to just 10.

Newell says limiting time for review and input effectively takes the "public" out of public lands.

"That's an enormous problem that the public needs to be aware of, that they are losing their ability to have management of public lands be for their benefit rather than the benefit of a few oil and gas operators," says Newell.

The BLM says the lease sales are being opened up as part of the Trump administration's push for American energy independence. But Newell says more than 2 million acres of land already are leased for oil and gas development in Utah.

He says much of that land goes years before being developed to return any economic benefit to the state.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - UT