BLM, NPS Modify Oil and Gas Lease Auction near National Parks in Utah

Some tweaks to a proposed oil and gas lease auction in Utah could spare some potential impacts to Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument, but conservationists say the National Park Service still dropped the ball.

While the Park Service initially objected to 91 tracts of land the BLM planned to auction next month, late Tuesday the agency apparently withdrew its concerns to 34 parcels, leaving 57 on the table. While the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance criticized this decision, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that those leases still on the table could apparently be altered down the road.

“It appears that the Park Service is being forced to accept the sale of leases that it contends will damage the air, water, and natural quiet of its parks,” said Stephen Bloch, SUWA's conservation director. “Despite public protests and the concerns of its own Park Service, the outgoing Bush administration is using this sale to push its extreme drill-everywhere agenda, and America’s national parks and other spectacular public lands will be the worse for it.”

Earlier Tuesday, a group of eight U.S. senators wrote Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne with a request that he postpone the December 19 lease sale until a closer look can be had at tracts near or adjacent to national parks.

The Salt Lake newspaper also reported that Congressman Raul Grijalva, who heads the House subcommittee on national parks and whose name has popped up in discussions about who might head the Interior Department under President-elect Obama, had written Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne with a request to halt the lease auction.

Comments

A November 17th report by the Idaho Statesman and some other media sources say Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne sent Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett to Utah to work out an agreement between NPS and BLM and officials, and she said the problem "was resolved."

We'll likely never know what was discussed in that meeting, but "resolved" doesn't mean the NPS was happy with the outcome, so I'd be slow to criticize the NPS for dropping the ball in this case. When the top dogs make a decision, there's only so much agency personnel can do in these situations.

Any changes from the initial BLM plan would be welcome, and time will tell what the eventual outcome will be.

One last thought. Although I feel this has been handled badly by top BLM management, it's important to keep in mind that there are a lot of fine employees at BLM. They've been steamrollered by the current leadership too, and aren't happy with the current situation either.

You can assume that if Lynn Scarlett was involved, the issue was not "resolved" in the parks' favor. She is notoriously pro-industry. And Jim is right about the BLM professionals as opposed to their political leadership. Most of them are as disillusioned as are their counterparts in the NPS and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rick Smith

There's still plenty of consternation about the reported "compromise" between the BLM and NPS.

A recent letter to the Salt Lake Tribune by a Vernal, Utah resident makes a good point:

Like previous energy booms, this one will eventually subside and tourism will help take up the economic slack -- unless heedless development has engulfed Dinosaur National Monument in an industrial zone that nobody wants to visit.