Bush Administration Poised to Sell Oil and Gas Leases Around Dinosaur National Monument, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

The twisted geology in and around Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah and western Colorado hints of the potential energy resources buried below. NPS photo.

Utah's canyon country is such a breath-taking landscape, and its place names bear that out. Desolation Canyon. The Book Cliffs. Gates of Lodore. Nine Mile Canyon. These places can't literally speak, but they have many stories to tell.

Desolation Canyon offers some of the best white-water rafting through wilderness quality landscapes. They are landscapes of soaring cliffs where the songs of canyon wrens and other birds echo up and down river, where the breezes sing to you as they ebb and flow through the goosenecks the Green River long ago cut through the sandstone.

Nine Mile Canyon features a pleine air art gallery hundreds if not thousands of years old, one that actually runs about 40 miles, not just nine. More than 1,000 pictographs and petroglyphs grace the canyon's walls, some cut by Fremont Indian artists, some by Ute shamans.

These and other slices of the public lands landscape deserve some form of protection for visitors today and tomorrow to enjoy. And yet, the outgoing Bush administration is determined to open them to drilling rigs with all their associated access roads, noise, air, and, potentially, water pollution.

How much is too much? When the oil and gas industry in Utah has nearly 3,500 drilling permits in hand, but which have not been acted upon, why is the Bush administration selling them more, particularly in sensitive areas around national parks and monuments?

Conservation groups such as the National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance warned that the BLM was poised to announce on Election Day that it was ready to sell hundreds of oil and gas drilling leases in the above-cited places as well on lands surrounding Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park.

But when Election Day arrived, BLM officials merely announced they were opening 360,000 acres to oil and gas work without specifying exactly where those leases would fall. Here's what the Salt Lake Tribune had to say about that slight-of-hand:

(T)he U.S. Bureau of Land Management's supposed list failed to detail those 241 proposed oil and gas parcels - some of which are thought to be near national parks and monuments. Instead, the BLM included only a muddled statement issued at the end of the workday by the agency's Salt Lake City office, whose officials skedaddled without offering any explanations.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office released a report (attached below) Tuesday questioning why the BLM continues to offer so many leases when so few ever are developed.

The GAO looked at six Western states - Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming - and found that of nearly 48,000 leases issued from 1987 through 1996, only 2,900 ever were drilled and only about 1,800 produced any oil or gas.

In Utah, the BLM issued 5,127 leases during the same time period, but developers drilled only 323 (6.3 percent) and produced oil or gas on 225 leases (4.4 percent). The leases all were for 10 years with the possibility of a two-year extension.

Understandably, not every lease will produce. That's why oil and gas exploration requires so many leases. But why sell hundreds more when so many haven't even been touched by a drill bit?

“Previous administrations proved that there can be a balance between wilderness protection and oil and gas development,” says former BLM Director Jim Baca. “Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has worked tirelessly to appease the oil and gas industry no matter the cost to our national heritage of wild and untamed places. Extraordinary places like Desolation Canyon deserve to be protected.”

At the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, conservation director Stephen Bloch points out that the BLM in the past has determined that many of the lands it's now ready to lease for exploration hold wilderness qualities. “Nonetheless, BLM is condemning these lands to a future of oil rigs and gas pipelines and almost certain disqualification from future wilderness designation,” he says.

According to SUWA, "the tracts of public lands that will be opened to leasing are dominated by lands that BLM inventoried in Utah between 1996-99 and again between 2001-2007 and determined to have wilderness character. They are largely all part of the lands proposed for Wilderness designation in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R.1919/S.1170), a bill that has been supported in the 110th Congress by 19 senators and 160 members of the House of Representatives."

At the NPCA's Southwest Regional Office in Salt Lake city, program manager Karen Hevel-Mingo says, "The Bush administration’s energy policy, which favors development regardless of the environmental cost, endangers our national treasures such as Dinosaur National Monument."

"Increasingly surrounded by oil and gas development, Dinosaur’s resources, including air quality, soundscapes and visual resources, are in peril," she says. "The latest leases, especially those near Diamond Mountain would further exacerbate the problem.”

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Comments

Why do you say it is "sensitive?" A VERY tired, worn out argument.
With today's technology, there will be ZERO effect on any of the parks. They can drill down, then sideways miles from the park boundary and even go into the park itself (if they wanted to, but won't), sink vertical to the deposit and no one would know any different.
Stop the fear mongering. We need the energy resources, unless ya wanna go live in a cave somewhere...but then again, make sure the cave isn't in a park!

I guess I use "sensitive" because I've been out in the landscape and seen it first-hand, Rachel.

Utah's arid climate makes it very hard for the soils to recover from trampling; access roads, while temporary to reach drill pads, create scars that last for decades. And if you've been to Vernal or Price lately, you know about all the oil-field traffic that can stir up enormous clouds of dust, which in turn can settle onto the rock art and obscure it. And then there are the various brines they use to keep down the dust, brines that also can damage rock art as well as vegetation.

And let's not forget the seismic thumper trucks that are used at times in exploration. They're certainly not innocuous.

Oh, and if you think there would be "ZERO effect" on the neighboring parks, I heartily recommend you make a trip to the Jonah Field, a natural gas development near Pinedale, Wyoming. Look at the air pollution that hovers over the field, listen to the concerns from the north in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks about air pollution from this energy development.

Or you could read what the Wyoming locals -- hunters, conservationists, residents, recreationalists -- have to say about the problems with energy developments. Here's a link to one such story.

Heck, I didn't even mention the possible impacts to wildlife.

Now, don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting we pull the plug on energy exploration. But when there are thousands of leases that haven't yet been drilled this seems like pointless overkill.

Rachel----I don't think you understand the mindset at work here. The people who drive their fossil fueled vehicles to recreate in these western national parks, with their very expensive aluminum framed (we won't go into the unpleasant details of bauxite mining just yet) bikes safely tethered to a fashionable rack, are quite content to fuel their excursions with oil extracted from somewhere far, far from the "pristine" wildness they have come to commune with. They won't come right out and say it but the reality of it is this: out of sight, out of mind.

I mean come on, there's still lots of Nigerian coastal wetlands and Venezuelan lake basins that can be readily raped first. The Arabian Peninsula and coastal Mexican waters are fine and dandy places for their leisure time oil to be extracted from, just so long as their favorite playground areas won't be marred by such an unsightly scene of debauchery like, GASP, oil exploration. They seem to much prefer consuming energy derived from the swamps of Louisiana and the steamy reaches of the lower Euphrates than the delicate "wildlands" of the Colorado Plateau.

God forbid that it should gusheth forth near one of these sacred playgrounds. It might just ruin an otherwise perfect weekend for these urban recreationists who just burned 200 miles worth of fuel to get there. Let's not go and bum 'em out.

Beamis, please tell me you don't have one of those "When We're Done With the Earth, We'll Mine the Moon" bumper stickers on your Hummer.

Why are so many infatuated with the "drill, baby, drill" anywhere and everywhere mentality? This isn't about "out of sight, out of mind." This is about conserving resources (both scenic and natural) for future generations, rather than hogging them all ourselves and leaving the mess and consequences for others (ie our kids, and their kids, and their kids, etc) to cope with.

This is about moving away from carbon fuels and into alternative fuels. And yes, I realize that alternative fuels aren't anywhere near the point of development where society can fully rely on them and do away with fossil fuels to keep everything neat and tidy. And yet, I don't think we're that far away, either.... if we have the mindset.

Let me pose three quick and easy questions:

1. Are you concerned about our nation's energy problems?

2. Do you worry that our reliance on foreign energy poses a national security problem?

3. Do you worry at all about climate change?

If you answered "yes" to any one of those three, there's one solution that addresses that one answer, as well as the other two. And that answer is to develop alternative energy sources here at home. The longer folks say that likelihood is a fairy tale, the deeper the hole will be that we dig for this country and our future generations.

Sorry to butt in. Here's another question:

Should people who are concerned about our consumption of foreign oil (the vast majority of it is from Canada and Mexico) drive from Portland to Crater Lake and back (about 500 miles RT) for a weekend visit?

We point the finger at the government and say, "Hey! You're the government! Solve this problem!" when the solution is really in our own hands. If we don't like consuming foreign oil, then we as individuals should attempt to limit our consumption. But as Beamis intimates, it is much easier to demand a solution from a coercive government than it is to change our individual life styles.

Solutions to our energy "crisis" will occur on the free market once we take responsibility for our own actions.

Pointing fingers is a poor game. Indeed, personal responsibility does play a big role in everyday society, whether it's related to energy consumption or some other issue.

But I don't see this is as simply pointing a finger at government and asking for a solution, a panacea for our collective woes. As you point out, Frank, everyone needs to chip in. And if you believe the latest fuel consumption numbers, Americans are cutting back.

At the same time, businesses are in business to *GASP* make money. And as the latest quarterly reports indicate, some, such as Exxon/Mobile, are doing very, very, very well, thankyouverymuch.

Is it government's role to rein-in those profits? No. But I don't think the unfettered free market is going to take good care of our natural resources, either.

That's the skeptic in me. I could very well be wrong. There are many companies that do good deeds. But someone has to be the watchdog, of both corporate America and the government, (whether that's federal, state or local government). When there's already an abundance of exploration leases out there that are not being acted upon, I think it's perfectly legitimate to ask why the Bush administration wants more on the market.

1) Why is it in our national interest to keep giving out drilling permits when ones that have already been given out are not acted on? Oil companies, you have permits now, use them! When you run out of permits come talk to us.

2) As a matter of national security, would we not be more prudent to make sure that the reserves in this country are some of the last to come out of the ground? Or does it make sense to you to deplete our reserves at home so that we can go hat in hand to the Arabs or Russians and ask them for a cup of oil.

3) How 'bout a little investment in alternatives? I'm no fan of wind power (good god those things are an eyesore) but everyone has a roof just itching for grid-connected solar power. There is some research afoot that may increase the efficiency from being one of the most expensive forms of electricity to one of the cheapest (as in instead of one photon releasing one electron make it two electrons. Do that and you go from most expensive to cheapest and that may be just the start....). Then there is nuclear power. France seems to do very well with fission but I guess they never had the oil companies funding nuclear protesters. With some serious commitment (along the lines of the Manhattan or Apollo Projects we could probably make a go of fusion.......

I just wish people would start understanding that sub $2.00 gasoline is not a god given right. Also, there is no natural law that says the only way we can enjoy our current standard of living is buy burning more and more oil. My desire and belief is that we can move to better/ cleaner/ cheaper forms of energy.

(BTW, next time you're in the mall parking lot take a look at all the Expeditions, Excursions, Suburbans, Escalades etc carrying a single passenger and a couple of shopping bags. Are we supposed to rape the country to support that?)

Before we get too carried away with the U.S. Government's supposed beneficence in preserving the environment, it would be instructive to remember that this is the same outfit that knowingly and deliberately detonated 126 above ground nuclear explosions that sentenced an untold number of innocent Americans to slow and painful death from cancer and leukemia as well as succeeding generations with birth defects and mental retardation. To this very day they officially deny any wrongdoing whatsoever.

U.S. military bases, contracted nuclear labs and research facilities are some of the most polluted places in the nation and are totally exempt from all EPA regulations, laws and oversight. The secrecy surrounding Area 51 in Nevada has less to do with aliens who might be in residence and more to do with the alleged burning of PCB's and other highly toxic substances that would never be allowed by a private company or citizen.

Do as I say, not as I do.

For the latest chapter in environmental stewardship read about the burn pit at Balad Air Base in Iraq: http://snipurl.com/55tt9. It'll curl your toes.

With a record like this what's a few extra oil leases to an outfit with these kinds of morals and environmental ethics?

Wayne C. makes some excellent points.

Re: the comment by Beamis: "With a record like this what's a few extra oil leases to an outfit with these kinds of morals and environmental ethics?" That's the point, Beamis - with a record like that, a different branch of our government shouldn't be in such a headlong rush to hand over even more public land under a use it up and throw it away mentality – and what we're talking about are multiple thousands of oil leases.

For those who feel the value of those public lands is determined by the potential oil and gas that can be pumped out of them, I'd point out that the taxpayers are getting a raw deal in the current headlong rush to lease them long before they can be developed. Those leases will almost certainly command a higher price in the future, and it's simply bad business to give them away at today's prices.

I'd suggest that one indicator of an intelligent society is its ability to recognize that the intrinsic value of every acre on the planet is not equal, and to make thoughtful decisions about what might be the highest and best use long-term use for any given location.

Under that approach, some of those Nigerian coastal wetlands and Venezuelan lake basins mentioned by Beamis certainly deserve the same consideration for protection as the lands mentioned by Kurt in this article. Yes, we could turn Yellowstone into a giant geothermal power plant, but I still hold out hope that as a nation, we're smarter than that.

The original intent of the Federal government's ownership of all of this land was to develop it for productive use. The General Mining Act of 1872 still guides much of the thinking towards these lands and will continue to for the foreseeable future. If you read your history you'll find that once the railroads and other connected special interests were given their slice of lucrative right of ways and choice parcels for commercial development the rest was to be held for future exploitation as the need arose. Since then gold, uranium, vanadium, natural gas, oil and other treasures have been extracted for great profit and often at a steep environmental cost with a minimum of interference from the owners of the land. This mode of operation will not change anytime soon. The symbiosis between industrial extraction businesses and government land bureaucrats is over a century old and will not readily bend to the outraged sensibilities of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, no matter who's in the White House or Congress.

I personally don't believe the government should own such vast acreage, whether it be an Air Force base, testing site or sage covered range land. I know it is anathema to most who read this site but private ownership is a more responsible way to go when dealing with issues of land use and development. The government has done a very poor job of protecting its own holdings and has maintained a steadfast policy of allowing maximum exploitation, especially on BLM administered lands. Why would anyone trust them to do otherwise in the future?

The hunt is on for more domestic supplies of oil and gas, so the outrage of a rabble of hikers, photographers and mountain bikers over the despoiling of the landscape will be of no paramount importance to the powers that be. They may decide to throw a few bones your way but fundamentally this is how they conduct their business.

If there are exploitable resources near Dinosaur National Monument expect to see extractive activity. That's what the government intends to do with this land. So get used to it. I think the readers of this site are in the minority when it comes to this issue and will find little to no interest in stopping domestic drilling from the poobahs on the Potomac. As long as they own the land this is what you can expect.

Jim, I wish I could share your notion that as a nation, we're smarter than that, but the evidence points dramatically to the contrary. We as a nation have been and still are consistently seeking the path of least resistance, aka, the easy way out of virtually every inconvenient truth our lifestyle "demands". If even a temporary, small-scale pool of whatever were found, be it precious metals or other minerals, oil and its accompanying natural gas reserve, or basically anything else you can think of (expect timber), we as a nation would conveniently turn a blind eye, bite the bullet and not only allow but encourage further exploration and exploitation of the land on which we live. Only after the fact would we acknowledge the wisdom in the words from previous generations regarding nuclear meltdown ("and they struggled to protect Her from them, only to be confused by the magnitude of the fury in the final hours") and the loss of our precious open spaces as noted in the infamous 60's mantra ("Don't is always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone"), and of course by then, once the horse has left the barn as they say........

Mismanagement of the public trust by government officials is catching us by surprise? PLEASE tell me you're kidding. Funny how the reality of the situation dictates that the public has no real, substantive say in how "our" holdings are managed. What's the point in having "public" lands anyway? As a guise to appease the masses? More accurately, they were initiated by our Washington dictators over the years as investments AGAINST public development, which on the other side of the coin equates to insurance policies in favor of PRIVATE "development", in any manner deemed fit by our "trust" managers. Some system we got, eh?

And Rachael, little in nature is indeed more sensitive than the cryptobiotic soils that are the ONLY form of "top soil" available in wide tracts of the western US, and in particular the desert regions throughout large portions of Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico and Utah. While most of the nation enjoys a thick, nutrient-rich layer of "dirt" for planting crops, grasses, and which support the various flora and fauna that we have come to enjoy throughout the nation, without these microscopically thin (well, almost anyway, especially in comparison to the top soils in most of the nation, which was measured in feet until modern commercial development) layers of ground cover, there is simply nothing to encourage and support germination of plant seeds, which help hold the soils in place with their root systems, which then serve to support various forms of wildlife as sources for food, shelter, etc. which in turn support ANOTHER layer of wildlife, and another, and another.........that's why what used to be commonly referred to as the food chain or pyramid is more accurately described as the food WEB. Without the most insignificant of member, the entire system begins to unravel. So the possible destruction of these soils it is indeed QUITE a sensitive issue that MUST be considered as part of the overall EIS. The replenishment of these soils, IF it happens at all, since they proliferate under a very narrow band of conditions, is measured in CENTURIES. We would effectively be sterilizing the proposed lands for longer than we can possibly imagine. In my view, the natural resource "benefits" derived from simple exploration; just considering those projects that turn out to be totally fruitless in their yield, simply aren't worth the long-term ramifications to the local landscape. The ARE other locales that can and should be prioritized for rape, pillage, plunder and profiteering with far lesser cost to the overall ecosystem, if simple RPP&P your intended goal in the first place.

Beamis and Lone Hiker have touched on the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons:

The metaphor illustrates the argument that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately dooms the resource through over-exploitation. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals or groups, each of whom is motivated to maximize use of the resource to the point in which they become reliant on it, while the costs of the exploitation are borne by all those to whom the resource is available (which may be a wider class of individuals than those who are exploiting it). This, in turn, causes demand for the resource to increase, which causes the problem to snowball to the point that the resource is exhausted. The rate at which exhaustion of the resource is realized depends primarily on three factors: the number of users wanting to consume the commons, the consumptiveness of theirs uses, and the relative robustness of the commons.

For this reason, I also do not believe the government should own "such vast acreages". I believe we have reached the point where non-government organizations can better protect "the commons".

To the person named Rachael, zero impact you say? Rub a lamp. Would you stake the next 10 years of your total income on that statement? I live in the area. Zero impact my arse.

The American public must stand firm against Bush's rape, greed and pillage policies before leaving the White House. And it's NOW! We Americans must do everything within are power to stop this madness of exploiting and squandering our natural resources for a few precious drops of oil. Recent studies now have shown natural gas drilling is harming the drinking water table around the Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, and other areas adjunct to the parks. A report that the EPA has tried to stifle. A typical Bush tactic to keep the American people in the dark about about the true quality of are drinking water. From anyones living mind, why are we destroying these most precious and scenic resources called our National Parks with short term stupid and idiotic planning. Short term gain for what...more horrendous scaring (perhaps permanent) of this precious and scenic resource. STOP BUSH'S TRASHING OF THE NATIONAL PARKS!!!!