BLM leases controversial parcels for oil and gas development
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Mar 07, 2013 | 2308 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has leased 26 parcels covering more than 37,000 acres in Grand and San Juan counties for oil and gas development.

The tracts include some that Moab-based Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper contend will hurt air quality at Arches National Park and contaminate groundwater used by residents if developed.

The sale was held Feb. 19 at the Salt Lake City office of the BLM.

Each parcel offered for auction was sold, with total receipts topping $4 million, according to the BLM. The average bid was $108.74 per acre.

“Percheron Energy, LLC, of Denver submitted the highest total bid per acre – $340 – for parcel 129 located in the BLM-Utah Canyon County District,” according to a news release from the BLM. “All leases are issued with conditions on oil and gas activities to protect the environment …”

The agency’s news release noted an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must be conducted to determine “site-specific need for various types of impact-limiting or mitigation measures” prior to development.

BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall of the Salt Lake City office said public comment is taken as part of the NEPA process, giving citizens another chance to make their voices heard after leases are sold. She said the agency balances the goals of maximum yield along with environmentally sound practices.

“Our responsibility is to make sure we are doing the things we need to do so that any energy development that takes place is done responsibly,” Crandall said.

But Living Rivers wrote in its pre-sale comment that several parcels should have been withdrawn because of potential adverse environmental effects. Those included parcels 15, 171 and 174 near Archest National Park and the Dolores River, which joins the Colorado River in Grand County, the organization wrote.

“Development of these parcels is not consistent with the values of the Three Rivers Special Recreation Management Area … [and] with the values of the Three Rivers Withdrawal, which is to protect the outstanding recreation, scenic, wildlife and cultural values of the river corridors in eastern Utah,” Living River’s comment said. “Wildlife values include foraging and/or breeding habitat that is crucial for deer, elk, pronghorn, prairie dog, borrowing owl and hawk.”

Living Rivers added, “Fugitive gases from oil and gas operations in this area will have cumulative impacts on air quality at Arches National Park. Arches NP does not have a station to monitor air quality and the station in Canyonlands has recorded pollution levels near exceedance. Until air quality is better understood at Arches NP, these parcels should be deferred so that increasing levels of harm can be eliminated.”

Harvey Mineral Partners of Dallas, Texas, purchased all three parcels.

Land Professionals Inc. of Afton, Wyo., purchased a particularly contentious parcel in San Juan County. Kiley Miller said parcel 42, near the home she shares with partner John Rzeczycki, could pollute their residential groundwater if developed.

Living Rivers agreed, writing in its protest that the parcel should be deferred “… in consideration of the threat to residents of Kane Creek, Bridger Jack Mesa, and Brown’s Hole. These homeowners have investments in infrastructure that provides clean drinking water.

“Other investments at risk include depreciation of property values. Risks to welfare and health include air pollution from fugitive gases, with other nuisances such as dust, noise, and impairment of night skies.”

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