The agency plans to put 41 parcels totaling almost 64,000 acres up for lease on Feb. 19, 2013. Thirty-seven of the parcels covering 59,525 acres are in the Moab and Monticello field offices domains. Four others on 4,384 acres are on Manti-La Sal National Forest lands.
Opponents to the lease sale can mail comments to Becky Hammond at Bureau of Land Management, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101. Protests also may be faxed to 801-539-4237. Emails will not be accepted.
BLM Utah spokeswoman Megan Crandall said Wednesday there’s no timetable for how long it will take to evaluate the comments. She emphasized the agency intends to take enough time to do a thorough job.
“We want to justify the time and effort people have gone to in commenting,” she said. “We want to respect what they’ve done. In the last few years we have tried to focus on encouraging public involvement. Without a doubt, we will take time with these comments and make sure they are thoroughly evaluated.”
She said BLM does its best to read all protest comments in a timely manner, but added, “We have some sales where we get so many comments and they are so complicated and substantive that it takes a long time.”
Lisa Bryant, assistant manager of BLM’s Moab field office, said the Salt Lake City office will work with the Moab office in assessing the comments.
“We will look at the protests and what is in the analysis so far and see if we can resolve questions that have come up,” she said. “The state office will determine whether they would add additional stipulations or notices or drop parcels.”
Bryant said it’s difficult to predict how many leases will be bid on. The most recent lease auction produced quite a few purchases although the one before had none, she said. However, the parcels in this auction were chosen because they had been nominated by oil and gas companies and the public, she noted.
Even if a parcel is leased, there’s no guarantee the winning bidder will develop it, Bryant added.
BLM has eliminated a few sites from the auction, but a controversial parcel known as 042 remains on the list. It is about 13 miles south of Moab and opponents are concerned about its possible effects on Moab and northern San Juan County drinking water.
Kiley Miller of San Juan County, who lives near parcel 042, delivered two petitions she said contain a total of 76,000 opponent signatures to the BLM last month. She told The Times-Independent then that oil and gas exploration could contaminate the region’s water source, air and private water wells.
Laurel Hagen of the Moab-based Canyonlands Watershed Council, added in an email to the newspaper, “Several of the parcels proposed for the auction are either overlapping or immediately adjacent to wells and reservoirs that are the sole drinking water source for thousands of people.
“Two parcels west of Monticello are right over the reservoir protection zone, the parcel south of Moab is within the aquifer recharge area for several proposed county wells, and the parcel near La Sal is less than half a mile from the well at the elementary school.”