Texas-based energy developer Anadarko Petroleum Corporation agreed last week to delay mineral lease activities inside the 18,000-acre Bogart Canyon area until January 2016.
The Sept. 13 announcement gives a diverse group of stakeholders more time to consider other options for the wildlife-rich area, and may breathe new life into congressional efforts to protect some of the most pristine reaches of the state.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has been spearheading a public lands initiative that seeks a balance between conservation and development across millions of acres throughout eastern Utah.
But the state’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) board muddied that process when board members voted last month to lease about 96,000 acres of the Book Cliffs Block to Anadarko.
In doing so, the board set off a firestorm of criticism from sportsmen’s groups, which value the area for its exceptional backcountry streams and big game habitat. Bishop and Gov. Gary Herbert also spoke out against the SITLA plan.
However, those same groups are now praising SITLA for its willingness to hammer out an agreement with the offices of Bishop and Herbert to delay any development in the Little Creek area.
They also hailed Anadarko as a critical part of the deal.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Anadarko,” Trout Unlimited Utah Coordinator Casey Snider said. “They have been in communication with us since day one and we look forward to continuing this productive relationship.”
Under the agreement, the company will begin its exploration work in the northern portion of the lease area, and then work its way toward the Bogart Canyon end to the south.
SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy said that Anadarko will initially be working in previously developed areas where the infrastructure the company needs is already in place.
“They want to take advantage of that infrastructure and ultimately gravitate southward,” Christy said in a Sept. 17 interview.
Christy said he is optimistic that some kind of permanent deal may be in place by the time the company works its way through the middle One Eye Canyon section and nears the southern portion of the lease.
“We’re looking at this with an open mind with the hope that other viable options may be presented,” he said.
One such option could allow SITLA to consolidate trust-owned lands in energy-rich areas, while protecting other lands from future development.
Whatever happens in the months to come, SITLA’s representatives said they believe the agreement maintains the integrity of the lease, which could potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Utah’s public schools.
On average, SITLA’s deals with other developers bring in royalty payments of about 6 percent, Christy said. But in the case of the Book Cliffs deal, the agency stands to collect a 17 percent royalty from Anadarko.
SITLA’s board of trustees is scheduled to review the proposed lease modification at a Sept. 26 meeting in St. George.