Nearly 76,000 signatures from two petitions relating to oil and gas development were delivered to the Moab Bureau of Land Management office on Friday, Oct. 19. It marked the last day for public comment regarding the BLM’s draft environmental assessment released Sept. 21 on the oil and gas parcels proposed in this year’s annual sale.
A final environmental assessment on the proposed parcels will be available Nov. 16, which will open a 30-day protest period.
Forty-eight parcels that total 79,923 acres from the Dolores Triangle through Lisbon Valley were originally under consideration in July for the February 2013 lease sale. Twenty of the original parcels were deferred in September and will not be available during the lease sale. The remaining 28 parcels contain 51,693 acres.
Almost all parcels in a lease sale are proposed by oil and gas companies that may be interested in developing in the area.
“If they nominate it, we have to at least consider it,” said Don Ogaard, chief of the Utah BLM leasing support team. “Just because we consider it doesn’t mean it will be offered in a lease sale.”
Kiley Miller, who lives near two of the originally proposed parcels south of Moab, started a petition opposing oil and gas development in the Moab area that was able to gather more than 3,600 signatures.
“My petition was more about the region: La Sal, Monticello, Lisbon Valley,” Miller said.
Credo Action saw Miller’s petition and interviewed her.
“They said ‘we’re going to do a petition’,” Miller said. “It did well in Utah. Then they released it nationally.”
Credo Action’s petition, titled “Protect Arches and Canyonlands from fracking”, garnered more than 72,000 signatures.
The two parcels that Miller was most concerned about originally were No. 39 and No. 42, which are south of Moab near the base of the La Sal Mountains.
“Parcel No. 39 was removed from the lease sale because a small portion of it was in a Drinking Water Protection Zone,” said Katie Stevens, Moab BLM Field Office.
No. 42 remained on the list.
“Development on No. 42 can affect my watershed, Moab’s watershed, Kane Creek and Kane Springs,” Miller said.
Laurel Hagen, executive director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, sent maps to the BLM showing watersheds she said need to be protected.
She said parcel No. 42 would be in the protection zone for San Juan County water.
“The BLM should defer that parcel until the state engineer issues a decision on San Juan County wells in that area,” she said.
She is also concerned about parcels No. 52 and No. 54 in San Juan County.
“These are the ones that are problematic,” she said. “No. 54 lies on top of the source protection zone for Monticello’s drinking water. Monticello isn’t using it for drinking water now, but it is classified as a drinking water source.”
She anticipates that this parcel will be removed from the list within the next round.
Parcel No. 52 is also a concern regarding drinking water.
“It is near private property,” Hagen said. “If developed, they would be drilling in peoples’ backyards.”
She is also concerned about Parcel No. 119, which is only a half-mile from the La Sal Elementary school well. “It’s directly upstream from their water.”
Hagen said the public needs to be vigilant regarding lease sales.
“If the price of oil continues to go up, then there will be more pressure on the BLM ,” she said. “Risking our ground water for a few wildcat oil men isn’t worth it. If they ruin the source for ground water they claim bankruptcy and leave. If our water source is screwed up, we don’t have another one.”
She said she felt the local BLM office has been responsive so far.
“It is just a matter of us letting them know we’re concerned and getting the information they need so they will make the right decisions,” Hagen said. “They didn’t know about the Monticello water source until I sent them the map.”
Moab Field Office Manager, Rock Smith, said that his office appreciated the public input.
“We’re always happy to receive comments, particularly if they’re constructive,” Smith said.
Miller said this is more than just a concern about water quality, or potential fracking, a method of oil and gas drilling that involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand deep underground to fracture rocks.
“This is more about oil and gas development in the area,” Miller said. “It is about air quality problems regarding drilling for oil and gas.”
Michael Carter addressed air quality issues relating to oil and gas development in his comments to the BLM regarding the lease sale.