What a long way Moab has come since the 2008 controversy that made it to the pages of The New York Times, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed 77 oil and gas leases in the Moab area close to important natural areas and popular recreation sites. The original 77-lease proposal even considered drilling just 1.3 miles from Delicate Arch.
I remember poring over maps trying to understand what was at stake for Moab’s mountain biking, jeeping and climbing areas. Needless to say, the recreation industry had good reason to be worried, as it was clear that the BLM had not taken a hard look at just how big those proposed impacts would be to our local economy. The 2008 BLM plan on the books right now would still allow for those leases to move forward. While some still consider the 2008 plan as a balanced approach, the simple truth is that plan was incredibly divisive and pitted members of our community against each other.
The BLM should be applauded for its hard work in coming up with a new approach in the Moab Master Leasing Plan (MLP). Its draft MLP is on the road for striking a balance between the conservation of recreation resources, the protection of our cherished national parks and the responsible development of oil and gas drilling and potash mining.
This approach allows for more voices to be heard from all stakeholders, no matter if they are from the recreation community, oil and gas business, local, county, state and federal officials — all with diverse points of view that helped inform the draft plan. Indeed, many of us spent several intensive workshops painstakingly going over the details, and it’s clear that this MLP reflects that work.
Moab thrives with a diverse and healthy local economy, one built to help continue making Moab a place we are proud to call our home, where we raise our families and where we are proud to share with people from all over America and the world.
Under the 2008 plan, it was a relative free-for-all that prioritized extraction over any other activity. Under the draft Master Leasing Plan, the BLM is providing certainty for all industries that rely on our public lands. That certainty provides for economic input across the board. Economic activity we’ll see generated under this MLP includes $365 million from oil and gas, $669 million from potash development (not to mention $1.5 billion in facility production) and $761 million in recreation. I call that win-win-win.
It is worth noting that there is a lot of voodoo in commodity prices. Right now, crude is trading at a five-year low at $42/ barrel, down from $84/barrel just one year ago. Similarly, the price dropped out in potash markets, creating a lot of uncertainty for its potential growth in Utah. So all the estimates we hear about economic activity related to this plan are just that: estimates. But the boom-and-bust nature of extraction is nothing new to Moab. We saw the same story play out before when uranium prices hit rock bottom. Conversely, tourism and recreation over-performed during the Great Recession of 2008 and appear to be more resilient than ever.
I highlight the uncertainty in resource extraction to emphasize that it’s important we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. Diversity is a friend in our local economy. However, whether we’re talking about extraction or recreation, all businesses benefit from certainty in how our public lands are managed, and that’s where the Moab MLP is headed.
If Moab were a publicly traded company, the value of that outdoor recreation experience would drive the dollar value behind our brand. The essence of the Moab brand is our dirt — its color, its shape and the vast expanses of it all around us. People from around the world spend their hard-earned money to experience the place we call home. Moab’s brand is also about getting outside and being free from the signs of industry, traffic and noise that surround so much of our lives in the 21st Century. Experiencing nature is likely to become an ever-more valuable experience as the years go by.
We all value Moab’s outdoor brand, whether we work in tourism, recreation, oil and gas, or potash. Thankfully, with the Master Leasing Plan, the BLM is headed in a direction that will protect the brand and continue to facilitate the responsible development of our natural resources.
Jason Keith is a managing director of Public Land Solutions. He lives in Moab.