The Bureau of Land Management is seeking the public’s input on the Wesco Operating company’s plan to drill and operate an oil and gas well 1.7 miles southeast of Looking Glass Rock, much closer to Wilson Arch, within eyesight and earshot of 18 homes and shouting distance from the front porch of
the nearest one.
But the application does nothing to address the negative impact the approval would inflict upon the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the reputation of the state of Utah, her citizens, the tourism industry in Utah, Grand County, San Juan County and the drilling industry itself.
In a recent interview with local station KZMU, Lisa Bryant, BLM public affairs specialist, used the term “our” to describe the operator’s drills and equipment; words likely unintentional, but quite telling.
Also in the interview, Ms. Bryant referred to constraints that might be imposed on the operator in relation to lighting being controlled and sounds being muffled during operations. But, there was no mention of the public’s recourse when the operator fails to comply with constraints, or how they are regulated and enforced.
There are thousands of acres permitted, and wide open, for exploration in southern Utah for
exploration, drilling and extraction. That a site within 2,200 feet of a citizen’s front door would be seen as reasonable is a perfect example of irresponsible exploration. Why would this site, among hundreds of other possibilities, be picked? Because it’s easy and convenient (if you can get to it by driving through a subdivision).
I’ve asked our public officials who favor the well, “How close do you consider too close to be?”
There must be some distance that might cause the local government to encourage a driller not to apply for a permit. If it’s not 2,200 feet, then what is it? Five hundred feet? A duffer’s two long drives? Or just a chip shot? With many acres available for drilling and operations, how do we justify nudging a rig and pump right up next to a little community established there?
The natural sandstone arch known as Wilson Arch is visited and photographed by thousands of
tourists and passersby every year. Most take the short hike to the top and nearly all of them
with a camera or smartphone in their hands. These photographs are (quickly) posted on social media
sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and will instantly appear on Google Maps.
The images also appear with nearly any search engine seeking results for terms such as “Wilson
Arch,” “natural arches” and “Moab.”
Hundreds of images of Wilson Arch and views from Wilson Arch are on the internet this very day and will never go away. It is true the drilling rig for the proposed well would be removed after a relatively short time, and it is a certainty that every photograph posted on the internet taken by every visitor to Wilson Arch will feature that rig and the nearby homes — with the soft sandstone surface of Wilson
Arch prominently in the foreground.
I retired from the marketing business many years ago, but it takes only minutes and the most feeble of imaginations to conjure up images of this drilling rig and Wilson Arch plastered all over the internet within days of it going up. They will be posted on the internet within seconds and remain there forever.
The view of that rig, viewed through that arch, has the very real potential of becoming a “poster child” for those who oppose responsible energy exploration. Even if the result of this drilling is abandoned and becomes a dry hole, the arch and rig images will never disappear from the internet.
Over the years, various groups who oppose responsible drilling have created altered and false images of drilling operations near homes, natural features, national monuments and famous buildings. The image that would be created as a result of the approval of this application and subsequent drilling would give these groups exactly what they need; a true and accurate image of a drilling rig, photographed within the same frame of a unique natural feature like an arch.
People who live in this area know that Wilson Arch is not in Arches or Canyonlands national parks, but the general public, both in the U.S. and abroad, have no such knowledge.
It takes only the slightest wisp of creativity to envision these groups developing publications, campaigns and drives with this image, and raising funds by printing and selling adhesive labels to cover the Delicate Arch image on Utah’s license plates with the arch and rig replacement.
If the BLM and energy industry ever wished to hand their opponents a symbol to rally behind,
this is the one.
James Ogle has frequented southeastern Utah since 1982 and has owned property in Grand and San
Juan County since the turn of the century. He has maintained a residence within view of Wilson Arch
since 2001, and is Chairperson of the Wilson Arch Water and Sewer Special Service District.
“If the BLM and energy industry ever wished to hand their opponents a symbol to rally behind, this is the one.”