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SUWA Fails in Gas Leases Case While BLM Offers More Parcels

Gas lease development is an important part of Carbon County's economy.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals has ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took the necessary "hard look" during 2001 oil and gas lease sale, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) failed to meet its burden of proof that the BLM acted arbitrarily or capriciously in considering the issuance of leases.

Utah BLM acknowledged that the recent ruling shows the BLM is following regulations and policy in considering parcels for oil and gas leasing. SUWA has protested and appealed 21 of the last 22 Utah quarterly lease sales, but has not won a single case.

"In case after case, IBLA has rejected SUWA's arguments that BLM must conduct inventories and amend land use plans prior to issuing leases," said Kent Hoffman, Utah BLM Deputy State Director of Lands and Minerals. "This is an affirmation that we are taking a 'hard look' and abiding by our existing land use plans. Clearly these issues are very complex. We have dug into the details and made a call."

The ruling came at the heels of an oil and gas lease sale in November that was also protested by SUWA. In the sale, 24 percent of the parcels offered contained some lands previously inventoried by BLM for wilderness characteristics. Prior to the sale BLM considered all new information, including the wilderness inventory, and only offered the parcels with what they considered adequate environmental review and deferred those that would need further analysis.

According to Hoffman, the oil and gas lease sale in February will have similar determinations. All of the 130 parcels nominated for lease are open to oil and gas leasing under existing land use plans; however, new information has prompted BLM to defer more than 60 percent of the acreage nominated. Such new information includes issues with sagebrush die-off, soil stability, wildlife, and threatened and endangered species. This information will be incorporated in future planning and environmental analysis. (Parcels and acreages will not be finalized until Feb. 11, 2004).

Hoffman also noted that "no surface occupancy stipulations" will be used on some of the February parcels as they were with parcels in Desolation Canyon during the November Sale.

"It's important for the public to understand that recreation and wilderness characteristics, particularly along river corridors, are valued and a part of the resource mix we take a close look at," said Hoffman. "Parcels that have been and will be offered along river corridors have strict stipulations preventing any surface development within the viewshed of the river."

"This would be a continuation of the long-standing policy we've had in place since the mid-1980s precluding oil and gas development within the White River Recreational and Wildlife Corridor established through the Bookcliffs Resource Management Plan," Hoffman concluded.

The initial posting of parcels for the February Oil and Gas Lease Sale was Dec. 19. After all protests have been considered, the final offering will be determined seven days prior to the sale date of February 19.

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