State nixes lease for Green River drillingadmin
After strong opposition and a procedural error, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and Sovereign Lands has withdrawn a lease for oil and gas drilling of 17 acres beneath the Green River.
The land is adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument in the northeastern part of the state.
Officials from the division said the sale of the oil and gas lease, previously scheduled for this summer, was pulled back after the agency excluded the land from a required formal public comment period.
“The process was not correct, it was just overlooked,” said division spokesman Jim Springer.
The planned lease also drew protests from local river runners, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. Stephen Bloch of SUWA said he believes the group’s opposition was largely responsible for the withdrawal.
The protestors said the lease would ruin the area for recreational use, damage local wildlife habitats and leave visual scars.
“Oil and gas development on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument would have clearly harmed the incomparable values and benefits for which (the monument) was established,” Denny Huffman, former superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, said in a SUWA press release.
But state officials said the lease would not have put drilling equipment on the land. Dave Grierson, strategic planner for the division, said the oil or natural gas field under the river bed would have to be drilled horizontally from an adjacent lot.
“There would be no equipment in, on or through the river,” he said.
While Springer said opponents of the lease are not responsible for its withdrawal, he said they are “indirectly responsible” because their opposition to the plan forced the division to carefully review its procedures, causing the error to be noticed.
The public comment would have taken place before the state Resource Development and Conservation Committee, a group of representatives from state agencies who meet to review land-lease proposals with public input.
The division proposed a large chunk of lands to the RDCC for leasing earlier this year, but officials from the division said they accidentally left the Green River land out of the proposal.
The land lease was requested by Vern Jones, owner of Jones Lease Service. Grierson said Jones likely planned to lease the land to an oil or natural gas company.
The proposal is not being reconsidered, but Springer said the land could come up for lease again if someone requests it.
“It’s more of a delay than a rejection,” he said.