WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) More than 40,000 people emailed the Bureau of Land Management as the agency considers leasing land for oil drilling near Zion National Park.
About 2,500 acres are up for consideration in two parcels of federal land positioned a mile and a half away from Utah’s most popular national park.
The window closes March 9 for feedback on the controversial proposal. The state’s oldest developed oil field grabbed the attention of Utah Exploration & Drilling LLC.
“It isn’t a done deal. We are definitely open to public comment. But where there is oil, it’s not a surprise that someone would be interested in it. We just have to figure out if it makes sense,” BLM St. George Field Manager Brian Tritle said.
The minimum bid for a 10 year lease of the land is $2 an acre, but can go higher.
By law, the BLM must consider multiple uses of the land, including two federal parcels that straddle Kolob Terraces Road just north of Virgin. Visitors use the roadway to access Zion’s northern highlands, Kolob Reservoir and campsites.
“When someone expresses interest in a lease near there, we really have to consider it like we would anywhere else,” Tritle said.
“We certainly have concerns for obvious reasons,” Zion National Park spokesperson John Merciano said.
The Zion National Park administration was granted a request to extend the public comment period, so they have a more complete idea of the possible impact to the park.
“Some of our concerns are habitat, for sure. We have endangered species here and we want to make sure that they are protected and not in that area. We have our night sky that we want to protect, our view sheds,” Merciano said.
Besides pollution, oil drilling can contribute to soil erosion and landslides, which plagued the park in December.
“We want meaningful information to help us make a good decision and then we will move forward from there,” Tritle said.
Public comment will be included in the proposal’s environmental assessment process. If it gets the green light, the federal parcels will be up for lease in September.
The public review and comment period closes at 4:30 p.m. on March 9, 2017.
Additional information from the BLM:
Electronic copies of the environmental assessment can be found online at the project webpage: http://bit.ly/2kio6pF in the “Documents” page. Hard copies can be obtained in person at the St. George Field Office, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George.
Please note the most useful comments are those that identify substantive issues relevant to the proposed action or contain new technical or scientific information. Comments that contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response, but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.