BLM brings Master Leasing Plan concept to Utah

Sept. 14, 2015
The US Bureau of Land Management's Moab, Utah, field office began a 90-day comment period on Aug. 21 for a draft proposed Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for 946,469 acres of public land overseen by the US Department of the Interior agency near the southeastern Utah community.

The US Bureau of Land Management's Moab, Utah, field office began a 90-day comment period on Aug. 21 for a draft proposed Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for 946,469 acres of public land overseen by the US Department of the Interior agency near the southeastern Utah community. The proposed MLP-Utah's first-will follow a pattern BLM has used in developing similar plans in Colorado and Wyoming.

It also will accept comments through Nov. 23 on draft amendments to the Moab and Monticello Resource Management Plans in BLM's Moab-based Canyon Country District, and a draft environmental impact statement, and scheduled public hearings on Sept. 23 in Moab, Sept. 24 in Monticello, and Oct. 6 in Salt Lake City.

"Moab has some of the most iconic scenery on the Colorado Plateau, but it is also rich with energy resources, so we need to take a landscape-level approach to minimize potential resource conflicts," US Interior Sec. Sally Jewell said when the draft proposed Moab MLP was announced on Aug. 14.

BLM also plans this fall to initiate two more MLPs-the 524,854-acre San Rafael Desert plan and the 320,000-acre Cisco Desert plan. It has completed, or begun work on, nearly a dozen MLP areas in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, the agency said.

It said it launched the MLP concept in May 2010 to address a federal onshore oil, gas, and minerals leasing system in which nearly half of all proposed parcels received community protests, and a substantial number resulted in litigation.

Help or hindrance?

The plans establish a framework for determining which areas are appropriate for responsible oil and gas exploration and development while protecting the area's conservation assets, BLM said. The reforms were designed to encourage stakeholder input early in the planning process, which reduces protests and litigation and provides developers with greater certainty, it said. Many Rocky Mountain producers believe they merely create more obstacles and delays.

"MLPs are definitely redundant with the land use planning process which has been in place since the 1970s," said Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president for government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance in Denver. "MLPs are really about giving the environmental lobby another opportunity to push for closing off more areas to energy development.

"BLM has taken a gamble, and past experience with the litigious environmental lobby makes the bet a good one, that it will face fewer lawsuits just by making it nearly impossible for oil and gas development on any land that might have the least bit of controversy," she told OGJ in an Aug. 24 e-mail. "It's generally easier for BLM to avoid litigation by shutting out reasonable development than it is to explain how its standard restrictions and processes indeed protect the land."

BLM has said oil and gas planning decisions that may be considered during the MLP process, with appropriate National Environmental Policy Act analysis, include phased leasing, phased development, requirement to reduce or capture emissions, use of multiple wells on a single pad, and additional mitigation stipulations.

The proposed Moab MLP covers 785,567 BLM-administered acres and 160,902 acres of state, private, and split estate land between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and near Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah's Grand and San Juan counties.

Applauds approach

Area outdoor recreation and conservation organizations immediately endorsed it. "Moab is a world-class recreation destination, contributing to the $12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs outdoor recreation supports in Utah," said Jessica Wahl, recreation policy advisor for the Outdoor Industry Association.

"Thoughtful planning through the [MLP] process can protect Moab's recreation assets for years to come," she said in an Aug. 21 teleconference with four other outdoor recreation leaders.

The Conservation Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and Outdoor Industry Association launched a campaign in support of a strong Moab MLP in Washington, DC, on Aug. 18, with a full-page print advertisement in the Washington Post Express and digital ads on Advocates will also build upon a coalition of more than 50 local and regional recreation businesses, and organize tens of thousands of recreation enthusiasts online, the groups said.

BLM said on Aug. 14 that it brought together local community members, industry representatives, recreation enthusiasts, Indian tribes, and other interested parties from across the country; and worked closely with the National Park Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, and other state and local agencies in the planning process for the proposed Moab MLP. The agency said it also solicited public feedback on preliminary alternatives and held public meetings.

But Sgamma warned that BLM left itself vulnerable to lawsuits from others who care about livelihoods and the area's economy as it developed two MLPs in Colorado. The Dinosaur Trail and Shale Ridges plans were not analyzed in draft documents, she told OGJ.

"The public did not have a chance to evaluate the restrictions and their impacts on jobs and the economy of the West Slope, which is a violation of rules regarding public engagement," she said. "We've seen how the Interior Department, with decisions regarding the Colowyo mine fiasco and these overly restrictive plans, does not give much consideration to the economic viability of western Colorado."