Blog Post Nicholas Lund Nov 12, 2015

Parks in Peril: Can We Protect Utah's Desert Parks from Energy Development?

After 8 years of work by a movement of energy advocates, Arches and Canyonlands could soon gain unprecedented protections from oil and gas development. But we need your help.

The crown jewels of the National Park System are at a crossroads: Their wildlife, wild places, and historic and cultural integrity face challenges, right outside of their borders. Grand Teton, Yosemite, Biscayne, Arches, and Glacier are in danger of being forever changed by energy development, pollution, overuse, and other serious problems. However, with each threat comes an opportunity for the Obama Administration to take action. NPCA’s new Parks in Peril campaign will help inspire people to stand up for our national parks instead of standing by and letting them be irreversibly harmed.

 

Eight years is a long time, but that’s how long our community of national park defenders has been helping craft a plan to protect Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from oil and gas leasing. Fortunately, the end is finally in sight. When the final comments are collected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in mid-November, we’ll be on the threshold of gaining unprecedented protections for two of our most beloved national parks.

It began in the waning days of the Bush Administration. Just before the Obama Administration was sworn in, the Utah office of the BLM rushed to auction a set of oil and gas leases on lands adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The local community was in an uproar and disrupted the sale, causing the government to cancel the lease sales.

The newly installed Obama Administration tried an innovative tactic: talking to people. As part of this new approach, the Utah BLM invited everyone who might be impacted by oil and gas leasing in Moab—recreationists, park visitors, local businesses, industry—into a process to figure out how leasing might, or might not, be able to proceed.

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NPCA has been involved from the very beginning. We’ve advocated for the strongest possible protections for the air quality, viewpoints, and soundscapes around Arches and Canyonlands. We’ve spread the word that Moab’s annual $175 million national park economy would be harmed if the surrounding landscape became an oil field. We’ve made the case for park protection to everyone from the citizens of Utah to the secretary of the Interior to the president himself.

The BLM finally released a draft of the leasing plan this August, and it looks great for Arches and Canyonlands. More than 145,000 acres adjacent to the parks would be closed to all drilling, and another 300,000 acres would have no surface development—meaning, companies could have access to underground resources, but no infrastructure above-ground in those areas. Development would be tightly controlled on another 230,000 acres, farther from the parks.

If we had seen this draft eight years ago we would have jumped for joy. Now we need to make sure it becomes a reality.

The Utah BLM needs to hear one more time that this leasing plan must include the strongest protections for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It needs to safeguard all of the important views from the parks that encompass the surrounding wide, open landscape and draw visitors to the national parks. It needs to close loopholes allowing exceptions to these environmental protections.

You can make public comments on the draft Moab leasing plan and draft environmental impact statement from now through November 23. We’ve stood strong for Arches and Canyonlands for the past eight years, but if we take this final action and get a successful final Moab leasing plan, we’ll achieve protections that will last for many years to come.

About the author

  • Nicholas Lund Former Senior Manager, Landscape Conservation Program

    As Senior Manager for the Landscape Conservation Program, Nick focused his efforts on oil and gas activities in and around our national parks. In his spare time, Nick writes silly things about birds for TheBirdist.com, Audubon, and Slate.