No Oil Fields Next to National Parks in Utah

Feds drop plans to allow drilling for oil and gas next to scenic national parks

The Bureau of Land Management has dropped more than half the parcels it originally proposed for an oil and gas lease sale next week, many of which were criticized because of their proximity to southern Utah national parks.

The agency's final list for the Dec. 19 sale was released on Friday and includes 132 parcels totaling 164,000 acres.

The sale has been controversial since details were first announced Nov. 4 The BLM at that time proposed lease sales on 359,000 acres in Utah.

After the proposal was criticized by the National Park Service, a fellow federal agency, and environmental groups, the BLM removed more than 37,000 acres near Utah's national parks. Another 80,000 acres in western Utah were dropped so the agency can conduct an environmental analysis.

Other parcels were taken off the list out of concern for wildlife, cultural resources and potential conflicts with existing coal mines, said Megan Crandall, a BLM spokeswoman.

One of the remaining parcels in the sale is adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal with the agreement of the Park Service, Crandall said.

Patrick O'Driscoll, a Park Service spokesman in Denver, said Friday's final list reflects an agreement worked out two weeks ago about what parcels should and shouldn't be leased.

"Our primary concern all along were those parcels that were so close to national parks," he said.

Environmental groups, the Outdoor Industry Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others protested portions of the proposed sale, saying drilling threatened some of the most prized landscapes in eastern Utah.

Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, says the final list from the BLM still includes some of Utah's most spectacular lands, including parcels near the White River, Desolation Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon, which has thousands of prehistoric paintings and rock carvings.

The proposal is a "fire sale" for industry in the waning days of the Bush administration, he said.

Crandall said the BLM removed parcels below the rim of Nine Mile Canyon. Others on a plateau above the canyon remain on the list.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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