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Balancing Development and Conservation for Iconic Lands in Utah

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management just released its draft Moab Master Leasing Plan.

We owe it to ourselves and future generations to manage our country’s natural resources in a way that powers our nation, supports our local communities and economies, and leaves our children with the same opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors that we have today. 

Today, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its draft Moab Master Leasing Plan, a compelling example of how, with better planning, we can reduce conflict and give more certainty to the oil and gas industry, the recreation industry, and the local communities who depend on our outdoor spaces for their way of life and, in some cases, their livelihood.  Through up-front planning and public input, Master Leasing Plans offer a sensible approach to managing Federal lands by helping to balance multiple uses and avoid conflict before it occurs.  That means meeting our country’s energy needs in areas where development is most appropriate, while recognizing that some places should remain undisturbed and available for recreation and conservation.

The area around Moab, Utah, became the focal point for controversy in 2008 when 77 oil and gas leases were offered next to some of the most iconic landscape in the American West, including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  In addition to impacting the air and water quality in the National Parks, these leases would have impacted trails and other areas heavily used for recreation and tourism.

In 2009, the Department of the Interior canceled those lease sales, and over the following years worked to identify needed reforms to the oil and gas leasing process nationwide to prevent this type of controversy from occurring again.  Master Leasing Plans are one of the key reforms that resulted. 

Since the draft Moab Master Leasing Plan analyzes an area of almost a million acres, BLM engaged with the people and stakeholders most affected, an extensive process that included holding workshops with a range of stakeholders, reviewing maps, and discussing priority areas with the oil and gas and recreation industries.  The proposed plan would help focus oil and gas and potash development in areas that avoid conflict with other land uses and protect areas with high recreational or ecological value.  Recognizing, as any successful energy strategy must, that some areas are too special to develop, the plan would put some areas off-limits to energy development.  The majority of the area would still be open to oil and gas leasing, and in those areas, measures would be put in place to ensure that development would not negatively impact important surface values.  The result would be less conflict and controversy, and thus less litigation and more certainty for the oil and gas industry.

Although the plan draws on significant stakeholder input, BLM is not done yet.  The draft Moab plan will be published in the Federal Register on August 21 and open for a 90-day public comment period.  BLM will take this public input into account before taking final action.  Ultimately, this balanced approach can serve as a blueprint for how “smart from the start” planning can benefit everyone – from the oil and gas industry to the recreation industry to local communities and businesses.