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Dinosaur National Monument is site of a new drilling dispute

Published December 24, 2012 2:28 pm

Energy • Groups protest plans for oil and gas leasing outside Dinosaur National Monument.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Despite past controversy surrounding oil and gas leasing near national parks, the Bureau of Land Management proposes auctioning parcels for future drilling just outside Dinosaur National Monument.

In two different sales, the Bureau of Land Management's Colorado office seeks to open land for drilling near monument access roads. This appears to run afoul of a prohibition against commercial traffic on National Park Service system roads, according to a protest filed Monday by the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) challenging one sale set for February.

This sale includes land beside the Deerlodge Road serving the east entrance to the 211,000-acre monument straddling the Utah-Colorado state line and covering the confluence of the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

"It's not appropriate to [drill] adjacent to parks which have high value to the public. We don't want visitors driving in with the pristine Yampa River on one side of the road and drill rigs on the other," said Erika Pollard, a Southwest region program manager with NPCA.

The BLM noted that the proposed lease area was adjusted southward to exclude land between the Deerlodge Road and the river to the north.

An agency spokeswoman also said BLM deferred leasing on 19 of the 39 parcels, involving 52,000 acres, originally proposed for leasing on the Little Snake Resource Area. This decision was made primarily to protect sage grouse habitat.

Meanwhile, all 20 remaining parcels, which are to be leased Feb. 14, carry standard stipulations to protect big-game winter range and sagebrush ecosystems and keep rigs out of riparian zones and off steep slopes. Then site-specific restrictions, which could include setbacks from roads, will be considered once energy developers seek permission to drill.

"There will be plenty of opportunities to have those conversations. Once it's leased there is still a long process" before drilling can begin, said Vanessa Lacayo of the BLM's Colorado office.

Joined by a retired Dinosaur supervisor, conservationists say restrictions — specifically geared toward protecting the park's natural values — should be in place before leases are sold.

Nearby drilling "impacts about every value the monument holds: night skies, quiet, access, dust, wildlife," said Denny Huffman, who supervised the monument from 1987 to 1997. "They need to be more open to sister agencies [such as the National Park Service] and potential lessees. It should be clear about the need to protect the park. They tend to leave that to buyer beware. It creates conflict."

The NPCA, in the protest filed Dec. 17 with The Wilderness Society, argues BLM failed to adequately consult with the Park Service and ignored the recommendations of the so-called Stiles report. This December 2009 investigation led to the withdrawal of numerous leases near Dinosaur and other Utah parks after the panel concluded such areas require extra scrutiny before being leased.

Meanwhile, the Colorado BLM is conducting an environmental assessment of proposed leasing of several parcels totaling nearly 3,000 acres scattered to the south of the monument in the White River Resource Area. These parcels, to be leased in May, are near the Harpers Corner Road just east of the Utah state line.

Much of the available land south and east of the monument is blanketed with existing leases.

"Development of those lands, in conjunction with the protested parcels, would not only transform the landscape surrounding the national monument but would also cause a wide range of cumulative impacts on the park," the protest states.

bmaffly@sltrib.com