The Utah Bureau of Land Management has decided to withdraw the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry from its scheduled Nov. 19 oil and gas auction after doubts surfaced whether some 1,280 acres in and around the historic trove of Jurassic bones are actually available for mineral development.
The quarry, a tourist destination surrounded by specially designated lands, was covered by three of the 82 parcels the federal land agency identified last month for auction. The 144,000 acres of federal land are in Carbon, Emery and Uintah counties, mostly concentrated on the periphery of the San Rafael Swell.
In a modification to the lease sale the BLM posted last week, the three parcels in question were reduced to exclude a 770-acre “area of critical environmental concern,” or ACEC, covering the quarry, located south of Price. Also excluded are the 721 acres the National Park Service identified in a 1965 congressional designation protecting the quarry, which has yielded 12,000 fossils now displayed in at least 60 museums around the world.
The BLM agreed to these changes after the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance pointed out, in its July 15 comments responding to the lease sale, that the quarry is unavailable for leasing under BLM’s own planning documents.
While the agency says its latest decision is evidence that its public-comment process works, SUWA attorney Steve Bloch says it merely confirms that BLM doesn’t do its homework before deciding which parcels to lease for oil and gas development.
“To say they are counting on the public to find their mistakes doesn’t make sense,” Bloch said. “It all comes back to think first, lease later. With these mistakes it’s clear the BLM should be taking a harder look at proposed leases.”
SUWA plans to move forward with a formal protest on as many as 49 parcels included in the Nov. 19 auction on the grounds that they cover lands with wilderness characteristics.
Meanwhile, the status of the land around the dinosaur quarry is confusing because government documents are in conflict over what land is protected and whether these protected lands are available to oil and gas leasing, according to BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall.
Lease planners had been operating under the belief that the congressionally designated National Natural Landscape, or NNL, covered just 80 acres entirely in the ACEC. But a later review found that park service maps indicate the NNL covers 10 times more territory, Crandall said.
Adding to the confusion is the resource management plan for BLM’s Price field office, which indicates the quarry ACEC may be leased. However, the agency’s record of decision on that plan indicates the ACEC, and by logical extension the entire NNL, is off limits, according to BLM.
Officials plan to heed the record of decision, which is more restrictive. Still, they have decided to lease nearly all of the land surrounding the 1,280 acres associated with the dinosaur quarry.
Whatever the outcome, no drilling would occur on any BLM lease before further site-specific analysis takes place, regardless of its proximity to the famous quarry.
“That analysis gives the public additional opportunities for participation,” Crandall said.