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SITLA puts some Books Cliffs lease areas on hold

Published September 29, 2013 9:52 pm

Agreement with Anadarko Petroleum was amended and an advisory committee will address natural resource impacts.
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Parts of one of the largest-ever deals arranged by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) will be put on hold and an advisory committee will be created to address natural resources impacts after the agency's board of trustees voted unanimously to amend an agreement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

The expected announcement came Thursday in St. George and is in response to concerns raised initially by sportsmen's groups and eventually by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

The contract between SITLA and Anadarko allows for immediate energy development to start on an area known as Three Pines on the remote Book Cliffs region south of Vernal, north of Interstate 70 and bordered by Colorado on the east.

As part of the amended agreement, Anadarko will hold off exercising other Book Cliffs options in One Eye Canyon until Jan. 1, 2015. Sportsmen's groups were most concerned about 18,000 acres in the largely roadless Bogart Canyon area, popular with elk and deer hunters. That land will be off limits until Jan. 1, 2016.

The delay, SITLA officials say, will give Herbert and Bishop time to explore federal land trade opportunities.

"The lower roadless area has tremendous values beyond traditional energy resources, and their conservation is a worthwhile endeavor," Bishop said while asking SITLA to reconsider the agreement. "We intend to work with all parties involved to ensure that everyone gains something. We continue to make great progress toward creating policies that will allow for energy development, outdoor recreation and habitat conservation."

SITLA trustee board members Jim Lekas and Tom Batchell were assigned to serve on the advisory committee, which was created to make recommendations to SITLA and Anadarko on natural resource impacts.

The agreement drew waves of public criticism in the days after news of the contract emerged.

"Trust lands are not public lands, and we must do a better job of educating the general public about SITLA's work and purpose," SITLA Board Chairman Steve Ostler said in prepared release. "While we understand Utahns have an interest in all Utah lands, the 8 percent of the state managed by SITLA must be managed to benefit public schools, universities, schools for the deaf and blind and other institutions, and not specific interest groups or the public-at-large."

brettp@sltrib.com