Proposed drilling for natural gas accompanied by hydraulic fracturing just southeast of picturesque Moab could pollute groundwater, some residents fear.
The Bureau of Land Management plans a Feb. 19 auction of energy leases on some 80,000 acres of federal land in southeast Utah spread across Grand and San Juan counties. Of concern to Kiley Miller and others is 3,600 acres on two BLM parcels about seven miles outside of town and just across the line in San Juan County.
"There was hardly any notice [of the leases] and there is a feeling that this is being fast-tracked for approval," Miller said in a press release. "These parcels are in direct view of the Moab Valley, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park."
Moab's economy is based on tourism and its beautiful redrock scenery. Its only drinking water source, the Glen Canyon Aquifer, abuts the 3,600 acres in question.
The BLM is conducting an environmental assessment of the proposed leases to determine impacts from proposed energy exploration, said Don Ogaard, chief of the leasing support section for the agency's Utah office.
The document should be available for public review by the end of September, said Rock Smith, of the BLM's Moab Field Office. A 30-day public comment period will follow.
Gas exploration that includes hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" the injection of pressurized liquid into shale has the potential to pollute Moab's aquifer, according to Miller, of the progressive organization MoveOn.
She and MoveOn are gathering petition signatures online at signon.org/sign/protect-the-moab-utah in an effort to halt the leases. As of Thursday afternoon, they had gathered 2,677 signatures.
Audrey Graham, a member of the Grand County Council, said she, too, is concerned the two lease parcels (identified as 039 and 042) that border the aquifer could impact drinking water.
In a letter to the BLM, Graham said, "We must insist on knowing the contents of all fluids used in the process, as well as requiring the highest standards and best practices to protect our drinking water."
The county council has not adopted a formal position on the lease.
Graham also said energy exploration near Moab will have other impacts on the community, including truck traffic and air quality.
"Of equal importance is the fact that the impacts of drilling will be borne by the residents of Grand County, although the bonus mineral lease funds and property taxes will go to San Juan County," she said.