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Ward: Drilling leases won't harm land
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Tribune's Aug. 24 editorial about the Bureau of Land Management's November oil and gas lease auction ("BLM Leases: Drilling threatens fragile lands") makes readers think Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, Eagle Canyon and Lost Spring Wash will succumb to "the intrusion of drilling rigs, roads, heavy machinery and air pollution" if the auction succeeds.

Not true. Ground activities will occur far from those places, in areas with decades of extractive use.

The editorial implies that four lease parcels "impinging" on the Dinosaur Quarry were never intended for leasing but slipped through BLM's cracks until caught and removed. Not true. Those parcels are open to no-surface-occupancy directional drilling far from the quarry. Not even the directional drill bits, far beneath the surface, will come near the subsurface beneath the quarry or its surrounding National Natural Landscape, as that is off limits to even NSO drilling.

Only a BLM paperwork clerical error caused withdrawal of those parcels for now, until the error is addressed. Those parcels are expected to sell in later auctions.

The BLM's latest local plan, which supports the November auction, resulted from studying all BLM ground for wilderness values. The study's conclusion: All parcels up for auction have worthy mineral potential backed by decades of similar use, all are unsuitable as wilderness, and air quality effects from planned extraction are insignificant. For similar reasons, Emery County's plan also approved the parcels for extraction.

Journalistic rigor will uncover a common five-step practice that goes like this: Somebody in the public (1) picks a special spot, (2) buffers it with vast common landscape, (3) maps a circle around the whole area, (4) labels it all after the name of the special spot, and (5) complains about any extraction in the common part, no matter how far removed from the special spot.

The unwitting editorialist swallows this bait and says, Good grief, they're leasing inside the labeled area! — never realizing surface activities will be far removed from the special spot for which the contrived area was named. The writer swallows the tortured logic that "once drilling is allowed … such areas can never achieve status as wilderness," when the areas contended as wilderness-worthy already underwent decades of drilling.

This parrots the narrative that references "Eagle Canyon WIA" and "Lost Spring Wash WIA" in one paragraph and subtly drops the WIA reference mentioning only "Eagle Canyon" and "Lost Spring Wash" in the next paragraph, making the hapless reader exclaim, Good grief, they're erecting drill rigs right in Eagle Canyon!

Public lands debates should be fact-based. That's the goal of Rep. Rob Bishop's current public lands initiative, to embrace facts supporting both wilderness and extraction. This was Emery County's approach, collaborating through its citizen public lands committee to devise thoughtful plans embracing preservation and extractive activities alike, consistent with the November lease auction.

Emery County's and Bishop's approaches come at a time of critical need for more collaborative dialogue statewide.

Mark Ward is a public lands attorney and policy analyst for the Utah Association of Counties and recently toured Emery, Grand and Uintah counties with the congressional delegation, local officials and environmental groups.

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