Commentary: Utah’s newest congressman wants to fast-track oil drilling — putting Moab at risk

My congressman is putting our livelihood at risk.

(Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fidelity Exploration and Production Co. has drilled several productive oil wells on Big Flat outside Moab, like this one near Dead Horse Point State Park.

As a bike shop manager in Moab, I’ve been optimistic about our new congressman, John Curtis. I had high hopes that he understood what makes Utah so special and such a great place to raise a family.

He genuinely likes to get outside, and seems to get that Utah’s public land is bringing in not just visitors, but businesses that have chosen Utah precisely because we have such great mountain biking, climbing, hiking and skiing on our public land.

That was before Curtis introduced a bill to amend the Mineral Leasing Act, called “the Streamlining Permitting Efficiencies in Energy Development Act” or the “SPEED Act.”

What this means is that oil and gas operators, most of whom do not live in Utah, can start drilling on our public land without telling the public. Currently, companies are required to analyze environmental impacts and seek public comment on their proposals to drill. When public comment is included, other public land concerns can be addressed. Such as: Let’s not put a well-pad right on the trailhead, or directly in the view shed of a campground, or put the access road right next to a famous climbing area.

Here in the Moab area, some 40 percent of our recreation occurs on land currently leased for oil and gas. In the past our community has been able to work with oil and gas operators directly to optimize our public land. Luckily, the Moab Master Leasing plan is still in place, but I don’t think Curtis really understands that he is putting Moab’s reputation at risk by fast tracking permits to drill right next to Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park.

My family and I love living in Moab, but my congressman is putting our livelihood at risk. Sure, we might get a few more dollars in mineral lease money for the county, but it is little compared to the revenue that our trails and parks generate, and subject to the boom and bust nature of the fossil fuel industry.

And please don’t tell me about local job creation. Every time we drill another well in southeast Utah, the hotels fill up with more folk from Texas and Alaska.

It is so disappointing to have yet another Utah elected official in the pocket of the oil and gas industry, and apparently oblivious to the power of public land in its natural state. By kowtowing to oil and gas and eliminating public comment, Curtis is joining the rest of our delegation to chase away our outdoor industry. If this attitude continues, losing the Outdoor Retailer show will be the tip of the iceberg. Silicon Slopes and the Utah tech industry are using Utah’s great outdoors to attract the best and the brightest — I know because they come to Moab every weekend.

The states around us understand that recreation assets on public land bring economic prosperity. From Twin Falls, Idaho, to Fruita, Colo., to Farmington, N.M. — they are working hard to celebrate recreation on their public land and reduce their dependence on oil and gas.

In Utah we already have more than 2,100 approved permits for drilling that have not been used. Rep. Curtis’s bill is absolutely unnecessary. The “SPEED Act” will damage the Moab economy and fast track Utah in the wrong direction.

Jacques Hadler

Jacques Hadler is manager of Moab Cyclery.

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