Jacques Hadler: I know Moab’s recreation economy. The BLM oil and gas rule will help us.

For rural communities to move beyond oil and gas to future uses of public lands, oil and gas operators must be held accountable for the cost of the clean-up, which this rule would do.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A bike tour group of young students explore the extensive trails that could soon be incorporated into Utahraptor State Park outside of Moab, Utah, on Monday April 12, 2021.

The proposed Bureau of Land Management oil and gas rule will support the recreation economy in Utah by eliminating recreation landscapes from potential leases, increasing bonding rates and limiting speculative leasing, all of which will save Utah taxpayers money.

As a longtime Moab business owner and a current elected official, I have a lot of experience with the ups and downs of the recreation economy. When mountain bikers first arrived in Moab, the locals used to say, “They come to town with one pair of shorts and a $20 bill, and they don’t change either one all week.” Back then, this wasn’t too far from the truth, so it is easy to understand why elected officials were more interested in resource extraction. Yet while some people were hoping for another potash plant or more oil and gas development, revenue from outdoor recreation grew, and continues to grow, steadily.

Today, people of all types want to get outside, even if they never ever plan on wearing spandex shorts. We have all learned that nature is essential for human health and happiness. With more and more people finding that they can work from almost anywhere they want, they are choosing to move to places with access to the great outdoors. As we all know, Mother Nature played favorites with Utah: Everywhere you look there is just so much beauty and awesome outdoor recreation.

We all know that outdoor adventurers and visitors of all types are important to the Utah economy, but we don’t always acknowledge that our natural attributes also play a big role in attracting business investment. To date this is most obvious on the Wasatch Front. Where we are attracting serious talent and investment precisely because of the natural environment and its recreation opportunities.

However, we need to spread the wealth to the rural parts of Utah, especially those places that have long been dependent on the oil and gas industry. The outdated oil and gas leasing system is poised to leave many of these communities in the lurch, just when energy markets have begun to transition away from fossil fuels.

This rule would eliminate leasing proposals on recreation-rich landscapes that are the lifeblood of communities like Moab — remember when the BLM proposed leasing on the Slickrock Trail? Under the new rule, those leases would be off the table. Plus, the update in bonding rates will mean that rural communities won’t be left with uncapped wells. Unremediated well-pads harm air and water quality and leave scars on the landscape. For rural communities to move beyond oil and gas to future uses of public lands, oil and gas operators must be held accountable for the cost of the clean-up.

This rule will also save Utah taxpayers money. A 2023 analysis conducted by Taxpayers for Common Sense found that taxpayers in Utah are facing a potential reclamation liability of $191 million for cleaning up wells in Utah. This means that when big out-of-state developers sell declining wells to local Utah operators, they simply will not have the funds to properly cap and remediate the well sites when the oil runs out. The new BLM Oil and Gas Rule will address this problem by raising the decades-old bonding rates.

Oil and gas advocacy groups will protest these reforms, but with this year’s record oil and gas profits taxpayers aren’t having it, and 91% of voters in Utah support requiring oil and gas companies to pay the full cost of clean-up.

Without reforms, the current system also allows for speculative leasing on low potential lands. Utah voters are pretty smart on this issue as well with 67% of voters agreeing that oil and gas developers should only lease lands in areas with a high likelihood of actually producing oil and gas.

Speculative leasing has indirect costs, if BLM staff are stuck running auctions for a single bidder on lands with low potential, that means they are not available to build and maintain trails. Plus, large tracts of leased lands can discourage investment in much needed recreation assets. Tying up land in unproductive leases leaves communities without recreation assets and a very small chance of ever seeing any oil revenues.

These are just a few of the important updates included in the new BLM Oil and Gas Rule. And while it is normal for our elected officials to want to protect existing industries, energy markets are changing and trying to turn back the clock just isn’t a viable strategy. To bring prosperity and business investment to all the cities and towns in our amazing state, our leaders need to face market realities and support the BLM Oil and Gas Rule.

Jacques Hadler

Jacques Hadler was the long time general manager of Moab Cyclery. He was elected to the Grand County Commission in 2020 and is running for reelection.

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