110,000 Acres Near Moab Expected to be Auctioned Off for Oil Drilling

Public lands between Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef national parks in Utah are set to be auctioned off this September. The lands are within view of the town of Moab and the national parks that have, for so long, been the heart of off-roading in America.

The 110,000 acres are being auctioned off by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, which makes it laughably easy for oil and gas companies to lease lands for drilling.

Since 1920, when the Mineral Leasing Act was signed, anyone can nominate a parcel of federal land for oil-and-gas development, it doesn’t cost a cent and you don’t even need to provide your name. Fortunately, Prairie Hills Oil & Gas did provide its name when it nominated the land near Moab for leasing.

According to the New Yorker, the lease would have a term of ten years. For the first five years, the annual rental fee in the area has historically been $1.50 per acre, and then $2.00 per acre for the last ten years—meaning the land would only cost Prairie Hills Oil & Gas $165,000/year for the first five years plus a 12.5% royalty on the production of gas.

Local groups, though, are decrying the nomination of these lands as putting “an oil well in the center of a Picasso or Van Gogh.” Already, a natural gas pipeline cuts across Arches National Park and flames from flaring oil wells can be seen from Windows, one of Arches’ most visited beauty spots.

Naturally, some industry is good for the region. Mary McGann, Grand County Council chairperson told Bloomberg Law that “if it’s done correctly in the appropriate place, it’s really helpful to our county.”

The September auction, though, the National Parks Conservation Association estimates will be for around 110,000 acres. That’s a swath of land that is bigger than Arches national park and is roughly the size of New Orleans.

“When you look at that map, it just sends chills up your spine,” says McGann.

Although oil prices are so low right now that many of the area’s recent land leases haven’t been acted upon, the environmental impacts of drilling in such an enormous swath of land could be grave.

Moab has long been a destination for off-roading enthusiasts, with Jeep hosting a springtime “Easter Safari” there most years. Between the sweeping vistas and the large swaths of unpaved area, a number of off-roading routes have been developed there that allow visitors to interact with the parks and the desert landscape.

The attraction of the area for off-roaders and other sports enthusiasts is the natural landscape that allows people to peer back through the eons. Oil derricks, pipelines, and other associated additions may spoil the landscape, not just our appetite for visiting it.

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