Moab’s world famous Slickrock trail seems to have escaped a recent threat from oil and gas operations… for now.
Under US land laws, parcels of BLM land can be nominated for potential leasing for oil and gas extraction. A comment period follows, during which time other members of the public can object. Despite the Slickrock trail being world famous, and the rock formations being incredible to any onlooker, someone recently put forward part of the land it crosses for potential oil and gas extraction. As we’d flagged up on our Instagram page, we were hoping you’d join the public in objecting to this use, however the anticipated public consultation has been postponed and consideration of the lease deferred. Yay! Or is it?
There’s a complex political, policy and economic background to this story – across the USA there’s an ongoing debate over land use. Should it be exploited for economic benefit through oil and gas, used to generate income through recreation, or preserved. What’s the priority? And can any of these uses co-exist? Currently there’s a policy of ‘energy dominance’ which seeks to prioritise development which improves US self sufficiency for energy. Some riders have even feared supporting increased access rights for mountain bikes on the basis that it might also open up the same land to mining traffic. While that debate will no doubt continue, and will ebb and flow as politicians of different persuasions hold power, it’s hard to turn back the clock. Once oil and gas extraction is established, the damage is done – both locally and globally.
If it can be shown land is more valuable as a recreational resource, then it may be possible to have an application rejected on the grounds that the land is more valuable to the local economy if it retains its current status. Perhaps the actions of Ashley Korenblat of Western Spirit Cycling and Public Land Solutions (a Moab Based non-profit), who was quick off the mark in getting businesses to sign a letter in protest, has helped in getting the Slickrock trail land excluded from the next round of oil and gas lease sales on these grounds.
The press release from the BLM reads:
‘Today, the BLM is announcing that parcels 11 and 12 located within the Sand Flats Special Recreation Management Area near Moab, Utah will not be included in the June 2020 competitive oil and gas lease sale. To provide certainty to the public, the BLM is sharing this information with the public prior to issuing the June competitive oil and gas lease sale environmental assessment (EA). The BLM has not yet offered any parcels for the June 2020 lease sale.
‘“We understand that the public has concerns about two of the parcels that were considered during the internal review period,” said Moab Field Manager Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt. “After careful consideration and analysis
over the last two months, those parcels will not be included in the proposed June oil and gas lease sale.”
‘During the internal review and consultation periods, the BLM may decide whether to include certain parcels in a lease sale that the public has submitted as informal expressions of interest. The June oil and gas lease sale EA will identify which parcels may be offered in the competitive lease sale, as well as potential impacts, and helps the public to make informed comments. The BLM plans to issue the EA for public review and comment during the week of Feb. 23, 2020.
‘Acting Canyon Country District Manager Brian Quigley shared, “Recreation access is a priority of ours—as well as responsible energy development—and both provide important economic benefits to Utah. As a resident,
recreator, and manager of public lands in Moab, I understand the public’s concerns.”
‘Nicollee added, “We are committed to supporting recreation and protecting natural resources in the Moab Field Office and to listening to our neighbors and representatives in the local communities. We have successfully
comanaged the Sand Flats Special Recreation Management Area with Grand County since 1994 and we value that enduring relationship. We are also proud to manage a mountain biking trail system that is internationally
renowned and enjoyed by many.”
‘The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, as amended, and the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 require the BLM to conduct quarterly, competitive oil and gas lease sales in Utah.‘
While the Slickrock trail might be safe for now, this brush with the oil and gas industry highlights the potential for conflict over land use. If a world famous trail location like Moab can be at risk of losing trails to extraction activities, what about the lesser known trails in small towns without the tourism income to argue against it? We often hear the words ‘I go mountain biking to get away from politics’, but politics shapes policy, and policy is going to affect where you can ride. If you want to keep your trails, you may need to be prepared to fight for them. It’s a good time to seek out your local trails advocacy group and show your support.