SlC rally protests BlM drilling leases

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:34 PM

Paul Foy, The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 100 people held a rally Monday in Salt Lake City to protest the federal government's plan to lease 125 square miles of the San Rafael Swell for oil and gas drilling.

The San Rafael Swell is a largely untouched landscape of canyons, reefs, mesa tops and hoodoos in central Utah. It's not a national or state park or national monument, and it has no official federally designated wilderness. But climbers, hikers and rafters say it combines some of Utah's best open terrain.

The Bureau of Land Management plans to lease the 55 parcels Nov. 19 as part of a larger auction.

Among demonstrators at the BLM's Utah headquarters were a busload from Black Diamond Equipment, the Salt Lake City-based maker of climbing, skiing and backpacking gear. CEO Peter Metcalf said BLM was out of touch with Utah's outdoor culture by proposing to lease wilderness-quality lands for drilling.

The BLM says it scaled back requests from drillers to open even more of the San Rafael Swell, leaving areas that were near or between existing wells or undeveloped leased parcels. It conducted an environmental analysis before making the decision, BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said.

Opponents call the auction a foot in the door for driller with a total of 80 percent of the San Rafael Swell made available for leasing. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has filed a lawsuit to overturn land-use plans developed by the former George W. Bush administration that opened more wild areas of Utah for drilling.

Those plans remain in play under the new administration. The BLM said it improved the quality of its environmental analysis "on the front end" to reduce delays caused by administrative appeals and lawsuits.

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