What action is the BLM taking?
The Bureau of Land Management – Canyon Country District, is announcing the publication in the Federal Register of the Record of Decision for the Moab Master Leasing Plan/Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments (Approved Plan) for the Moab and Monticello Field Offices, Utah. The Approved Plan is the culmination of extensive public outreach and collaboration with partners and stakeholders, and will guide future leasing and development of oil, gas, and potash resources on approximately 785,000 acres in the planning area. The Approved Plan promotes responsible energy development and includes protections for the iconic scenery, valuable natural resources, and exciting recreation opportunities enjoyed by our many visitors and local communities.
What are Master Leasing Plans?
Master Leasing Plans (MLP) were launched by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in May 2010 as part of a sweeping oil and gas leasing reform initiative. A MLP serves as a roadmap to facilitate balanced and orderly leasing and development of energy resources on public lands while protecting important areas that support wildlife, clean air and water, and outdoor recreation for local communities and their visitors.
What is Leasing Reform?
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar introduced leasing reform to address a system that was close to the breaking point with nearly half of all proposed parcels receiving community protests and a substantial proportion resulting in litigation. The reforms were designed to encourage stakeholder input early in the planning process and ensure that decisions are being made in a more careful and collaborative manner. The result is a more thorough environmental review process that leads to an orderly approach to determine which lands are appropriate for leasing, and ensuring that issues are resolved early in the process. The leasing reform initiative encompassed a three-pronged approach:
• Standardizing lease requirements for consistency and fairness;
• Providing a more thorough lease-sale parcel review process; and
• Analyzing leasing and development areas defined in Master Leasing Plans (MLPs).
What’s unique about the Moab Master Leasing Plan?
The Approved Plan is the first stand-alone MLP effort (conducted outside of a land use planning effort) for the BLM and the first MLP to be completed in Utah. Unlike other MLPs, which focus solely on oil and gas development, the MLP/FEIS also analyzes potash exploration and development. The BLM-Utah determined it was necessary to include potash due to a significant increase in potash prospecting permit applications and interest in exploration, which occurred after completion of the 2008 Resource Management Plan. Similar to other MLPs, the Approved Plan is focused on new leasing actions within the MLP Planning Area. There are valid and existing leases in the MLP area that will be managed under their existing lease terms.
Why are you proposing amendments to the existing Resource Management Plans?
In order to implement the Approved Plan, it is necessary to amend previous leasing category designations documented in the 2008 Records of Decision (ROD) for the Moab and Monticello Field Office Resource Management Plans. The BLM has prepared a ROD and Approved Plan documenting the decisions and rationale behind them. The Approved Plan only pertains to mineral leasing decisions, so the existing Resource Management Plans still provide guidance for other land use designations such as special recreation management areas, recreation focus areas, and natural areas, as outlined in the previous RODs.
What are some of the key elements of the Moab Approved Master Leasing Plan?
The Approved Plan focuses protection on areas with high scenic quality (such as public lands visible from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks), high-use recreation areas, and other areas with sensitive resources and focuses energy development and exploration in areas with fewer resource conflicts. To achieve this, the Approved Plan:
• Prioritizes new leasing of oil/gas and potash in different parts of the Planning Area to reduce conflicts from overlapping development and allow for orderly development;
• Identifies areas suitable for potash processing facilities;
• Involves a phased approach to potash leasing to test the feasibility of potash development;
• Includes a diligent development stipulation for potash leasing (10 years);
• Minimizes surface disturbance in sensitive areas by reducing the density of well sites; requiring multiple wells per pad, co-location of facilities, and spacing of pads up to 2 miles apart;
• Protects National Park viewsheds by strategically closing about 145,000 acres of BLM lands to mineral leasing;
• Includes provisions for landscape and compensatory mitigation;
• Allows for energy development, and provides additional surface protection to about 305,000 acres that are highly valued for scenery and recreation, through the use of No Surface Occupancy stipulations;
• Includes a comprehensive list of the most current and state-of-the art best management practices to reduce, prevent, or avoid adverse environmental or social impacts; and
• Provides additional protections for the Old Spanish National Historic Trail.
How is climate change addressed?
The supporting documentation, including the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) addresses greenhouse gas emissions that may contribute to climate change. Chapter 3 contains a thorough look at current climate and predicted changes as well as existing and emissions. Chapter 4 contains an analysis of how those emissions might change under various alternatives. The Approved Plan prescribes additional best management practices, leasing stipulations, and changes to leasing designations that are anticipated to reduce overall emissions compared to the No Action Alternative. BLM continues to work towards increasing renewable energy production nationally, but development opportunities for renewable energy is more limited in this planning area. In the meantime, traditional energy development remains an important investment for meeting domestic energy needs.
Were tribes involved in this planning effort?
Native American organizations were invited to participate at all phases of the planning process. Early and continued consultation with Native American Tribes throughout the planning process is an integral part of developing comprehensive planning documents which seek input from all affected and interested individuals, groups and organizations.
How was the public involved?
BLM held public comment periods including public meetings at the initiation of the project, during development of preliminary alternatives, and for the Proposed MLP and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The BLM received over 300 comments in the scoping phases of the process, which were used in developing the range of alternatives and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, including the preferred alternative. The BLM received over 28,000 public comment letters and emails during the review of Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The BLM’s response to comments is found in Appendix G of the FEIS.
Are there other MLPs?
In all, the BLM has completed, or begun work on, nearly a dozen MLP areas in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and has completed four MLPs in Colorado. In Utah, the BLM initiated the San Rafael Desert MLP in spring of 2016. The BLM believes the plan will settle longstanding lease protests in Emery and Wayne Counties, and will help resolve litigation that resulted in the placement of several leases in suspension. Based on the Moab MLP model of successful collaboration, the BLM intends to offer the public an opportunity to review and comment on preliminary alternatives for this MLP too.