|Salazar right to cancel drilling leases
Salt Lake Tribune
|Updated:10/14/2009 05:47:00 PM MDT
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached the right decision last week when he put eight parcels of land near Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Desolation Canyon on the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon near Price off-limits to oil and gas drilling.
Drilling leases on the parcels, which encompass 7,670 acres, were auctioned by the Bureau of Land Management last December as the Bush administration rushed to open as much public land as possible to energy development before leaving Washington. Salazar rightly criticized the sale and his predecessor's disregard for the ecological treasures at the sites and willingness to sidestep environmental assessments routinely required before putting land on the auction block.
The sale was the subject of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups when it was disrupted by a protester, Tim DeChristopher, who offered bogus bids in order to save these lands from the degradation of energy development. He's facing felony charges. Later, a federal judge halted the lease sale on 77 parcels, which included the eight near the protected public lands, saying the sale had violated federal law requiring thorough environmental analysis.
Salazar last week quoted from a just-released Interior Department analysis that found the risk of damage to these fragile lands -- also home to the endangered sage grouse -- would not be offset by the relatively small potential benefits of drilling them for oil and gas.
Salazar said that further study will be conducted on 52 parcels, and 17 will be sold at upcoming auctions. He said he would issue a secretarial order in 30 days detailing how his department will proceed with energy development on public land.
That will be a welcome roadmap for energy companies that are looking for long-range guidelines. And it should provide some comfort to those who seek to protect natural resources in the West, including wildlife, scenic values, recreation, ancient ruins and rock art, and water and air quality.
While domestic oil production is important to help wean America off foreign oil, and gas drilling is needed to help end our addiction to coal for electrical power and gasoline for vehicles, it would be indefensibly shortsighted to sacrifice the region's irreplaceable natural resources along the way.
Utah realizes substantial revenue from tourism that depends on outdoor recreationists. To mar the landscapes of national parks, ruin the outdoor experience of river runners, or to destroy priceless ancient rock art would be destructive to the state's economy and long-term welfare. Salazar's action on the leases will prove beneficial to Utah.