I am lucky to call Moab and Grand County home. With two national parks and other surrounding public lands as my backyard, the region allows my business and livelihood to thrive. As co-owner of Rim Mountain Bike Tours, I rely on the natural wealth of these lands to fuel my business, guiding our guests through some of the most beautiful scenery and terrain anywhere. As such, my company takes our charge to not just introduce people to these treasures but also to preserve them for future visitors and generations very seriously.
Unfortunately, the current administration in Washington, D.C. does not seem to share these values and is increasingly threatening the future of these treasured places by advancing an aggressive oil and gas development agenda near our parks and communities.
In fact, the National Park Conservation Association recently ranked two national parks in our state as some of the most threatened in the country from this administration’s oil and gas leasing policies. Canyonlands National Park, one of those parks, is one that many of us here in Moab rely on for income from a steady stream of visitors.
When our public lands are leased for oil and gas development, they are ultimately removed from the inventory of recreation assets for which Moab and Grand County are renowned, limiting the tax dollars we might collect from the visitors who spend money to enjoy and explore these areas. In fact, oil and gas development near Moab impacts my staff, clients and my business on a daily basis.
My company’s mountain bike tours often have to navigate around and near drill pads close to our parks and on public lands. The noisy and unsightly development detracts from the incredible natural beauty around this area. Both people who have lived in the region and those who have visited in the past have seen a dramatic shift away from the natural and wilderness qualities we have enjoyed in the past.
More than 900,000 acres of public land in Utah have been offered for oil and gas leasing since the Trump administration took office. Nationally, this figure reaches more than 19 million acres. At the same time, the administration has drastically decreased opportunities for the public and key stakeholders, including local communities adjacent to these public lands and the National Park Service, to have a voice in public land leasing decisions.
Additionally, our public lands are being bought for pocket change as current federal leasing policy allows lands to be leased for oil and gas development for as little as $2.00 per acre with an annual lease charge of only $1.50 per acre. And the royalty rates that oil and gas companies pay back to the federal government are only 12.5% of what they are producing, which pales in comparison to similar operations on state-owned lands, many of which charge 20% or more.
Royalty payments from lease sales are vital to local communities as they help fund needed services throughout the state, including right here in Grand County. In the past, mineral lease payments have helped fund the Canyonlands Care Center and local EMS, as well as our schools, road projects, and the building bonds for the Grand Center and the Aquatic Center. However, the current mineral lease royalty payments aren’t bringing a fair return to Grand County, which will greatly impact our ability to fund important community services moving forward.
More than just written words are needed to fight for our parks and surrounding communities. That’s why I recently joined concerned citizens from across the West to travel to Washington, D.C. to urge our members of Congress to take action. We met with staff from Representative John Curtis’s office to ask them to cosponsor a number of bills that will help reform the oil and gas leasing process and bring some balance back.
One of these bills is HR 4364, the Taxpayer Fairness for Resource Development Act and another is HR 3225, the Restoring Community Input and Public Protections in Oil and Gas Leasing Act. If enacted, these bills would bring the public back into public lands decision-making, reinstate landscape-level planning and ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair deal for resources taken from publicly owned land.
These acts would mean more money for us here from the development that is already happening as well as ensuring that any future development is appropriate and balances the needs of our community and our parks with the need for oil and gas. I urge Representative Curtis to take a hard look at these common-sense bills and support their passage.
The future of our recreation and tourism communities, both here in Moab and across the West, rely on a return of balance to a process that has lost all semblance of such.
Kirstin Peterson has been co-owner of Rim Mountain Bike Tours since 1990 and has served the Moab community through terms on the Moab City Council, City Planning Commission and the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District as well as being an active member of the Trail Mix Committee.