Sand Flats Oil and Gas Leases

This map shows the parcels within the Sand Flats Recreation Area that were considered for oil and gas development outlined in red. The area outlined in purple is Moab city limits. [Moab Sun News]

The Moab City Council unanimously approved a resolution formally opposing the inclusion of two parcels in the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease sale.

Those parcels are within the Sand Flats Recreation Area, a beloved recreation area just outside of Moab city limits.

The Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management is in the planning stages of the statewide oil and gas lease sale in June, which could include the two pieces of land.

The proposed inclusion has set off a wave of alarm in the Moab area, with residents and local environmental groups raising concerns about the plot’s suitability and the potential for damage to the region’s aquifer.

The official public comment period on the lease sale does not open until Feb. 20, but the council hopes the BLM will remove the parcels from the sale before that time.

At the Jan. 28 City Council meeting, Mayor Emily Niehaus said that she had spoken with Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann, and that McGann said she plans to introduce a similar resolution to the county council.

The City’s resolution notes that the two parcels in question sit on top of the City of Moab’s “sole source aquifer” and “lie within the watershed for Moab and Spanish Valley.”

In an editorial for the Moab Sun News, Bob O’Brien wrote that “Potential sources of contamination for our sole source aquifer include petroleum mineral exploration and geophysical drilling; accidental spills along roadways; and abandoned but unplugged petroleum, mineral, and geophysical wells as mentioned in the Federal Register. These threats would be created by drilling and/or fracking within the Sand Flats area.”

O’Brien is on the Board of Canyonlands Watershed Council. He also serves on the Town of Castle Valley Town Council and the Grand County Planning Commission.

Land within the Sand Flats Recreation Area are classified as “No Surface Occupancy,” meaning that while the parcels may be leased for oil and gas development, no development on the surface of those plots can take place. An alternative for developers might be directional drilling, in which a surface operation on a nearby parcel facilitates horizontal drilling to extract underground resources from beneath the “No-Surface Occupancy” parcels.

The resolution approved by the City Council also highlights that the Sand Flats Recreation Area, including the Slickrock Bike Trail, and the nearby Arches National Park are “internationally recognized showpieces for the City of Moab and for the State of Utah.”

“This particular area is our Sand Flats Bike Trail,” Niehaus pointed out of the two nominated parcels. “There are a lot of places where oil and gas development really fit with the landscape, and this is just probably not one of them.”

Moab City Council Meetings are held every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the City Center Council Chambers (217 E Center Street). Meeting are also live-streamed on the Moab City Youtube channel.