From The Durango Herald (Associated Press)
SALT LAKE CITY – Despite opposition from Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah State Board of Education has endorsed a lease that would open wildlands in eastern Utah to oil and gas exploration.
Board members on Friday voted 15-0 to back a decision by the Utah Trust Lands Administration to lease up to 155 square miles, or 96,000 acres, of the Book Cliffs region to Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for five years.
The trust-lands agency plans to sign a deal next week with Anadarko to allow drilling on the state lands, including a scenic portion known for its wildlife along the Tavaputs Plateau in Grand County.
Herbert and Bishop have sought to keep that area around Bogart Canyon – cherished by hunters and environmentalists – out of the lease. They complained the agency’s secret dealings with Anadarko excluded the interests and views of Utah residents.
Bishop is spearheading negotiations designed to resolve Utah’s long-running battles over what public lands should be preserved and what public lands should be used for resource extraction. The effort involves hunters, environmentalists, rural county commissioners and the oil and gas industry.
“Inclusion of this small area in the … lease complicates our larger planning effort and could jeopardize the possibility of exchanging one of the effort’s crown jewels for developable land that is potentially even more beneficial for Utah’s schools,” Herbert and Bishop wrote in a letter to the education board.
“Leasing the southern portion of the Book Cliffs could very seriously jeopardize the broader lands consolidation effort, as well as an optimal return for Utah’s schoolchildren,” the two Republicans said.
But asking Anadarko to back off Bogart Canyon would devalue the overall lease and cost the school trust a potentially lucrative revenue stream amounting to more than $6 million per well, some education board members said.
State-lands agency director Kevin Carter said drilling would not impede hunting and other public uses around Bogart Canyon.
“We think we can work with our lessee partner and do this development in such a way that it retains the majority of its natural character and still allows us to extract from it those things that are important,” he said.
Herbert has limited influence over the independent trust-lands administration, which controls square-mile sections of land awarded to Utah at statehood.
The agency manages a checkerboard of 3.4 million acres of trust lands remaining from a statehood grant for the benefit of the schools. It raises most of its revenue from oil and gas leasing.