From The Durango Herald (Associated Press)
SALT LAKE CITY – An independent state agency announced Friday it was putting on hold a lease for oil and gas drilling in a wild area of Utah in a concession to big-game hunters who rallied the opposition of Gov. Gary Herbert.
Sportsmen’s groups hailed the agreement between state-lands managers and Anadarko Petroleum. It delays until 2016 exploratory drilling in the 28-square-mile Bogart Canyon area of the Book Cliffs in Grand County.
The board of the Utah Trust Lands Administration voted Thursday to scale back the drilling lease for the Texas-based company. Anadarko can still sink wells on 150 square miles of more developed lands in the Book Cliffs region.
The deal gives Herbert and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop more time to explore federal land-trade opportunities that could compensate Utah for pulling back drilling in this area, officials said Friday.
The chairman of the state-lands agency said it will “fully cooperate with Congressman Bishop’s broader consolidation effort.”
“We are anxious to see if the process can provide an exchange proposal equal to or better than the agency’s current land position in the Book Cliffs,” said agency chairman Steve Ostler, a former executive for real-estate developer The Boyer Co.
Herbert announced his opposition Aug. 27, acknowledging the trust-lands agency has a responsibility to make money for Utah schools, but “clearly, a lot of groups are upset” about the Book Cliffs lease. He suggested the agency look to a longer-term strategy of trading less developed state lands for federal preservation, while taking other mineral-rich federal lands.
Officials aggressively developed Utah’s portfolio of checkerboard lands inside federal domain in Utah with real-estate sales and oil-and-gas drilling leases. The agency manages 3.4 million acres of trust lands remaining from a statehood grant for the benefit of the schools. The trust is valued at $1.67 billion, up from $60 million in the past two decades.
Officials expressed some concern Friday that back-pedaling on oil and gas leasing could shortchange funding for Utah’s schools. For that reason, the state Board of Education has endorsed the original Anadarko lease as the best decision for public schools.
Other beneficiaries of the state trust include a hospital and school at University of Utah dedicated to mining, schools for the deaf and blind and the Utah State Hospital.