The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made the decision to extend the comment period for the proposal to lease land for oil and gas expansion in the local area. This proposed development site is extremely close to Zion National Park, a popular tourist area. Extending the comment period will allow residents, those who oppose the lease, and others, to voice their opinion on the proposed development. Rather than the commenting period coming to a close on February 10th, it has now been extended to March 9th. This extension comes after requests from the National Park Service and other invested individuals.
The main issues
There are many aspects of this lease that are controversial. While the general consensus is that oil development is important, the main question is, is this the right thing for the Zion National Park area. The main concerns have to do with the contamination of a major drinking source, the possibility of damaging the park as a tourist attraction, and air quality and other environmental conditions. These concerns are valid and should be addressed before the official lease signing.
The area of land that could be leased for gas and oil is very close to the future site of a water reservoir near Anderson Junction. This reservoir is to be used at a potable water source for the surrounding area. Many residents and conservationists worry that oil and gas extraction will compromise the water quality. Since there is no hard science on the exact impact on drinking water, many find it important to err on the side of caution. Quality drinking water is just one of the major concerns about this development site.
Another major concern is the impact it will have on tourism. Last year alone, over 4 million people visited Zion National Park and the surrounding areas. The main reason for the visits is to marvel at the beautiful scenery and landscapes. There are two parcels of land located near very popular areas of Zion National Park. Kolob Terrace Road is a popular scenic roadway that many tourists travel. Since one parcel is along this path, it could have a negative impact on how visitors view the area.
In addition to the risk of the natural beauty of the park being compromised, many are worried about the influx of local traffic and heavy machinery on the roads. During the busy season, roadways already experience heavy congestion. If the amount of traffic increases due to the oil and gas lease, it may make local travel, and scenic drives, extremely difficult.
Tourism is the number one business in the Zion area, and the economy benefits greatly from the visitors. If this moneymaker is compromised by a gas and oil lease, the local economy could be irreparably damaged. This would trickle down to local shops, restaurants, hotels, and all other local industries. It is imperative for the success of the area that tourism continues.
If the landscape is less desirable to look at, the roadways are difficult to navigate, and the economy begins to struggle, people will not want to move to the area. If there begins to be a reduced number of people moving to the area, or residents decide to move elsewhere to avoid the oil and gas development, the area will go into a very sharp decline.
The third concern that many people have is the environmental impact this lease will have. Air quality issues, water contamination, and greenhouse gas emissions are all valid concerns when speaking of the oil and gas lease. The importance of protecting the environment, both locally and globally, must be weighed with the benefits of gas and oil development. A decrease in environmental stability will also decrease the value of the surrounding land. This risk may not be worth it when you consider how important Zion National Park is.
Altogether, 4,730 acres are being considered for lease in the area surrounding Zion. Much of this area can be seen from some of the more popular places to experience the scenic views of Zion. The three parcels surround the perimeter of the park, in some areas as close as 1.5 miles from the Zion National Park border. The overall impact of this lease being approved has many implications that must be explored.
What can you do?
Those who are concerned about the proposed gas and oil lease can take a variety of actions. There is currently a Change.org petition available to sign, which has accumulated 3,420 signatures as of Thursday evening. By signing this petition, you are showing that you do not believe that the Zion area is the right place for this type of development.
Another option, since the comment period has been extended, is to submit a comment to the Bureau of Land Management. To do this, you can mail your comment to the following address:
Bureau of Land Management, St. George Field Office
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790
Attn: Dave Corry
If you prefer to submit your comment electronically, you can send an email to the following address:
Email: [email protected]
While all comments will be considered, the ones which will have the biggest impact are comments which provide new technical or scientific information. However, if you feel strongly about this topic, even submitting your opinion or stance will help the BLM to make their decision. The final auction is scheduled to be held during the week of June 12th, 2017. At that time, it will be decided whether the most visited area in Utah will be home to gas and oil development.