The Energy 202: Trump administration decides against drilling for oil under popular Utah bike trail

February 24
THE LIGHTBULB

After a public outcry in Utah, the Trump administration backed down from the idea of bringing oil and gas drilling to one of the best-known biking trails in the world.

 

The Bureau of Land management said Friday it decided against selling the right to drill for oil and gas under the state’s Slickrock Trail. Mountain bikers and off-road motorcyclists have come from around the world for more than a half-century to ride the rolling petrified sand dunes in this remote corner of southeast Utah.

“We understand that the public has concerns about two of the parcels that were considered during the internal review period,” BLM’s Moab field manager Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt said. “After careful consideration and analysis over the last two months, those parcels will not be included in the proposed June oil and gas lease sale.”

The agency said last month it was considering leasing two parcels of land in the Sand Flats Recreation Area after they were nominated by an anonymous person or company for an auction scheduled for June.

But the potential sale prompted an outpouring of concern from elected officials in Grand County and its largest city, Moab, as well as from President Trump ally and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who worried about what pumpjacks and other oil infrastructure would do to the area’s growing tourism economy.

“I’m super-duper grateful,” Emily Niehaus, the mayor of Moab, said of the BLM’s decision to defer the parcels from the lease sale. “This is a relief for all of us who live and work in Moab.”

The leases would have covered two-thirds of the looping 10.5-mile trail. Any buyer would have had to drill horizontally for the oil and gas from nearby state and private land to diminish damage to the landscape. The agency said it takes seriously concerns about how energy development would have hurt the tourism industry in Moab, which also sits at the doorstep of Arches National Park.

“Recreation access is a priority of ours—as well as responsible energy development—and both provide important economic benefits to Utah,” said Brian Quigley, BLM acting manager for the southeast Utah district. “As a resident, recreator and manager of public lands in Moab, I understand the public’s concerns.”

Ashley Korenblat, who runs the Moab-based mountain biking outfitter Western Spirit Cycling, is glad to see the BLM changed its mind on Slickrock, but worries about the administration’s plans to continue leasing lands at a rapid clip.

The Trump administration has leased millions of acres of federal land and waters in an effort to boost domestic energy production as part of its “energy dominance” agenda.

“It’s a little bit like winning the battle but not the war,” Korenblat said. “If we leave the current system in place, it will happen again.”

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