This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
After years of wrangling, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management last week released its Moab Master Leasing Plan, an effort to manage oil and gas leasing in one of the BLM's most popular tourist areas.
Like so many things coming out of the Obama administration now, there is question as to how much the Moab MLP will be embraced by the Trump administration. Energy companies and Utah's governor have been pushing back against the MLP, which they see as another unneeded government layer that makes Utah's oil and gas industry less competitive.
That argument has carried the day in rural Utah, but in Moab nowadays it comes with a counterargument: The oil and gas wells may be making Utah's tourism industry less competitive.
Moab is not like Vernal, which has more oil and gas and less recreation nearby. The Moab area faces the direct conflicts between recreation and energy. Campers on BLM land near Moab see large flares from drill sites burning off escaping natural gas. That makes some of them want to go someplace else. That is why Grand County Council supports the MLP.
Moab also isn't like Monticello and Blanding, which have developed less tourism infrastructure. Some of the Moab MLP extends into San Juan County, and the commission there is opposed to it because it conflicts with the "San Juan County Energy Zone," established by the Utah Legislature to prioritize "efficient development of energy and mineral resources."
Much has changed since the BLM first started talking about Master Leasing Plans after President Obama took office. As recently as three years ago, oil was trading around $100 a barrel and drillers were punching holes across eastern Utah. Now, oil prices are half that, and new drilling has virtually stopped.
Meanwhile, Moab's tourism industry is now generating more than a quarter billion dollars annually. It is built around two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, and both are surrounded by BLM land. The MLP does not affect hundreds of thousands of acres already under lease, and it does not prevent oil and gas development on all remaining lands. But it removes more than 145,000 acres from leasing consideration because the drill rigs and roads would be directly visible from the parks' viewpoints. It also requires other restrictions on another 306,000 acres, all intended to keep tourists from missing out on the experience they've paid to have.
If the next administration does undo the Moab MLP, we may find out what it takes to slow down the tourism economy in southeastern Utah. Is that really what we want?