SALT LAKE CITY -- An exploratory land lease agreement to a Texas oil company by a quasi-government agency was described as flawed by the governor Tuesday.
Utah hunters and fishermen were angered after the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration made the move behind closed doors. Under the agreement, oil company Anadarko is allowed to explore 80,000 acres in the Book Cliffs, which is located in eastern Utah.
Less than 24 hours after hunters and fishermen went public with its concerns with SITLA's decision, Gov. Gary Herbert came out with a statement saying, "This agreement that they've had with the Book Cliffs and Anadarko, which was just passed by their board I think is flawed in the process and more flawed in the potential outcomes."
SITLA’s independent board voted Aug. 23 to allow the oil company to explore the 80,000 acres of Books Cliff – but 20,000 of that acreage is part of an area known as Little Creek activists want preserved.
Little Creek is a road-less area in the mountainous landscape. Bill Christensen, regional director with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation said it’s an extremely special area.
“It's one of the last remaining road-less places with a kind of wildlife that are unbelievable, a bear, a lion unbelievable deer and elk for hunters, blue ribbon trout streams," Christensen said.
Christensen applauded the governor on his quick response.
"The only thing that was surprising was how quickly the governor came back and made the point that this is unique area and it needs special protection," he said.
SITLA now says they told conservation groups about their oil and gas lease to Anadarko after the vote and claims the board wasn't allowed to tell them earlier because of privacy reasons.
"When a company approaches us and wants confidentiality we agreed to that -- their trying to protect their interests," said Deen Loyola, the Public Information Officer with Utah Trust Lands Administration.
The agency's board however, which has one member appointed by the governor now has to face the pressure to review the process.
"We will certainly take his comments and concerns under advisement as an agency and I'm sure our board of trustees will do the same," Loyola said.
Herbert said SITLA needs to take a step back and reconsider its decision before moving forward.