SALT LAKE CITY — After receiving backlash from hunters and fishers, the School and Institutional Lands Administration has decided to delay a portion of an oil and gas lease in the Book Cliffs area.
The Book Cliffs is a mountainous landscape inhabited by wildlife. In August, SITLA made a decision to award an oil and gas lease to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. The deal would allow the petroleum company access to 96,000 acres in the Book Cliffs area.
SITLA announced that a decision was reached Thursday to delay the exploratory mineral lease within 18,000 acres of the Bogart Canyon area until 2016. The decision was made during a meeting with representatives of SITLA, Anadarko, and the offices of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.
Ally Isom, Gov. Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, said the delay will give them an opportunity to evaluate options.
“We feel that in the next 27 months it allows us to explore all the options that haven’t been previously explored, and that’s all we’ve been asking for all along,” she said.
According to SITLA, the initial contract remains largely intact, allowing for oil and natural gas exploration on three large school trust parcels in the Book Cliffs area in Uintah and Grand counties. The decision will only delay activity in the Bogart Canyon area, which is an area deemed most sensitive by wildlife groups.
“I firmly believe, as it has been demonstrated in other areas, that this is one of those things that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive but can be a win-win for hunters and sportsmen,” said SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy.
While oil production will move forward on the other 80,000 acres of land, SITLA has agreed to consider alternative pieces land that could take the place of Bogart Canyon.
“The sportsmen, as well as of course the congressman and the governor’s office, have indicated they believe the two-year timeline is sufficient for them to step in and evaluate and demonstrate that there may be other opportunities,” Christy said. “They’re not saying that that is absolutely the case, but they just want the opportunity to explore it to see if we could entertain and find more palatable to us.”
SITLA would be willing to trade the Bogart Canyon land for another piece of property controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, if it had similar or better possibilities for oil production. In the meantime, according to Christy, the delay does not effect the cash flow to Utah’s schools.
“We’re not necessarily accountable to the public at large,” he said. “We are accountable to our beneficiaries, in this case the public education system. We don’t believe we’re in a position, because of simply the delayed dimensions of this, that it compromises the school children in any way.”