Utah environmental groups are asking federal agencies to delay decisions about oil and gas leasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal land management officials are being asked to wait until the public can comment on proposed projects in Grand and San Juan Counties.
The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled June for oil and gas lease sales in Grand and San Juan counties totaling nearly 4000 acres. Another sale in September will involve more than 1 million acres of Utah land. A time of pandemic is not the time for federal land management agencies to expect the public to participate in a typical land use comment process said Carly Ferro, Director of the Sierra Club Utah Chapter.
"Their lives have truly been upended," she said. "They are struggling and grappling with this new somewhat normal, and how to provide for themselves and their families. People may not be able to have the space to provide the concerns that they have on these particular decisions."
The Utah Sierra Club chapter, Southwest Region for National Parks Conservation Association, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and the Center for Biological Diversity have sent a letter to BLM Acting State Director Anita Bilbao and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, asking them to halt public comment periods, rulemakings, and other actions as communities face the coronavirus crisis.
"We just encourage state agencies to the federal government to really consider what the democratic processes mean for people," Ferro said. "So taking a step back in how we engage in decision making that could have long term negative impacts on communities and environments."
Groups opposing oil and gas development in Utah say the Trump administration is exploiting the public’s distraction during the pandemic to open up Utah’s most pristine wild lands to more oil and gas drilling.