While headlines across the county screamed about a land rush in the past week, the on-the-ground reality tells a much different story in San Juan County… at least for now.
“‘Outrageous’ Gold Rush-Style Grab of Public Lands to Begin Friday” screamed EcoWatch.
“Our Public Lands FOR SALE to Big Energy” said the Sierra Club.
Several newspapers joined the fray, with a headline in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “Lands stripped from Utah monuments open to claims, leases by oil, gas, coal and uranium companies”.
What captured the attention of the media was the implementation of the changes to Bears Ears National Monument, effective 60 days after President Donald Trump’s proclamation on December 4, 2018.
Apparently, many assumed that the official change had people lined up as if it was the Arkanasas – Oklahoma border in 1889.
The Associated Press reported, “For anyone interested in the uranium on the lands stripped from the Bears Ears National Monument, all they need to do is stake a few corner posts in the ground, pay a $212 initial fee and send paperwork to the federal government.”
The reality appears to be much different, as experts state there are not significant reserves in most areas of the previous monument.
According to the Utah Geological Survey (UGS), “Bears Ears National Monument as originally designated does not hold significant energy development potential. The vast majority of energy potential resides outside the monument boundary.”
The UGS adds, “There is minimal resource development potential for uranium and potash... Additionally, there are no coal or wind resources in the area and all the oil and gas wells within the boundary are plugged and abandoned.”
In addition, more than 95 percent of the land within the initial 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument still retains significant restrictions on mineral extraction.
The public lands that were taken out of the monument boundaries by Trump’s proclamation reverted to their prior status before the December 28, 2016 designation by President Barack Obama.
The lands returned to their previous and unchanged federal mineral extraction restrictions. These include restrictions for public land within wilderness designations, national monuments, natural areas, and other special stipulations.
Local officials state that these existing and unchanged restrictions make a land grab for the extraction of oil, gas, uranium and other minerals highly unlikely.
Confusion continues over several key issues as they relate to Bears Ears National Monument, including the fact that there is a single Bears Ears National Monument with two units: the Shash Jaa and the Indian Creek unit. There are not two separate new national monuments in the county.
Legislation before Congress, sponsored by Rep. John Curtis, would create two separate monuments. However, that legislation is just beginning to be heard and faces significant obstacles.