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Oil and Gas in Moab
Submitted By: Sam Lightner, Jr. on Nov 25, 2008

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I'm either the chairman or the president of the Moab Area Climbers Alliance (MACA)... I can never remember which. Anyway, as such I sent out a letter to MACA members this morning urging them to write a brief letter to the BLM about the oil and gas leases that have just come up for sale in the Moab area. I figured since many of you love climbing here that you also might want to comment. The letter follows below. Also, if you want to be on the MACA mailing list just send me your email and you will get our emails.


Hey Gang

Those of you who live in Moab are quite aware of this, and those who don't are also probably up on it. The BLM is auctioning off oil and gas in various places around Moab. It absolutely amazes me that the same group that might whine about climbing anchors can do something like this, but that is the nature of our federal government.

Anyway, the area's threatened, as far as climbing is concerned, are Big Bend, Tusher Canyon, and Hell Roaring Canyon. The wells will be restricted to stay above the Rim (not at river level) at Big Bend, so you wont' have to look at them when your bouldering, but you will hear them. If you are on Dolofright or Lighthouse Tower, then you will be looking at wells when you top out.

Tusher Canyon (and Courthouse Pasture), which has the Monitor and Merrimac, Aeolian Tower and Echo Pinnacle, plus a number of others, will be affected and could have wells very close to the climbing. Hell Roaring Canyon, which is a great remote-climbing area with towers like The Witch, might very well have wells along its rim. You also may have wells to the west, be in the view-shed, from the Fishers.

It appears the concept of opening the land up to oil and gas where the main Moab aquifer lies has been put on the shelf... but stay tuned.

We need to write letters to the BLM and the Governor stating our opposition to this. The letters must be received BEFORE Dec. 4... thats next week. I'd include a form letter here but I found out yesterday that they give form letters far less credence than they do a short, concise, personal letter.

Send them to:

Bureau of Land Management
Utah State Office
PO Box 45155
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0155
FAX 801-539-4237


The Honorable Governor Jon Huntsman
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street, Suite 200
PO Box 142220
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

The Access Fund will be sending out a an Action Alert later today or tomorrow about this that will have the specific parcel numbers for each area to be auctioned. I'm not sure its necessary to include those in your letter if you just state the places you want preserved.

OK. Thats it. Thanks Gang

Sam Lightner, Jr.

OK... Here is the letter I wrote to the BLM and the Governor. You can use it as a template as it has the pertinent info. However, dont copy it verbatim as that then makes any copy they receive less valuable (land managers pay attention to that sort of thing).

Moab Area Climbers Alliance
377 Williams Way
Moab Utah 84532
(435) 259 6639

Bureau of Land Management
P.O. Box 45155
Salt Lake City, Utah 84145-0155

Cc: The Honorable Governor Jon Huntsman

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of the Moab Area Climbers Alliance to voice our disapproval of the sale of oil and gas leases in the Moab area. While we recognize the need for oil and gas in our society, we feel that the quest for those resources should not come with a sacrifice of other resources that are unique.

A number of the parcels to be leased contain climbing resources that are known all over the world. To climbers, the towers at Big Bend and the buttes of Tusher Canyon, Courthouse Pasture, and Hell Roaring Canyon are icons for recreation in Utah. To place oil and gas wells so close to climbing resources that are well known to climbers in Australia, Europe, and Asia, as well as the North America, would send a message that recreation should be done elsewhere in the world.

As we stated, we are not opposed to the quest for oil and gas. We recognize that we as a society need those resources. We also recognize that the BLM has a responsibility to allocate its various resources to users with far differing needs. However, Moab has become a destination for recreation (primarily biking, climbing, and ohv) and mineral extraction does not go well with those uses. We need gas, but the minimal amounts that will be drawn from this area are not worth the sacrifice everyone must make to get it.

Specifically, the resources that would be adversely affected for climbers on the Porcupine Rim are 216-219, 221, and 223. In the Tusher/Mill Canyons and Courthouse Pasture area the parcels are 180-186, 196 and 197. Gas extraction on parcels 176 and 177 will adversely affect the climbing resources in Hell Roaring Canyon, and parcels 217 and 218 will ruin views for anyone at Delicate Arch and The Windows of Arches National Park.

Again, we are not opposed to mineral extraction. However, these resources need to be protected.


Sam Lightner Jr.
President, Moab Area Climbers Alliance (MACA)

Comments on Oil and Gas in Moab Add Comment
Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Dec 22, 2008
By trey
Nov 25, 2008
Can you be more specific about how climbing is affected (other than the obvious unsighlty wells)? Thanks!
By John McNamee
From: Littleton, CO
Nov 25, 2008
Link to forum discussion
By John McNamee
From: Littleton, CO
Nov 26, 2008
I just heard on NPR that the leases are going to be pulled off the auction block....
By Richard
From: Durango, CO
Nov 26, 2008
Me too: heard it on KUNC at about 5:15 AM! The Obama team told the old administration to back-off, and they did! Hopefully we will see a lot of positive change with this new administration.
By JMK Keith
Nov 26, 2008
NO -- only the leases in town (and possibly those right next to Arches) have/will be pulled. All the leases pertaining to the climbing areas referenced in the Access Fund letter
( are still on the auction block.

"Hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Utah will still be auctioned off Dec. 19 for oil and gas drilling."

By Rick Blair
From: Denver
Nov 26, 2008
I agree with Trey, what is the direct impact to climbing access? If this is going to go through does anyone have information to contact petroleum companies involved if that is where this is headed? I think we need to think a few steps ahead on this so that climbing access is not interfered with.

After the drills are gone, I have noticed that oil/gas pumps and storage usually are in small areas with a fence around them. Aside from the visual impact, the impact on climbing may be minimal. More information would be appreciated.
By JMK Keith
Nov 26, 2008
An update today from the Access Fund:

Climbing Areas in Utah Still Threatened By Oil and Gas Leases

Yesterday the Access Fund sent you an action alert urging opposition to the Bureau of Land Management's proposed oil and gas leases that could impact world-class climbing areas near Moab, Utah. Today, after strong opposition from the National Park Service, members of Congress, and public interest groups, the BLM pulled a number of proposed leases including a few that host climbing along the River Road near Big Bend. See

However, several climbing areas are still on the auction block and your comments are needed to protect against new roads, large truck traffic, and industrial activity and infrastructure at climbing areas in Tusher Canyon, Courthouse Pasture, and Hell Roaring Canyon north of Moab. Climbs such as Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, Echo Pinnacle, and the Witch and Warlock towers could still be affected by the BLM's oil and gas auction scheduled for December 19. The sample letter in the Access Fund's November 25 action alert (found here: is still applicable, so please write the BLM and urge the protection of your unique desert climbing experiences.
By Anton Bundschu
From: Everett, WA
Nov 26, 2008
How much do one of these leases cost?
Maybe we could buy them and develop them in the way we want!
By Jeffrey Bauer
Nov 27, 2008
This is a travesty. I have spent a lot of time in Tusher and it truly is a great escape from the problems that we all have. There are some great routes put up on Putterman and the like that you should be able to experience without the "whump-whump" of pumps interrupting your day.

That being said I admit I am a hypocrite (sp?) as I have a personal attraction to this area, and the not in my "favorite escape from the economy and politics" mentality come into play. I am sure that a blockade of smelly desert climbers and their 12 dogs (each that is)will be able to ward off any oil exploration crews for while at least.
By Sam Lightner, Jr.
From: Lander, WY
Nov 27, 2008
Hey Gang,
Everyone needs to be aware that the areas north of Moab are still on the block. It looks pretty good for Big Bend, though they aren't in the clear yet. However, Tusher, Courthouse, and Hell Roaring are still to be sold.

Trey and Rick. Uhm, well, it does not actually tear down a climbing feature. However, I think most of us feel that bulldozers creating platforms, burn-off flares doing their thing, and the general truck and heavy equipment traffic is counter to what we look for in the desert climbing experience. If those things don't botheryou then this doesn't apply to you.
As I said in my letter... I think most of us (and I certainly feel this way) aren't opposed to gas exploration. We are opposed to it in certain places. This is not the right place.


"Hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Utah will still be auctioned off Dec. 19 for oil and gas drilling."


Government backs off drilling near National Parks
By PAUL FOY – 12 hours ago

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Drilling leases on and near the border of Utah's scenic national parks have been pulled from an auction block.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced its decision late Tuesday after negotiations with National Park Service officials who objected to noise, lights and air pollution near Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, all in Utah.

Some of those parcels were within 1.3 miles of Delicate Arch, a freestanding span of 33 feet that is the signature landmark at Arches near Moab, Utah.

Hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Utah will still be auctioned off Dec. 19 for oil and gas drilling.

In all, the Park Service objected to 93 parcels where drilling could drown out the sounds of wind, water and wildlife for visitors, possibly contaminate nearby springs and worsen ozone levels, Mike Snyder, the Denver-based regional Park Service director, wrote Monday in a protest letter to the bureau.

BLM maps showed the agency will remove 34 parcels from the December auction, including those bunched along park boundaries.

That was little more than a third of what the Park Service wanted eliminated.

Snyder, however, showed no disappointment. "Working with Selma Sierra, the BLM Utah state director, has resulted in the kind of resource protection that Americans want and deserve for their national parks," he said in a joint statement.

Snyder couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The BLM left some drilling parcels — including parts of three tracts near Arches park — on the auction list which critics say could still ruin park views.

"I don't know why we're that desperate to compromise the extraordinary values of the national parks. Any industrialization of areas adjacent to park creates irreparable damage," said Dave Nimkin, a regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

The BLM, he said, "would burn the Rembrandts to heat the castles."

Other leases include parcels on high cliffs along whitewater sections of Desolation Canyon, an area explored by John Wesley Powell in 1896, and plateaus populated by big game atop Nine Mile Canyon, home to thousands of ancient rock art panels.
By spectreman
Nov 27, 2008
I guess we should all stop heating our homes too. After all that's what natural gas is used for. Not trying to be a dick, just stating an obvious fact that we all use this resource every single day. Unless you want to heat your home with electricity or burn wood. Both have a bigger impact on the environment.
By Sam Lightner, Jr.
From: Lander, WY
Nov 28, 2008
I'm not sure why you guy's are missing this. The point isn't "Don't drill". I'm all for natural gas (personally, I don't speak for MACA there) and I know we need it. However, there are places we could leave it in the ground and call it our strategic reserve that we go to when times are really tough. This is one of those place. Drill for natural gas? Fine. Just not in these specific spots.
Again, not opposed to seeking the natural resources that all of us use. Just opposed to it here.
By Cornelius Jefferson
Nov 30, 2008
This isn't about heating homes. It's about the looting of public lands by private companies. It's silly to pretend that if we don't drill in wilderness areas we won't have enough energy to survive. We waste about half of what we use so maybe that is a better place to start? The bottom line is that the Bush administration is rushing to open these areas for the oil lobby that has run their administration from the beginning. There isn't any science or rational thought at work's just more of the same looting and pillaging that has defined this criminal enterprise masquerading as government.
By Jason Halladay
From: Los Alamos, NM
Nov 30, 2008
Thanks for the information, Sam. I sent off my letter.
By Ryan Huetter
From: Mammoth Lakes, CA
Dec 3, 2008
Here is a link to a MTB film showcasing the beauty of the area, with shots from Tusher and Echo Pinnacle area.
By Sam Prentice
Dec 3, 2008
On a tangential note, the timing of this auction is specifically designed to allow the sitting president to solidify executive orders before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

Executive orders have the strength of law and get little review from congress. However, they must be in effect for 30 days before becoming law. Every president that terms out uses this to his advantage (e.g., designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument by Clinton on his way out). Hence the Dec. 19 "auction".

For those who are concerned, keep your ears open to issues such as this during next two weeks. I assure you there are late hour deals happening between the two administrations as I write this!

Sam is absolutely correct that short personal letters carry signifcantly more weight.
By Greg D
From: Here
Dec 5, 2008
The letters and protests are great. Keep up the good work!

The most powerful forces at work are economics. To state what we all already know: Oil and gas drilling is a function of profitability. Profitability is a function of price. Price is a function of supply and demand.

We must look at our own use of these commodoties. I spent several hours yesterday sealing doors and window to prevent heat loss. Last year we installed a programable thermostat. It turns the heat down to 55 when we are sleeping and at work. Stellar Light Solar

is installing a solar hot water system in our home this year and a solar photovoltaic system next year. We are expecting more than 60% reduction in our energy use as a result of these actions.

I love the Moab area. I spend more time there than anywhere else on the planet outside of my home area. I recently "discovered" the window route on echo pinnacle

on found it to be a fantastic route in a beautiful setting. i would hate to see this pristine area become home to oil rigs.

Lets keep up the good work with letters and protest and lets do what we can to decrease demand for these commodities in our own lives.
By Joe A
From: Moab, Utah
Dec 6, 2008
By kirra
Dec 7, 2008
Thanks Sam (& et al.) for time & attention to this & Joe for posting article link. Did I interpret correctly that Council Chairman Ciarus thinks this is all *good* for tourism because visitors will come to the area to see drill rigs..??

IMO, nothing wrong with selective drilling lease allocation. If folks don't speak up, it will be assumed that nobody cares.
By Northwest Corner
From: Bend
Dec 12, 2008
Another grim byproduct of these oil and gas wells, that is often overlooked, is the lights that accompany them, and they are usually very bright lights. One of the things I've always loved most about the desert is being out in the middle of nowhere at night and not seeing a light for miles in any direction. The places on earth where you can experience this are rapidly dwindling, especially here in the states. Because you can often see great distances in the desert, just one rig can ruin that experience for a vast area. The ones that have gone up around the island area in the last 10 years or so have seriously altered the experience already on many of the rim areas. It will be such a bummer if someday the only way you will be able to avoid seeing lights is to stay down in the canyons. They never talk about the lights when they are touting their new "soft footprint" approach.
By garrettem
Dec 20, 2008
I hope you all realize that Oil, gas, and mining are responsible for a large majority of the trails and public access points we have into public lands. Where did all the roads in Moab come from anyway or why is Moab there...Uranium maybe? It isn't a terrible thing and as others have stated we all need natural gas. The disturbance is usually only temporary the nature of oil and gas drilling is that a field is developed and a well head is put in place.
Also, the light polution is only an issue when a rig is on a location. This is a very small amount of time, maybe a few months depending on the drilling program. Once the rig is gone and the wells have been put into production, they are no more noticeable than a piece of pipe sticking out of the ground. I don't really think any of it will affect climbing in the long term. Others are the ones that have to worry...but many mtn bike trails in the area are just old gas exploration and uranium roads.
More importantly however is that just because the lease is there doesn't mean a company will develop it. Gas isn't everywhere, new areas are expensive to develop, and rock formations can change dramatically over a short distance. We should all look at the areas proposed and ask; What areas already have wells in place?. And pick your battles accordingly. If wells are already in place, that means there is a "science" to justify drilling, geologic evidence from previous wells, pipeline, and other infrastructure which can be very costly to put in place. This means a company will likely drill closer to these areas because the initial cost is lower due to existing facilities. Areas that don't have any wells drilled will probably not see any driling in the near future. Just something to think about when fighting any development. Also, this is probably a non-issue for the time being. At least until the price of gas goes back up. Many companies are cutting drilling programs and letting rigs go, which means undeveloped areas are not going to be drilled for quite some time.

Just somethings to think about.
By Eric J
From: Western slope, CO
Dec 22, 2008
Here are some links to articles about recent developments:

Pictures from SUWA of some areas that would be affected.
By Buff Johnson
Dec 22, 2008
The auction in utard is classic, maybe he can just charge it to the Underhills.

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