Energy developers and the state’s school lands trust have agreed to postpone mineral exploration in an area of the Book Cliffs in Eastern Utah.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office announced Friday the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation will delay exploratory work within the 18,000-acre Bogart Canyon region until January 2016.
The deal comes amid ongoing work by Utah Representative Rob Bishop, the governor's office and other parties to consolidate SITLA’s fragmented lands or work out exchanges for more energy-rich parcels.
SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy says the pause will give the agency a chance to evaluate other sites and explore possible land deals, while preserving an area of environmentally sensitive land.
“That gives the congressman and the governor’s office, and all of us for that matter, an opportunity to explore other opportunities if they can be realized," he said. "And at that juncture (we can) make a consideration if there is something as good or better for us to turn to.”
SITLA is the owner of the entire Book Cliffs block of land between Uintah and Grand counties. In recent decades, the Bogart Canyon region has become popular with hunters, and SITLA agrees it’s in everyone’s best interest to explore potential alternatives to help preserve iconic lands in Utah.
“All of the iterations that have ultimately brought that block to what it is today, had an eye toward mineral development,” he added. “It’s true that in the last 30 years, the southern portion of this area has morphed into a very sensitive hunting area for the recreating public.”
The plan all along has been for Anadarko to explore the region north to south. Under the new agreement, the company won't be allowed to into the southern-most portion, which wildlife and game groups say is an environmentally sensitive area, for another 27 months.
The new agreement won’t affect Anadarko’s work farther north, and SITLA says the change won’t hamper its revenue stream for Utah’s public schools.
“I really believe what we have here is a win-win outcome – not only for the school children of the state, but for the citizenry as a whole,” Christy added.
SITLA’s board of trustees will formally consider the proposal at its Sept. 26 meeting in St. George, where the public is invited to attend. Statewide, SITLA manages 3.4 million acres of land. Revenue helps fund K through 12 schools in Utah. Last year the agency distributed $37.8 million.
In a press statement issued Friday, Gov. Herbert's office noted: Anadarko is among the world’s largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies and has a strong record of environmental stewardship in Utah. For its Greater Natural Buttes natural gas project in the Uintah Basin, Anadarko has received several Utah Earth Day Awards from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, and was commended by environmentalist groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, for its collaboration with land managers, the tribal community, and conservation groups.