Old Grand County Council Drives Moab & Greater Canyonlands Over an Environmental Cliff
In mid-October 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting Moab, Utah once again. While in Moab, I planned to visit some of my favorite haunts, see old friends and perhaps meet some new ones. I also planned to document some of the changes that are rapidly overtaking Grand County and Greater Canyonlands.
As some readers will recall, in the latter days of the second George W. Bush administration, there was an all-out push to lease every square inch of public lands for oil, gas and mineral extraction. The effort was so slipshod that lands near the Moab Golf Club and some directly over the well fields that supply Moab with its precious culinary water were included in the original auction proposals.
Through the good work of many in the community and with a change in presidential administrations, the most egregious examples of mineral exploitation were removed from the final auction process. Still, the opening of Grand County to mineral exploitation soon went into full swing. Grand plans like the Utah Recreational Land Exchange of 2009 (URLEA) expanded the template for oil and gas exploration in Grand County. The federal government, through its Bureau of Land Management, divided Grand County into two categories. Some public lands were to be protected, but the majority was up for grabs as oil and gas fields.
Throughout this process, the Grand County Council took every opportunity it could to tell the federal government to keep out of what the council considered to be local issues. In October 2014, the council voted six to one to join six other Utah counties (Emery, Duchesne, Uintah, Daggett, Carbon and San Juan) in what they call the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC). Infrastructure, in this case will include roads, pipelines and a rail network designed to accelerate oil, gas and mineral extraction from the member counties.
To add insult to the injury of the mineral extraction projects that the SCIC supports, the group plans to divert millions of dollars from “community impact funds" to pursue their goals. Rather than helping heal the land and the health of those affected by unbridled extraction of chemicals and hydrocarbons, the coalition plans to use the community impact funds to help build haul-roads, pipeline access and rail facilities. All of their efforts will now go full speed ahead to scrape, drill, pump and haul as much raw hydrocarbon as they can from the affected lands.
When asked why the Grand County Council could not wait until after the November 2014 election to join the SCIC or to put the matter to a public vote, council member Lynn Jackson retorted, "The people voted when the seven of us were elected up here". Despite the overwhelming number of written protests and the overwhelming number of citizens voicing their opposition at the final Grand County Council meeting on the subject, the Gang of Six extractionist boosters on the council voted to join the anti-environmental cabal of counties. Jackson was subsequently elected as Grand County's representative to the SCIC.
In the past, I have written about the “sense of entitlement” that many residents of Southeastern Utah feel about the public lands in the area. Some feel entitled to grow alfalfa with water diverted from Ken’s Lake (Puddle). Others feel it is acceptable to sell Moab’s culinary water to gas well drillers at bargain prices. Still others feel it is their right to search and remove artifacts of ancient cultures that once lived in the area. For many residents of the area, the predominant feeling seems to be, “This is our land and we can do whatever we want with it”.
In the past several years, arches, spires and even dinosaur tracks have crumbled, disappeared or been stolen by local residents. Still, there has never been a study completed to determine the health or even the size of the aquifer that supports all human and other life in the Spanish Valley and Moab. To my knowledge, no one has ever studied the potential seismic effects of oil, gas, potash or tar sands exploration and extraction in Greater Canyonlands. Through ignorance, greed or willful disregard for the greater good, will the “entitled few” spoil the wonders that took nature eons to create?
On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, the registered voters of Grand County have a choice between continuing to stack the Grand County Council with extractionist sympathizers or to go in a new direction and bring environmental sanity back to that elected body. Soon enough, we shall see the results.
Author's Note: November 6, 2014 - Moab Times-Independent - "Grand County voters buck national trend by electing moderates, progressives to county council". By sizeable margins, Jaylyn Hawks, Mary Mullen McGann and Chris Baird defeated their more conservative-leaning opponents in an election in which 74.15 percent of active Grand County voters cast ballots.