Utah’s Slickrock Trail covers 10.5 miles of rolling Navajo sandstone, wind-sculpted, hardened sand dunes that look like something like layers of caramel frosting. The Moab-adjacent trail has been a world-renowned draw for desert-loving mountain bikers for decades now. Nearby campgrounds offer dozens of sites to pull up on your bike, pitch a tent, refuel, and plan the next day’s ride. The trail lies with the Sand Flats Recreation Area, which also contains the popular Porcupine Rim bike trail. More than 160,000 people visit the area annually for riding, hiking, off-highway driving, and camping.
But now the BLM is proposing opening the majority of the area to oil and gas drilling. Sand Flats is 9,000 acres. The BLM’s proposal would lease 5,000 acres for drilling. A full two-thirds of the Slickrock Trail is in a proposed drilling parcel.
The proposal is partially the result of a drilling-friendly resource management plan for the area put in place by the BLM back in 2008. These days, nearly any parcel can be nominated by the BLM for drilling if asked by drilling or mining interests. The party that requested these parcels opened remains anonymous.
In addition to potential conflicts with the recreation community, the proposed leases lie within Moab’s watershed. That watershed is part of an EPA-designated “sole source aquifer,” meaning that it’s the only viable drinking water for the Moab area. Any contamination of that aquifer from oil and gas drilling would be potentially disastrous.
“My concern is always that we maintain a balance in our valley and county and surrounding public lands. We know oil and gas are part of the makeup of our economy,” Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We have done a good job of saying where recreation goes and where extraction goes. My question is: Are the recreation areas going to be negatively impacted?”
The BLM will be opening a public comment period on February 20.
This link contains information about how to comment when the period opens, as well as information about how parcel leases are requested and approved.
*This post has been updated to reflect that the lease proposals would allow for horizontal drilling beneath the Slickrock Trail.