Most of the Vernal planning area is located within the Uinta Basin, which covers a large portion of northeast Utah, and has significant oil and gas deposits. The Uinta-Piceance Basin has been federally designated as an Energy Policy Conservation Act focus area for oil and gas exploration and development. The proposed plan would manage oil and natural gas leasing and development with additional lease stipulations and mitigation measures. The plan also aims to protect valuable resources through special designations such as Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and Wild and Scenic River, and by using a variety of management prescriptions such as managing certain areas to maintain, protect and preserve wilderness characteristic.
In order to understand the impact of existing and new lease agreements on public lands management and the planning process, it is helpful to be aware of how public lands are leased for oil and natural gas development.
The first phase of oil and gas leasing is identifying areas available for lease. This decision is normally documented in the Resource Management Plan. Under the Vernal proposed plan, 861,000 acres would be open to oil and natural gas leasing with standard terms and conditions; 780,000 acres would be open with moderate constraints such as timing limitations; 87,000 acres would be open with major constraints including, in some cases, no surface occupancy designations; and approximately 187,000 acres would be unavailable for leasing. BLM conducted extensive analysis to determine which areas have the greatest productivity potential. Then BLM researched and analyzed exploration and development controls that would be most effective, in broad terms, as lease stipulations. Thus, BLM proposes increasing production and development controls and make more acres available to leasing, while tightening lease stipulations and increasing mitigation.
The Vernal field office planning area is not a “single use” area. In keeping with BLM’s multiple use mandate, many hundreds of hours went into crafting this proposed RMP to address issues other than oil and gas development. For example, the Vernal field office plan proposes more than 106,000 acres of land be managed as non-Wilderness Study Area lands with wilderness characteristics to protect and maintain their appearance of naturalness. These natural areas provide outstanding opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation or solitude and would be closed to oil and gas leasing and woodland product harvesting. Additionally, off-highway vehicles would be limited to designated OHV routes only. In other areas where special management attention is required to protect and prevent damage to important historic, cultural or scenic values and wildlife resources, designating nearly 124,000 acres as six separate Areas of Critical Environmental Concern would ensure continued protection of significant resources.
The BLM is committed to protecting the complex mix of important and unique values on the public lands it manages. Whether or not an area receives an ACEC designation, the BLM makes appropriate resource management decisions to ensure these values are protected for the present and long into the future.
BLM Vernal Field Office Manager