U.S. to auction drilling rights near national monument in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal land managers said Friday they will allow drilling for publicly owned oil and gas near Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah despite concerns about disrupting the area.

The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to offer drilling rights on about 145 square miles (380 square kilometres) in a December online auction.

The agency cited President Donald Trump’s goal of increasing domestic energy production.

In a news release, officials said energy companies would be required to take steps to protect air and water quality.

Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert had expressed concerns in July about potential drilling in the area, saying it could be disruptive for visitors to Dinosaur Monument, a 330-square mile expanse in Utah and Colorado.

Herbert’s spokeswoman, Kirsten Rappleye, noted the federal government had deferred the sale of two parcels the governor was concerned about and placed restrictions on a third.

The restrictions are designed to reduce light and noise pollution and limit visibility of drilling equipment from the monument.

One of those parcels is adjacent to the monument and the others are within one-half mile of it.

“It appears the BLM did a thorough job in balancing out the feedback that the governor shared,” Rappleye said in an email to The Associated Press.

She noted Herbert had tweeted Friday, “Thank you ↕BLMNational for listening to our concerns about protecting the visitor experience at ↕DinosaurNPS.”

The monument drew about 300,000 visitors last year.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance objected to the planned leases.

“This is an outrageous proposal to lease and develop some of Utah’s most culturally rich and wildly scenic federal public lands,” said Landon Newell, an attorney for the group.

The BLM said the public can protest drilling on any of the 75 parcels that will be offered for lease.

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