Maps: Shrinking national monuments makes way for extracting oil, coal, and uranium

Utah’s national monuments will be opened up to mining and drilling

Kaiparowits Plateau and Grand Staircase-Escalante seen from space | NASA

President Trump will travel to Utah next Monday to sign an executive order attempting to significantly cut the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments. What will be the largest elimination of protections for our shared public lands in U.S. history comes as a hand-out to coal, oil, and uranium companies at the expense of the region’s public lands and wildlife.

The two monuments contain significant reserves of coal, oil, and uranium that could be sold-off for extraction. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s office told Utah lawmakers that the president plans to reduce Grand Staircase-Escalante by 40 to 60 percent and Bears Ears by 80 to 90 percent.

National monuments preserve “existing uses,” which includes all oil, gas, and coal development already in existence before a monument designation. Often times, as in the case of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear Ears, national monument designations are an important tool to preserve natural and archaeological resources in areas with high energy potential, protecting priceless places from future development.

The following resource maps and proposed monument boundaries reveal why the Utah delegation and the Trump administration are pushing to eliminate large swaths of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Kane County officials mapped a revised Grand Staircase-Escalante boundary — obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune — and offered the proposal to Secretary Zinke during a closed-door meeting. The county’s map — which suggested splitting the monument into two much smaller monuments totaling roughly 200,000 acres — is the best guess at what the President might propose.

What is Kane County hoping to get out of a monument reduction?

Kane County’s proposal for new monument boundaries excludes all lands containing coal reserves inside the existing monument — totaling more than 500,000 acres of the Kaiparowits Plateau coal field.

Source: Coal Fields — Utah Geological Survey.

According to a 1994 USGS report, the Kaiparowits Plateau coal field contains 62.3 billion tons of coal — 11.4 billion tons are considered recoverable. The Utah Geological Survey estimates Grand Staircase-Escalante contains between $212 billion and $312 billion of coal reserves.

During his trip to “review” Grand Staircase-Escalante, Secretary Zinke visited the Kaiparowits Plateau coal reserves inside the monument. The Secretary’s leaked recommendations to President Trump suggest shrinking the monument, noting the coal deposits in the monument and calling coal mining a “traditional use.”

Accompanying Secretary Zinke at the coal seam was Utah State Representative Mike Noel, a fierce advocate of coal mining in Utah who previously led a project to attempt to establish coal mines the Kaiparowits Plateau. In January 2017, Noel wrote a resolution calling on Congress to reduce the size of the monument and open it to coal mining. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch confirmed the administration’s priorities, saying President Trump plans to modify the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante to open up access to coal mining in the Kaiparowits Plateau. “I’d like to see us have access to that,” Senator Hatch told the Utah Senate.

“The winners in the president’s decision [to shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante] are the fossil fuels industry, giant international coal companies and the pollution industry,” said Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis. “The losers are Utah families, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, campers, climbers and all who appreciate the unspeakable beauty of our state.”

Bears Ears National Monument

Politicians in the state of Utah have led the charge in convincing President Trump to eliminate vast swaths of Bears Ears and open it up to uranium mining. Bears Ears contains seven uranium mining districts identified by the state of Utah. The entire monument contains more than 160,000 acres of uranium and other mineral deposits.

The Salt Lake Tribune obtained maps prepared by Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s office scaling Bears Ears down to one-tenth of its original size — opening up 90 percent of the monument’s uranium and mineral deposits for development.

Source: Oil Wells — Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oil, Gas, and Mining Division. Uranium and Mineral Deposits — Utah Geological Survey.

Uranium mining has long existed in San Juan County. More than 100 past producing uranium mines exist inside the monument boundaries.

White Mesa Uranium Mill near Bears Ears National Monument | Ecoflight

Just outside of Bears Ears lies the Daneros Uranium Mine. The mine produced 123,000 tons of uranium ore in 2010 before shutting down. Its owners are now seeking approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expand the mine and increase capacity. President Obama’s designation of Bears Ears was a compromise with the uranium industry — the mine was intentionally left out of the monument boundaries to accommodate its claims.

Bears Ears buttes in the background of an oil and gas drilling site | Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition

Under the Trump administration’s push for so-called “energy dominance,” leasing public lands to drilling and mining companies has become a top priority. In September 2017, the BLM announced an upcoming lease sale of 52,000 acres of public lands just outside Bears Ears to oil and gas drilling. Bears Ears contains more than 300 abandoned oil and gas wells. As leasing pressure picks up, it is only a matter of time before oil and gas interests become interested in drilling inside Bears Ears’ boundaries.

The Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry group, has said that oil and gas companies are interested in buying up leases to drill in the monument, saying, “There certainly is industry appetite for development there.”