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Proposed oil drilling under Moab's Slickrock Trail should concern industry, Korenblat says

Published January 23, 2020
The industry veteran is asking bike companies to sign a letter opposing the plan. UPDATED with link to letter.

MOAB, Utah (BRAIN) — The iconic Slickrock Trail and environs are not in imminent danger from oil and gas development — if the industry and others step up to oppose proposed extraction leases on the area, said Ashley Korenblat, a bike industry veteran and managing director of Moab-based nonprofit Public Land Solutions.

"We have a good chance of winning, but not if we do nothing: funny how that works," Korenblat told BRAIN on Thursday.

The Bureau of Land Management has received a nomination from the oil and gas industry to open a lease auction on two BLM land parcels that cover parts of the 10.5-mile trail and the adjacent Sand Flats Recreation Area. A public comment period opens Feb. 20.

Korenblat has written a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to oppose the plan. She is asking members of the bike industry to sign the letter, now posted on the PLS website. Companies that want to sign the letter are being asked to email Korenblat with company name, your name, and the city and state.

"We have to do stuff. If we speak up we have a really good chance of winning this one because it's ridiculous," she said. Key to her argument is that the land generates more revenue as a recreational resource than it would as a source of oil. She also noted the Sand Flats Recreation Area is a rare recreational collaboration between the BLM and local government.

We weren't expecting something quite this dramatic to pop up — Ashley Korenblat

Korenblat, who is also the co-owner of tour company Western Spirit Cycling and Outerbike, said the proposed leases should concern the mountain bike industry and all communities that are developing trail systems on public lands.

"It shows what the Trump administration is planning. The bad news is the current administration has this policy called 'energy dominance' which has led to plans for leasing every nook and cranny of our public lands. That is a problem for cycling in a bunch of ways, but we weren't expecting something quite this dramatic to pop up."

A BLM spokesperson told The Salt Lake Tribune that the Moab parcels were nominated for leases in late November. The company that made the nominations, called "expressions of interest," is anonymous but will be revealed during the public comment period.

The paper notes that regulations prohibit surface-level development in the area, but that oil and gas could be extracted by directional drilling from adjacent land parcels a mile or more away. The parcels are surrounded by designated wilderness areas and Arches National Park as well as some land parcels held by state educational trusts.

Korenblat said that at least one of the nearby trust-held parcels has been leased to a resort developer. She said if the resort plans fall through, or if drilling technology changes, these parcels could be used to access the area under the Slickrock Trail and the Sand Flats recreation area, which includes a campground and OHRV trails.

"This should put fear in the heart of all mountain bikers. It shows that oil and gas has the upper hand, even though in many places recreation is generating more revenue right now."

On social media some mountain bikers are already proposing to raise funds to outbid the oil companies. Korenblat said the system is not set up to allow that. Anyway, she said, "We don’t want to buy all the bike trails. We want to elect all the right people to manage our public lands." 

A rider on the Slickrock Trail. Wikicommons photo.

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