Much oil and gas production on Bears Ears lands canceled

BLUFF, Utah — Much of the Bears Ears region has been open for oil and gas leasing, but that’s all changing.

The Bureau of Land Management has canceled more than 40,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the Bears Ears region. Specifically, the BLM canceled 25 of Bears Ears’ 28 land parcels designated for oil and gas leasing.

This is a significant victory for the Bears Ears Partnership, which says the land is incredibly archaeologically and culturally rich.

President Barack Obama established Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. The BLM co-manages the site alongside the U.S. Forest Service and a coalition of five Native American tribes.

Between 2018 and 2019, more than 100,000 acres of Bears Ears land was leased to “oil and gas interests,” with “minimal input from tribes and the public,” according to a BEG press release.

The BLM’s official decision, signed by Cristina Price, Utah’s deputy state director for lands and minerals, considered cultural factors in their decision-making process, according to their official record of decision.

“Recent concerns raised by the Pueblo of Acoma” contributed to the decision, Price said in the document. Along with “careful consideration of these potential cultural resources,” Price said in the document.

The litigation

In 2021, BEG challenged BLM’s lease sale in 2018. According to its website, in 2023, the partnership settled this dispute by stipulating that BLM would hold the land parcels “in suspension”, while they carried out several preservation measures. , historical and environmental analyses.

Advocates for the West, a nonprofit environmental law firm, partnered with BEG and submitted a letter to the BLM. They argued that a complete cancellation of all leases was based on an adverse effect on cultural resources. The Pueblo of Acoma also submitted a comment letter and consulted directly with the BLM on the lease sales.

BEG said this reanalysis “was vital to the definitive cancellation of these lease sales.”

Wear ears like sacred ground

Bear Ears are culturally referred to as “the lands between.” According to Bears Ears Partnership, this is sacred ancestral land for communities descended from Puebloans, including the Pueblo tribes of Acoma, Hopi, Zuni, Rio Grande Pueblos, Ute, Navajo and Paiute.

Pueblo of Acoma Governor Randall Vicente said in a press release that he was “deeply grateful” for the BLM’s decision to cancel these leases.

“(It) affirms the importance of this landscape to the Pueblo of Acoma and other Pueblos and tribes,” Vicente said. “This landscape is a living testimony to our ancestors and our current cultural traditions. Preserving these areas from development allows us to maintain our deep connection to our history.

The Bears Ears Partnership said it was a step in the right direction to ensure Indigenous communities play a role in how culturally significant landscapes are leased for development.

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Britt Johnson of KSL NewsRadio contributed to this article.

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