Conoco announced recently that it wants to drill one or two exploratory wells in the heart of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the newly established 1.7 million-acre wilderness preserve in southeastern Utah (HCN, 9/30/96). The oil company hopes to begin testing wells on two 10-year leases before they expire in November, but the company is also testing something else - President Clinton's official proclamation to recognize "valid existing mineral rights' in the monument.
It's too early to tell if oil drilling
will be deemed a "compatible use" of the monument lands, says Jerry
Meredith of the Bureau of Land Management's Utah office. Conoco
must first undergo a potentially time-consuming federal
environmental review. Estimates of the worth of fossil fuel
reserves in Reese Canyon, 45 miles south of Escalante, range up to
Conoco spokesperson John Bennitt
says he thinks drilling for oil can coexist with the monument "in
an environmentally responsible way. We think we can do it because
we have done it in the past."
Scott Groene, an
attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, believes
coexistence is impossible: "you either protect the place or you
have the oil fields ..." "This is not plain old multi-use BLM land.
This is an area that has rigid protection for the natural