Escalante oil fuels educators, activists

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    By MATT SMITH

    Conoco will drill an exploratory oil well on trust lands located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, possibly providing millions of dollars to Utah’s school children. But extreme environmentalists may object.

    The Board of Trustees instructed the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to consider several options in protecting trust land assets captured within the monument. One of these options is to appeal to mineral lessees to find valuable mineral assets.

    Conoco answered the call.

    Dave Hebertson, public relations manager for the Trust Land Administration, said if Conoco finds oil in the Grand Staircase and they want to set up a major drilling site, extreme environmentalists might retaliate to the point that the site could be blocked.

    This would mean millions of dollars lost for Utah’s children and Conoco. Other mineral drillers would lose their leases, and the allocated trust lands for schools will be wasted.

    When Utah achieved statehood, the federal government contributed these trust lands to the state and education. The lands were allocated for the support of the common schools of Utah.

    “Utah is fortunate that an organization the caliber of Conoco has make this move,” said David Terry, director of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Conoco has a proven track record of finding and developing natural resources while protecting the environment. The Sierra Club and many other environmentally-conscious organizations have given awards to Conoco for its environmentally safe conduct.

    Ken Rait, strategic director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said he is not concerned about the legality of the issue, and building the wells is not in the interest of the public.

    Hebertson said Rait has no right determining the interest of the public. He said there are mines in southern Utah that have been blocked. Some trust land supporters believe the Escalante National Monument was established to block the use of the land also.

    Hebertson said Utah could have received more than $1 million for helping education, if one of those mines was not blocked.

    The monument itself is about 2 million acres and allocated to be enjoyed by everyone. Within these two million acres there are 176,000 surface trust acres and 200,000 mineral acres. Scientists said the worth of minerals and oil on these lands could exceed $330 billion, all potential funds to help support school children in Utah.

    Hebertson believes Conoco will take care of Utah’s trust lands. He recognizes the importance of preserving the geological sites that make Utah so unique but also believes there is a lot of barren, desolate land that can be used to help Utah and its children.

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