The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has determined that it will offer approximately 125,762 acres of the surface of the Sevier Dry Lake, about 30 miles southwest of Delta, Utah for competitive leasing of potassium-rich brines to produce potash.
The maximum lease size for a potash lease parcel under Federal rules for leasing solid minerals other than coal and oil shale is 2,560 acres. Consequently, BLM has divided Sevier Dry Lake into 64 lease parcels. The maximum acreage of potash lease holdings for one entity in one state totals 96,000 acres. The BLM intends to offer the parcels at a public auction tentatively scheduled for the first week in April. The leases would provide the lease holders with exclusive rights to the potash, but not to the land itself. The BLM expects that to develop the lease the lease holders will need to build dikes, ponds, associated access roads and other facilities in the lease area, and on surrounding rights of way. Extraction techniques could include a number of surface ditches to extract the shallow brines and a number of wells to extract deeper brines. These brines would be concentrated using solar evaporation. The minerals would then be harvested, compacted, and dried for transportation to market. About 93 percent of the 2009 world potash production was consumed by the fertilizer industry. The United States imports 80 percent of the potash fertilizer used on its farms. Once a lease is issued, the BLM must approve a mining plan before any mining can commence. The proposed mining plan must also be analyzed through the public process set out by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition, the State of Utah must issue a permit under the Utah Mined Land Reclamation Act of 1975. The Sevier Dry Lake potash reserves were estimated by Hazen Research at 5.2 million tons. At a projected 50 percent recovery, production would continue for approximately 6.5 years at the rate of 400,000 tons per year. In addition, the mine would be in operation for an additional 2 to 3 years for the initial development. Final reclamation would likely proceed for several years after final potash production. The potash deposits on Sevier Dry Lake were initially leased for development in the late 1970s. The lakebed of the Sevier Dry Lake was leased again in 1997. Although development began, neither of these previous leasing efforts resulted in commercial production. In early 2009, the BLM received an Expression of Interest in leasing Potash on Sevier Lake. On January 22, 2010 the Fillmore Field Office initiated the NEPA process for the consideration of this activity. The Environmental Assessment (EA) was written and posted on the Utah Environmental Notification Bulletin Board on September 20, 2010 for a 30 day comment period. In its comments on the EA, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance recommended that the area be reviewed for wilderness character. The BLM determined that this constituted new information and would need to be considered in the EA. The BLM also determined that a wilderness inventory for the area should be completed in compliance with Secretarial Order 3310 issued on December 23, 2010. Following completion of this inventory, the BLM has determined that the Sevier Lake does not have wilderness characteristics. The determination was based on the lack of outstanding opportunities for “solitude,” as well as the lack of outstanding opportunities for a “primitive and unconfined recreation experience.” A large portion of the dry lake bed also failed to meet the requirements for “naturalness.” This decision is documented in the EA and associated Decision Record for the Sevier Lake Competitive Potash Leasing Proposal. The release of the Decision Record initiates a 30-day appeal period. The appeal period begins February 18, 2011 and concludes March 20, 2011.Information on the appeal procedure can be found in the Decision Record and on the BLM website at:http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/fillmore.html. The website includes the entire EA. CDs and hard copies are available by contacting the Fillmore Field Office at 35 East 500 North, Fillmore, UT 84631 or by calling 435.743.3100.
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