By Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune
December 11, 2013
For years, James K. Munn has had a hunch that oil might be pooled under the remote southern Utah town of Escalante, an agricultural spot rich in history and scenery.
The petroleum geologist, who explored this area for its hydrocarbon potential back in the 1950s, spends more time swinging clubs on Denver’s golf links than probing Western oil patches. But now in his mid-80s, Munn is intent on seeing whether his suspicions about Escalante are right.
Through an intermediary, a geophysical company namedFront Runner Seismic, Inc., Munn has spent the past month seeking permission from landowners to conduct seismic testing over a 17-square-mile swath of the Escalante Valley, an area surrounded by the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The project has generated both excitement and dread in this community that once thrived on livestock, but increasingly relies on outdoor tourism associated with the region’s plateaus and canyons.
Oil production would be welcomed by many in Garfield County, whose leaders and native residents are still seething about the creation of the nation’s largest national monument in 1996. That move foreclosed the chance of developing massive coal reserves under the nearby Kaiparowits Plateau. (…)