Chapter #308: 2014 - Quantum Leap in ATM Theft - April 11, 2014

At Kokopelli Federal Credit Union, Plush Kokopelli shows off the safe on the new Diebold Agilis 91xR ATM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Google This Phrase: "How+to+Crack+an+ATM+Safe"

A recent Los Angeles Times article asked, “Where did all the bandits go?” Further, they wrote, “At one time, bank robberies were part of L.A.’s daily routine. Not so anymore.” As early as 1963, the Times had identified Los Angeles as the “Bank Holdup Capitol”. In 1992, which was the biggest year for bank robberies, there were as many as twenty-eight bank robberies there in a single day. In recent years, smaller jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, Atlanta and other cities have taken over the robbery crown.

Bulletproof Plexiglas "bandit barriers" help prevent bank robberies - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Unable to give definitive reasons for L.A.’s robbery decline, experts attribute it to a combination of factors, including improved security devices and strategies. Bulletproof Plexiglas “bandit barriers” are now common in bank branches, as are high-definition video camera systems. The website "LA Bank Robbers" now specializes in photos and video of active Los Angeles area bank robbers. In California, prison sentences for repeat offenders can be as high as sixteen years, thus taking a convicted robber off the streets for more than a decade. While the average heist in 2003 netted around $10,000, in 2013, that sum had dropped to as little as $1,000. In light of the increased risk, face-to-face bank robbery no longer pays.

Old-fashioned bank banditry required little more than nerves of steel, a disguise as simple as a baseball cap and a note demanding the cash. Would be bandits who are stuck in the old energy mode can expect to have a short career in bank robbery. If they persist in serial pursuit of ever dwindling returns, arrest and detention are now almost inevitable. Unless one is determined to spend significant time in prison, bank robbery is an unromantic way to lose one’s freedom.

Plush Kokopelli shows off the anti-skimming device on the new Kokopelli Federal Credit Union Diebold Agilis ATM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Since 2008, I have written occasional articles on the subject of bank robbery. They proved to be so popular that I combined them into a separate website at MoabBank.com. During my research, I discovered that the latest trend in illegal withdrawals of money from banks involves Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) theft. When I say “ATM theft”, some thieves go so far as to abscond with the ATM itself.

The most overt style of ATM theft involves the use of a heavy truck to ram an outdoor, wall-mounted ATM off its moorings. The truck of choice for these so-called ATM “ram raids” is a flatbed tow truck. Once in positioned, the armored steel stern of the truck bed is rammed into the wall supporting the ATM. Assuming that the ATM comes loose from its moorings, the tow truck “operator” then tilts the truck bed down at the rear. The operator then feeds out a steel cable from the truck-mounted winch, grapples the ATM and then reels it in like fish. As soon as the ATM is on the truck's ramp, the ram raid team will be back in the cab, driving away.

Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone simulate an ATM ram raid with their four wheel drive Tonka truck - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Like the bank branch robbery, the ATM ram raid requires speed. As soon as the truck hits the ATM, alarms both silent and loud will start to ring. Even in the middle of the night, the process is loud and boisterous, drawing the attention of both witnesses and law enforcement officers. Once away from the scene of the crime, a tow truck carrying a damaged ATM needs quick access to a secure location large enough to hide the whole rig.

Once the ram raid ATM reaches its hideout, the robbers will need a plasma torch, which can cut open the steel plate door of the ATM safe. Inside the safe, the robbers will find between one and four cash cassettes, holding up to $40,000 each. Imagine the jubilation of dividing up $160,000 between a small team of robbers. Then, imagine the consternation over getting rid of the tow truck and vacating the hideout without leaving behind any clues.

A variation on the ATM ram raid is the in-situ plasma torch robbery. Rather than stealing a tow truck and risking easy detection and capture, in-situ ATM robbers take the “Mission Impossible” route. After locating a bank branch in a strip mall or other single story building, the robbers first "case the joint" for security cameras and roof access points. Posing as tradesmen and utilizing ladders, the robbers can easily move their demolition and break-in tools to the roof. After staging their tools and equipment above street level, several members of the team remain on the roof, while others remove the access ladders and retreat to a safe location.

Unlike many current ATM back rooms, conventional bank vaults are armored against unauthorized entry - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Overnight, the roof-team opens a hole in the roof sufficient to lower one or more members into the “back room” of the ATM. Once inside, security cameras are blocked and other security systems compromised. With portable fans working to evacuate any fumes up and trough the escape-hole, the robbers proceed to cut the reinforced hinges off the ATM safe. Once inside the ATM, the robbers remove the cash cassettes, bag the money and raise everything back up to the roof. Before sunrise, the “tradesmen's truck” returns and a ladder allows the roof-team to return both themselves and the money to the truck. If all goes well for the bandits, no hideout is required and there is no ram raid truck requiring disposal.

For those who thought bank robbing should be easy, tow trucks, ladders, circular saws, sledgehammers, plasma torches and hideouts make for a daunting shopping list. In search of the easiest bank robbery, many have turned to electronics and software as their answer. Since most bank robbers are inherently lazy, the “debit card skimmer” has great appeal. In theory, the electronic bank robber need only use double-stick tape to install the skimmer over the actual ATM card reader. Once the unsuspecting ATM customer inserts their card into the skimmer, it reads and records both the magnetic strip on the card and the password entered by the customer. Later, the robber creates a duplicate ATM card and uses the stolen password to drain the unsuspecting customer's account.

The "Log on" screen of the Kokopelli Federal Credit Union Diebold Agilis ATM does not allow for changes to debit card withdrawal limits - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If one is willing to do business with nefarious websites that sell thinly disguised skimmer kits, debit card skimmer kits require a relatively low investment. Some kits go as far as providing housings color-matched to the ATM’s of a targeted bank. Still, no would-be robber can be sure if he or she is buying online from other electronic criminals or from an FBI sting-website designed to catch the neophyte electronic robber. Anyone gullible enough to "click to buy" a kit designed to defraud a banking establishment might be surprised to find that there is no such kit and that their identity has been stolen. As P.T. Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute".

Even if successful in capturing debit card numbers and passwords via a wireless connection, the electronic robber must remain near enough to the scene to receive the data and recover the debit card skimmer. With skimmer kits costing well into the hundreds of dollars, subsequent risk of capture or loss of the deployed skimmer is high. As with traditional bank robbery, newer ATMs include security features designed to thwart electronic skimming. Using both physical and electronic sensors, a newer ATM will detect an installed skimmer and shut down the ATM.

About the size of a small refrigerator, the Diebold Agilis ATM is armored with rolled steel plate almost one half inch thick - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Effective April 2014, Microsoft Corporation will no longer support its Windows XP operating System. For illegal hackers and identity thieves, the effect will be a bonanza in new ways to compromise XP computers and their users' identities. Microsoft will continue to provide software patches and a modicum of security to banks still running Windows XP and willing to pay a fee. When researching this article, I was surprised to discover that many “state of the art” ATMs rely on the thirteen-year-old Windows XP operating system. With typical shortsightedness, Microsoft is giving up their 95% lock on the ATM software business, preferring to see their clients switch to open source code offered by Linux.

Unlike a personal computer attached to the internet, ATMs connect to their home offices via a virtual private network (VPN). As such, even if they are running an old operating system like Windows XP, ATM's are less vulnerable to outside attack than any website or other internet-connected device. In order to compromise older private networks and the ATMs that they control, one must take control of the private network, itself. According to another recent L.A. Times article, that is exactly what unknown conspirators recently did.

As software hackers perfect their techniques, the Mag-9000 plasma cutting torch will soon be obsolete for ATM robbery - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Individuals with insider knowledge of older bank ATM network architecture hatched a brilliant, yet simple plan. First, they obtained the email addresses of ATM network administrators authorized to change both withdrawal limits and geographical restrictions on networked ATMs. Next, the conspirators sent innocuous, but official looking emails to the various ATM network administrators. In the phishing emails were nefarious links disguised as normal business. Once an administrator clicked on the nefarious link, malware automatically downloaded to the administrator’s computer.

From there, it was a simple process for the conspirators to change withdrawal limits and geographical limits to “unlimited” status. On a predetermined holiday weekend, with bank branches closed and security lax, the conspirators struck. At such a time, a busy bank branch may have four ATMs containing up to $160,000 each. Overnight, when foot traffic was slower, conspirators used previously stolen ATM cards to access the ATM cash on an unlimited basis. Using only twelve stolen ATM cards, the most prolific conspirators recently drained a reported $45 million from one or more banking institutions. As of this writing, no one has been charged in the caper.

Whenever the economy softens, interest in making easy money through bank or ATM robbery rises. Although this website has a written Privacy Policy designed to protect the identity of visitors, I am amazed at how many people must be sitting at a computer searching for easy ways to rob a bank. Although most searches are indecipherable, several unencrypted “bank robbery” searches come through to this website each week. In the past year, I have saved the following unencrypted search strings leading to various articles on this website:

As Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone agree, planning a bank heist or ATM robbery is not good for children or other living things - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“what’s the best way to rob an ATM?”, “what can cut thru ATMs?”, “breaking into ATM safe”, “breaking into small ATM machines”, “easy ATM break ins”, “NCR 22e ATM dispenser cassette”, “ATM machines cut into”, “breaking in ATMs with a blow torch”, “easiest way to rob a bank”, “defeated ATM alarm”, “how to break into ATM safe”, “ATM kiosk design”, “breaking into a ATM machine on spot”, “can torches cut metal on a ATM?”, “how to break an ATM vault”, “easiest way to break ATM vault”, “how to crack an ATM”, “cut open an ATM”, “ATM dispenser Diebold”, “ATM safecracking”, “how to break in an ATM machine”, “easiest way to break into ATM”, “easiest way to rob a bank”, “ATM cassette removal”, “ATM burglary with blow torch”, “NCR ATM machines”, “ATMs cutter”, “cut through ATM”, “ATM machine back cash door”, “new technology in ATM machine”, “bank robbers”, “ATM vault crack”, “ATM weak points”, NCR SelfServ 14 ATM”, “NCR 22e fascia open”, “Burglars of safe with a blow torch in bank”, “easy way to break into ATM”, “use cutting torch to rob…”, “breaking into a bank's ATM through the roof”, “thieves cut open ATMs with blow torches”, “robbery metal cutter machine price”, “plasmas cutter can open ATM”, “inside ATM machine”.

If you recognize any of your own queries in the list above, please think of yourself as being in the “wanna be” or “amateur” bank robber category. Then think twice and go no further with your ATM or bank robbery plans. Otherwise, we may not see you again online for another sixteen years.


By James McGillis at 05:38 PM | Technology | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #307: Moab Kiley - Peaceful BLM Protest - March 21, 2014

Local Moab resident helped organize the recent "Industrial Desert" protest at Moab BLM and Fidelity Energy - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Rites of Spring in Moab, Utah - Peaceful Protest of the New Industrial Desert

Occasionally, one person rises up and makes a difference. At Moab, Utah, such a person is Ms. Kiley Miller. Over the past several years, Kiley has investigated and publicized the dangers of industrializing the desert in Grand County and Greater Canyonlands. Her latest attempt to gain both public and institutional support for saving Greater Canyonlands was in the form of a peaceful protest on March 20, 2014. That the protest took place in Moab on the first day of spring indicates the spirit of hopefulness that Kiley Miller and forty intrepid local citizens brought to this important debate.

Following, in her own words, is an account of the environmental protest that Kiley Miller organized:

Forty local residents and environmentalists protested the industrialization of Greater Canyonlands at the BLM Office in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (photo courtesy Jane Butter, Grand Canyon Trust)“Thanks to All who showed up for the protest!!! It was awesome to see y'all there. About 40 people showed up! The BLM kindly sectioned off part of their parking lot just under the BLM sign as our "free speech" zone. Sarah & Emily Stock & I went in ahead of time & were greeted by Lisa Bryant. We let her know this was a peaceful protest & that it was not personal but that we are protesting the agency as a whole & do not approve of what is happening to our public lands.

Peaceful protestors gathered at Fidelity Energy's Moab Office, although the company was conveniently closed for the day - Click for larger image (photo courtesy Jane Butter, Grand Canyon Trust)John Weisheit & others spoke of national energy policy, pipeline safety, alternative energy etc. Carol Mayer pointed out that thankfully there are people out there in the community paying attention to what is happening in the region & raising the red flags.

We then walked over to the Fidelity Exploration office & they just happened to be closed so John Weisheit gave ‘em a call asking that someone please come down & talk with us but no one came. Members of the press were there & many of us were filmed & interviewed.

Icon of the Industrial Desert - a Caterpillar tractor tears up the land, sending uncontrolled dust throughout Greater Canyonlands - Click for larger image (photo courtesy Kiley Miller)A participant named Judy came to me & said she got goose bumps from my Ed Abbey quote sign & that she was so happy to see so many young people there. She was new to protesting & wants to be more involved. It felt great to stand in solidarity with fellow citizens who were all there to show their love & support of protections for this beautiful place.

Canyon Country Rising Tide along with other groups & citizens will continue to have demonstrations in the future, I hope to see more of you at them.

Kiley Miller admires the unspoiled land she lives on and loves near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)‘My job is to save the f**king wilderness. I don't know anything else worth saving.’
- My new favorite Ed Abbey quote spoken through George Hayduke from the Monkey Wrench Gang.
For the Earth -

If interested, you may contact Kiley Miller by email. If you do, please tell her that Moab Jim sent you.


By James McGillis at 04:49 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #306: Stop The BLM-SITLA Land Swap - March 20, 2014

Where the lines cross in the center of this map, provided by DeLorme, sits the infamous Parcel 32 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 - A Study in False Advertising

In late March 2014, the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 (URLEA) will become law. In a previous article, I discussed the final agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Utah State Institutional Land Trust (SITLA). Both my article and my written protest to the BLM pointed out significant errors in the official Appraisal of at least one exchange parcel. Unless sufficient changes are made to the Agreement, a Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Grand County will become a wish of the past.

Natural gas transmission lines before burial near the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, courtesy Kiley Miller - Click for larger imageParcel 32, in direct contradiction to the expressed spirit of the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 (URLEA) is destined to become part of SITLA land holdings in Grand County. According to BLM contact Joy Wehking, SITLA is on record that they plan to sell all of their new Grand County land holdings to private interests. Currently, Parcel 32 has two petrochemical pipelines, U.S. Highway 191, a county road and the Potash Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad running through it.

To me, it seems obvious that Parcel 32 is destined for chemical extraction, storage and transportation. According to URLEA documents, the appraisal firm of Cushman & Wakefield’s responsibility was to assess mineral rights on exchange parcels. The catch is that Cushman & Wakefield was to appraise mineral rights only on parcels previously identified by SITLA or the BLM as containing them. In my estimation, Cushman & Wakefield erroneously assessed the “highest and best use” of Parcel 32, calling it grazing land. If Parcel 32 is destined for petrochemical development, there is an obvious disconnection between SITLA, BLM and the Cushman & Wakefield Appraisal.

Natural gas transmission pipes soon to be laid beneath Utah State Highway 313, courtesy Kiley Miller - Click for larger imageWhen proposed by U.S. Rep Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in 2009, the core concept of the URLEA was to convey environmentally sensitive and recreational land in Grand and San Juan Counties from SITLA to BLM control. In return, SITLA was to receive Uintah County land of equal value, but with a high potential for mineral extraction.

When the Appraisal was complete, Cushman & Wakefield appraised Corona Arch as if it were prime resort property and Parcel 32 as if it were barely fit for range cattle. Consequently, Utah/SITLA withdrew 20,000 acres, valued at $10 Million from the land exchange. From those obvious errors alone, BLM should void the URLEA agreement and reappraise all properties according to their probable use. Otherwise, Corona Arch will remain a natural wonder at the end of a footpath and Parcel 32 will become the hub of petrochemical development and transportation in Grand County. To see the negative impact of creating an "Industrial Desert", one needs only to look at the crippled Brightsource Energy project in California's Ivanpah Valley, near Primm, Nevada.

Dust suppression, Grand County style. Unbridled petrochemical exploration and transportation in what should be Greater Canyonlands National Monument may spell its doom, courtesy Kiley Miller - Click for larger imageAfter reflecting on the problems with the appraisal of Parcel 32, I decided to look at two other parcels destined for a similar URLEA “reverse exchange”. Focusing on Parcel 33 in Grand County and Parcel 34 in San Juan County, I discovered immediate issues. Parcel 33 contains approximately 69 acres and Parcel 34 consists of 170 acres.

In order to learn more about the parcels in question, I turned to the (final and official) "Decision Record Signed" and the "Exchange Agreement", as published on the internet. According to Page 7 of 9, “Exhibit B - Utah Recreational Land Exchange – Federal Lands and Interests to be Conveyed”, Parcel 33 contains a “road”, reserved in perpetuity. In the same document, on Page 9 of 9, both parcels are located “Behind the Rocks”. Each parcel contains a “Federal Grazing Allotment” issued to one “Kenneth Bates”. In the "Signed" Decision Record, I was shocked to find that Parcel 33 and 34 were Appraised as having a highest and best use of "Residential". After seeing how SITLA and BLM had treated Parcel 32, I was dubious.

Old Energy petrochemical and extraction companies would have us believe that they leave essentially no footprint on the land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If not for some form of mineral development, why would this SITLA and BLM “reverse exchange” include open grazing land, appraised as "Residential"? Is it "over the top" to think that SITLA plans to sell these former undeveloped pastures as "estate lots", intended for retired BLM or SITLA board members? Or is some Old Energy company planning to test stealth drilling rigs (see images) that can "hover and extract" without ever touching the land? If not, those parcels should remain open land, not some rich person's hideaway mansion surrounded and protected from encroachment by BLM land. Any way you look at it, the conveyance of Parcels 33 and 34 into private hands reeks of undue influence, old-boy networking and backroom politics. Please, BLM and SITLA, help me restore my trust in our public institutions. Prove me wrong.

The sad fact is that we may not soon know what BLM and SITLA have planned for these remote pastures. As published on the internet, “Exhibit B - Utah Recreational Land Exchange – Federal Lands and Interests to be Conveyed” is missing two critical pages. Both Pages 6 of 9 and 8 of 9 are missing from the BLM website and therefore, from the general public record. Based on the sequence of information offered on the existing published pages, it is logical to assume that each of the two missing pages may contain information pertinent to Parcels 33 and 34. Like the disappearance of Moab's mythical hovering drill rigs, they have vanished overnight.

As this Moab Rockart panel depicts, the Ancients had access to information on wind and solar energy. Why, after thousands of years since their carving can we not see the wisdom of keeping Greater Canyonlands in as natural a state as possible? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I am not a conspiracy theorist, but the missing and obfuscated information regarding URLEA Parcels 32, 33 and 34 is too much to ignore or to sweep under the rug. My questions are these. Who made the heretofore unmentioned agreement to convey any lands in Grand and San Juan Counties from BLM to SITLA? Who decided that the parcels in question were to be assessed as “grazing land” or "residential", when in at least the case of Parcel 32, that is obviously not true? Why are two critical pages of the legal Agreement missing from the public record? Why is any Grand County or San Juan County land conveyed to BLM or SITLA in a “recreational land swap” subject to subsequent sale and development of its mineral content? Is it just me, or does such an outcome directly contradict the spirit, if not the letter of this law?

The BLM deadline for written protests to any aspect of the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) is March 24, 2014. Even if you read this article after that date, it is appropriate to fax your protest to: (801) 539-4237. You may protest by U.S. Mail to: UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah State Office, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500 Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1345. Since it is obvious that BLM and SITLA need to reassess the URLEA, I am sure that your comments will not be ignored.


By James McGillis at 05:10 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #305: Utah Recreational Land Exchange - March 8, 2014

Unless BLM stops the SITLA land-grab of Parcel 32, the Utah Recreational Land Exchange should be null and void - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Utah Recreational Land Exchange (URLEA) Defies Spirit of the Law

The legislative legacy of Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) rests with the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) of 2009. At that time, the bill received accolades from both the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and the Grand Canyon Trust. In 2009, the bill received unanimous approval by the U.S. House of Representatives and passed the U.S. Senate. In 2009, an executive summary of the bill stated, “H.R. 1275 (now Public Law 111-53-Aug. 19, 2009) would authorize the exchange of approximately 41,000 acres of land owned by the State of Utah and approximately 46,000 acres of U.S. federal land. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to accept the exchange if it is offered by the State.”

Although the Utah Recreational Land Exchange was supposed to protect more of Greater Canyonlands, Parcel 32 adjacent to Canyonlands Field may soon look like this drill rig near Salt Valley in Grand County - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The exchange was to be an “equal value” land swap between the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In concept, The BLM would receive prime recreational acreage around Moab and throughout Grand County. SITLA, on behalf of the State of Utah, would receive prime mineral extraction lands in Uintah County. Upon development of mineral rights in Uintah County, all of Utah’s school districts would receive benefit of payments from the interest and mineral royalties accrued to SITLA.

According to a recent posting on the BLM website, “The BLM will acquire 58 parcels with high conservation and recreation value, totaling 25,034 acres, primarily in Grand County. These parcels will expand the BLM backcountry with world-class recreation sites like Corona Arch and Morning Glory Arch. This exchange will improve the quantity and quality of recreational experiences for visitors to public lands and waters managed by the BLM. The State will acquire 34 parcels with high mineral development potential, totaling 35,516 acres, primarily in Uintah County. The state expects development of these high potential parcels to boost public school funding across Utah.”

The Utah Recreational Land Exchange (URLEA) has a "dirty little secret" - that large swaths of Uintah county may soon be subject to oil shale and tar sands mines like this unidentified wildcat operation near Salt Valley in Grand County, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By titling their URLEA webpage the “Utah Recreational Land Exchange”, the BLM makes the agreement sound like a “win – win” situation for all concerned. Tourists will see a bit more protection for Greater Canyonlands, near Moab. Schoolchildren throughout the state will see school funding rise by an undetermined amount. Regarding the URLEA, BLM declared a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI). Thus, according to BLM, an acreage exchange totaling 60,550 acres is not a “major federal action” and “will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment”.

Uintah County, as well as the State of Utah, takes its name from the portion of the Ute Indian tribe that lived in the Uintah Basin. Among the 32,588 residents of Uintah County, the URLEA FONSI statement might raise a few eyebrows. Whether it is air pollution or water pollution, Uintah County has been the dumping ground for “the unwanted” since the mid nineteenth Century. Today, Uintah County features the most significantly degraded environment in the State of Utah. In fact, the degradation of both the human and natural environments of Uintah County is legendary.

Unlike Parcel 32 and all of the Uintah County parcels included in the Utah Recreational Land Exchange, this aerial view shows Corona Arch, which would be protected by the URLEA - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Unlike most of Utah, Mormons did not settle Uintah County. In 1861, Brigham Young sent a scouting party to the Uintah Basin and received word back the area was “good for nothing but nomad purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to 'hold the world together'". That section of country lying between the Wasatch Mountains and the eastern boundary of the territory, and south of Green River country, was “a vast contiguity of waste and measurably valueless”. Young made no further effort to colonize the area. Instead, he decided to send Ute Indians there.

That same year, President Abraham Lincoln created the Uintah Indian Reservation, thus beginning the relocation of many Utah and Colorado Indians to the Uinta Basin. In the 1880s, the federal government created the Uncompahgre Reservation (now part of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation) in the southern portion of Uintah County. The Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation comprise a significant portion of west Uintah County. There is relatively little private land in the county.

Landscape Arch, which in 1991 shed a large slab of its structure, is vulnerable to potential drilling and hydraulic fracking on URLEA Parcel 32, less than five miles away - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Uintah County's economy is based on extracting natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, and uintaite, which is a natural asphalt more commonly known by its trade name, Gilsonite. In the 1860s, Samuel H. Gilson initiated mineral extraction in Uintah County. In the early twentieth century, Gilsonite became the base for the black paint on Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles. In the early twentieth century, coal was the focus of mineral exploitation. Although now defunct, the Dyer Mine, Little Water Mine and Uteland Mine each laid waste to lands within Uintah County. Today, the county features branch offices of several petrochemical companies, including Halliburton and Schlumberger.

The February 2014 URLEA Decision of Record states, “The overwhelming majority of the non-Federal lands in the exchange are within areas designated through the land use planning process for special management for conservation and recreational purposes.” What that document does not say is that the overwhelming majority of the Federal lands in the exchange are within areas designated “Open” for oil, gas and tar sands development. Even so, the BLM FONSI statement ignores the potential impact by saying that mineral extraction on over 35,000 acres in Uintah County “will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment”.

With unbridled mineral exploration and production, will Greater Canyonlands National Monument experience the same fate as these classic road signs? I found them broken and dumped near U.S. Highway 191 North - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In Grand County, with its Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the now endangered Greater Canyonlands, the BLM paints a rosy picture of tourist dollars enhanced by the transfer of SITLA lands to BLM stewardship. On their webpage, they say, “Nearly six million annual visitors recreating on Utah’s public lands have boosted local economies and contributed to community job growth through recreation tourism. Public lands managed by the BLM in Utah contribute significantly to the state’s economy and, in turn, often have a positive impact on nearby communities. In fact, recreation on BLM-managed lands in Utah provided $490 million in local and national economic benefits in 2012.”

Again, if we look deeper, the picture is not so clear. In July 2013, Cushman & Wakefield completed the Appraisal reports for the Federal and non-Federal lands identified in the URLEA. The reports included a mineral evaluation of the exchange parcels "previously screened and identified by the State and the BLM" as having potential mineral values. Thus, if neither SITLA or BLM had previously identified the mineral resources on a given parcel, the Appraisal ignored the value of any minerals present. In fact, the Appraisal found that BLM would “experience a net gain of lands with potential for potash and sand and gravel and a net loss of lands with potential for oil and gas and tar sands”. Therefore, as SITLA and Uintah County experience a net gain of lands with potential for oil and gas and tar sands, BLM and Grand County will receive several natural arches and other sensitive sites, plus the potential for more new sand, gravel and potash mining.

In 2012, the Spirit of Hatch Point looked out on a timeless expanse. By 2014, his view included potash drilling rigs - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2013, BLM claimed that it had no choice but to issue permits for potash exploration near the Hatch Point Anticline Overlook. If the Moab District Resource Management Plan Map (RMP) designated an area as “Open”, BLM said it was obligated to issue the exploratory drilling permits. Other questionable acts by the Moab BLM Field Office include the 2013 issuance of a commercial filming permit in the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Apparently, the local BLM office saw filming of a “MythBusters” television episode as being wholly compatible with “wilderness study”.

At Hatch Point, in what had been an undisturbed, spiritual environment, drill rigs now dot the landscape. Each mineral exploration foray into Greater Canyonlands lessens the future chances of creating a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. If the extraction companies can lay waste to sufficient territory, they can effectively destroy the undisturbed environment necessary for national monument status. Meanwhile, the Moab BLM Field Office stands ready to issue permits for filming and mineral extraction on an expedited basis.

Like this sign at Lion's Club Park, Moab's history of environmental degradation will accelerate with the transfer of URLEA Parcel 32 to SITLA control and sale to the highest bidder - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Other than brief a mention on Page Seven of the URLEA Decision Record, there is no indication of where in Grand County those "sand, gravel or potash" resources lay. If the sand, gravel and potash deposits mentioned in the URLEA are in areas designated as “Open”, we can expect to see a boon in BLM permits issued for their immediate exploration and extraction. In the case of Hatch Point potash, the Moab BLM Field Office has already demonstrated blind allegiance to its own Resource Management Plan.

Under URLEA, we can expect any "Open" lands transferred to BLM purview to become immediately available for mineral exploration. In Moab, once exploration begins, it is only a matter of time before exploitation follows. That outcome would be in direct opposition to both the spirit and the letter of this law. Each parcel conveyed from SITLA to BLM should contain stipulations that include no future mineral development. Only then shall we see an actual increase in protection for Greater Canyonlands.

Enhanced Google Map shows the approximate location of URLEA Parcel 32, now destined for transfer to SITLA and conversion to private property, most likely ending up as a petrochemical production facility or a commercial development - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)A major premise of the URLEA is that the land exchange between Utah (SITLA) and the BLM shall be of "equal value". If that is true, how can 25,034 acres of non-Federal lands with largely recreational or environmental uses be equal in value to 35,516 acres of Federal lands targeted for mineral extraction? Grand County itself is going through a binge of land clearing and drilling activity unseen since the days of Charlie Steen, the "Uranium King".

In their official Appraisal, Cushman & Wakefield valued each parcel according to its “highest and best use”. Even with 198 parcels included in the URLEA Appraisal, BLM contact Joy Wehking at the BLM-Utah State Director's office told me that representatives of Cushman & Wakefield visited every site. Upon returning to their offices, correlating their field observations with the existing parcel descriptions was a daunting task. Despite their apparent best attempt, or perhaps because both BLM and SITLA failed to identify its mineral potential, Cushman & Wakefield missed badly on at least Parcel 32.

Construction of a new parking lot at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah could offer new access to URLEA Parcel 32 soon after transfer to SITLA ownership - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)According to all the positive publicity, the intention of the URLEA is to preserve and enhance recreation and to protect environmentally sensitive lands in Grand County. That such preservation and enhancement comes at the expense of an underrepresented rural county to the north is URLEA's “dirty little secret”. In Nevada, there is a secret place called “Area 51”, which is wrapped in myth and mystery. In Grand County, URLEA “Parcel 32” is equally mysterious. In a counter-intuitive move, the BLM proposes to transfer a prime Grand County parcel to SITLA. Once it becomes part of SITLA lands, Utah can then lease it to the highest bidder or sell it outright.

According to URLEA maps and documents, Parcel 32 consists of 352 acres of Federal land adjacent to Canyonlands Field (Moab Airport). The “Oil and Gas Leasing Stipulations” for Parcel 32 are “Open Subject to Standard Stipulations”. Despite its obvious potential for commercial or petrochemical development, Cushman & Wakefield appraised the “highest and best use” of
the entire parcel as “grazing land”. According to URLEA documents, Alan Swenson, Russell Stansfield and Fred Hunzeker do hold a grazing permit named “Bigflat-Tenmile”, but for only eighty of the 352 acres. That grazing permit expires in 2018. Elsewhere, in the URLEA section titled “Interests to be Conveyed or Reserved”, Parcel 32 reserves (and contains) county and U.S. highways and Union Pacific rail access, as well as a Fidelity Exploration & Union Pacific Railroad Engine 6475 transports empty cars along the Potash Branch Lione near URLEA Parcel 32 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Production Co. “pipeline” and a Pacific Energy and Mining Company (PEMC) “gas pipeline”. Despite its “Open” status for oil and gas leasing, by identifying it as grazing land, Cushman & Wakefield erroneously appraised Parcel 32 as being worth only $780,000.

Other than the transportation interests in the property, what do we know of the current occupants of Parcel 32? Recently, Fidelity Exploration began increased culinary water purchases from the City of Moab, ostensibly for use on their rapidly expanding gas field near Dead Horse Point. Moab City Manager Donna Metzler says the amount of water the town sells to drillers is “not a big hit on the system,”. Metzler went on to say, "I don’t know exactly where they take the water. I don’t know exactly what they’re using it for... You would expect a small motel to use about that much water."

For their part, Pacific Energy, is one of the more secretive oil and gas operations in Grand County. Although they do have a website, it is identified only by their internet URL address, not the name of the company. Although their website looks professional enough, the PEMC "Oil" webpage links to a Chevron Oil Company "Crude Oil Marketing" webpage. The PEMC "Investors" webpage links to a Yahoo Finance stock listing for the company.
Recent road and parking lot construction at Canyonlands Field ends near the property line at URLEA Parcel 32, which is scheduled for sale to the highest bidder once it becomes part of Utah/SITLA owned land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Listed as "Over the Counter - Other", in the past year, PEMC has traded at between one cent per share and $.35 per share. Its latest close, on February 3, 2014 was three cents. Most stocks that I watch do not fluctuate by 350% in a single year. In any event, PEMC looks like a penny stock that is ripe for speculation.

Had Cushman & Wakefield appraised Parcel 32 for its potential as an oil and gas production site, or as a railroad and highway terminal or transfer-station for two of the largest oil and gas producers in Grand County, its value could have gone as high as $10 million. Not ironically, over 20,000 SITLA-owned acres, which were valued at $10 million, recently disappeared from the land swap in order to adhere to the “equal valuation” clause of the agreement.

If the current version of URLEA becomes law, what will future airline passengers and motorists see as they approach Moab from the north? As early as 2019, if the Moab BLM Field Office holds to their own Management Resource Plan, visitors can expect to see a 352-acre petrochemical production facility adjacent to Canyonlands Field. Based on its existing
The current BLM Oil & Gas Leasing Map shows URLEA Parcel 32 as "Open" for exploration - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Management Resource Plan, and the BLM Moab Field Office's history of granting any and all conforming mineral exploration permits, the last chance to stop exploitation of Parcel 32 is to either remove it from the land swap or force SITLA to pay "equal value" as indicated by its potential for commercial or petrochemical development.

According to BLM contact Joy Wehking, SITLA is on public record that they plan to convey Parcel 32 into as yet undetermined private ownership. "It is the price we have to pay", she added. If the underlying premise of the URLEA is an "exchange of equal value", why should "we, the people" pay anything to assist private development of land designated by the URLEA as "cattle grazing land"?

Unless the BLM receives hard-copy, written protests prior to the close of comments on March 24, 2014, URLEA Parcel 32 will soon thereafter transfer to Utah/SITLA at a grossly undervalued price. If my evaluation is correct, SITLA should immediately reintroduce the remaining 20,000 acres originally targeted for inclusion in the land swap. Only with the inclusion of all $10 million worth of non-Federal parcels recently withdrawn, can the BLM claim that URLEA represents an "exchange of equal value". If SITLA refuses a fair appraisal for Parcel 32, BLM could void the URLEA and produce the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that it should have conducted in the first place.

The URLEA Appendices Map of Parcel 32 clearly shows it as Federal Land, "Open" to mineral exploration - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As of this writing, it is too late for "comments". Even sending an email to BLM will not help. The only action that will halt this land-grab is if "interested parties submit written protests to the BLM-Utah State Director". Sadly, the BLM webpage for URLEA does not include the mailing address of the BLM-Utah State Director. During a telephone call to BLM contact Joy Wehking, she informed me that the appropriate mailing address is listed at the top of the "Notice of Decision" page.

Since the BLM did not see fit to put that address on their main URLEA webpage, I will publish it here: Attn. Joy Wehking, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Utah State Office, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1345. Ms. Wehking informed me by telephone that as of March 7, 2014, no written protests to URLEA were then on file. With my mailing a copy of this document to her, that situation will soon change.

By James McGillis at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0) | Link

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