Oil and Gas Development Archives


  • March 26th, 2015

    Records Show Fish and Wildlife Service Conceded to Habitat Destruction Demanded by Industry Under the Guise of “Conservation”

    Graham's Penstemon (Susan Meyer)

    Graham’s Penstemon (Susan Meyer)

    DENVER— Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Denver challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers that live only on oil shale formations in Colorado and Utah. Oil shale and tar sands mining and traditional oil and gas drilling threaten 100 percent of known White River beardtongue populations and over 85 percent of the known Graham’s beardtongue populations.

    In August 2013, the Service proposed to provide Endangered Species Act protection to the wildflowers and nearly 76,000 acres of their essential habitat, recognizing the threat posed by mining and drilling. One year later—after lobbying by industry and its supporters, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and Uintah County—the Service reversed-course and denied Endangered Species Act protections. The Service based its decision on a 15-year “conservation agreement” negotiated behind closed doors with pro-industry stakeholders.

    Public records obtained by plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit show that the conservation agreement purposefully excluded wildflower habitat from protection to accommodate oil shale mining and drilling. SITLA’s Associate Director and Chief Legal Counsel, John Andrews, described the agreement as follows:

    “The basic concept is you’ve got a 15-year agreement that’s going to buy for all of our miners the ability to strip mine and destroy any [wildflowers] that are located on those sites in exchange for some conservation” on lands “that wouldn’t be disturbed” anyway.[1]

    In its proposal to list the species, the Service recognized oil shale mining in the wildflowers’ habitat as one of the primary threats justifying the need for Endangered Species Act protections. FWS found that that development of just two planned oil shale projects in Utah by the Enefit and Red Leaf corporations would have substantial impacts and would reduce the viability of the species. But the conservation agreement denies protections on private and state lands slated for oil shale development during the 15-year term of the agreement, including those owned or leased by Enefit and Red Leaf.

    “The conservation agreement is a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “Although the Fish and Wildlife Service previously identified habitat that was essential to the survival of these wildflowers, the agency rolled over during negotiations and sacrificed more than 40% of this essential habitat, including lands the oil shale industry plans to strip mine in the next 15 years.”

    “The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to make decisions based on science, not politics,” said Megan Mueller, senior biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “The science here is clear, these wildflowers must be protected from strip mining and drilling.”

    “The Endangered Species Act has an incredible record of saving species—but it can only work if we use it. We’ve known for decades that these wildflowers need federal protections if they’re going to survive,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful to see the Fish and Wildlife Service forego that effective tool just for the profits of one industry.”

    “These rare and beautiful wildflowers are a treasured part of our natural heritage and we need to protect them for future generations to enjoy,” said Tony Frates with the Utah Native Plant Society. “Rather than ensuring their survival through the proven protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service opted for a conservation agreement that paves the way for destruction of large populations of these two species.”

    Earthjustice filed today’s lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to list the beardtongues under the Endangered Species Act on behalf of Rocky Mountain Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Native Plant Society, Grand Canyon Trust, Western Resource Advocates, and Western Watersheds Project.

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    [1] An audio recording of Mr. Andrew’s presentation at the SITLA Board Retreat, April 16-17 (Part 3), is available through Utah’s public notice website, at http://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/archive/101711.mp3 (1:21:30–:59).

    Complaint: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/1%20-%202015.03.26%20-%20Complaint.pdf

     

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  • February 25th, 2015

    Here are some “good news” stories that you may have missed over the past few weeks. Any one of these things, standing alone, would be reason to cheer. Taken together, you might agree that fortune is smiling on us.

    • Appeals Board upholds BLM decision not to lease San Rafael Swell for oil and gas. Last week, an Interior Department appeals board upheld Utah BLM State Director Juan Palma’s decision not to offer certain parcels at the November 2013 oil and gas lease sale. Oil and gas companies had hoped to bid on and develop thousands of acres in the San Rafael Swell, but Director Palma made the right decision to withdraw those lands from sale. Thank you to everyone who helped us protect these wild lands in the San Rafael Swell, including the more than 200 wilderness supporters who gathered outside the BLM headquarters in September 2013 chanting “No wells in the Swell.”
    tm IMG_5770

    More than 200 wilderness supporters gathered outside the BLM headquarters in September 2013 to protest oil and gas leases offered in the San Rafael Swell. State BLM Director Juan Palma wisely withdrew the leases, and that decision has just been upheld by an Interior Deptartment appeals board.

    • Federal court rejects industry challenge of Salazar decision to withdraw 77 leases from Dec 2008 lease sale. On February 12th a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought in 2009 by some of the high bidders who challenged Secretary Salazar’s decision to withdraw 77 leases from the infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale.  This should be the end of the line for the industry-led litigation challenging this lease sale.
    • Wild and culturally significant lands taken off the chopping block. Last week, Utah BLM State Director Juan Palma announced his decision not to offer over twenty oil and gas leases in proposed wilderness and other culturally significant lands. Director Palma also deferred leasing about a dozen parcels in the so-called “state roadless area” (located in the Book Cliffs and a popular area for backcountry hunting) at the request of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Predictably, oil and gas trade groups complained about this decision but the fact of the matter is that nearly 4 million acres of BLM-managed lands in Utah are under lease while just around 1 million acres are in development. There simply is no shortage of leased lands!
    • Only 11 oil and gas rigs operating in Utah. The number of operating oil and gas rigs in Utah has dropped by more than half from this time last year (26 rigs in Feb 2014, 11 rigs in Feb 2015). The rigs that remain in operation are largely concentrated in well developed areas in the Uintah Basin (Utah’s “oil patch”) which means fewer threats to proposed wilderness . . . for now (we’ll take it!).

     

     

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  • November 4th, 2014

    Allege Utah BLM illegally piecemealing oil and gas development

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991; Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, 415.977.5721

    SALT LAKE CITY – Last Friday, October 31, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club challenged a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Moab field office to approve a natural gas gathering pipeline system on public lands close to Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.  These lands are remarkably scenic, are visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually from around the country and the world, and are important to Moab’s tourism economy.

    The gathering pipeline system was proposed by Fidelity Exploration & Production, the primary oil and gas operator in this area. The system can only operate when connected to another pipeline project that BLM approved last year, known as the “Dead Horse Lateral.”  Rather than analyze the environmental impacts of these two projects together, BLM piecemealed its review into separate analyses.  Federal environmental laws prohibit the agency from taking such an approach.  Instead, BLM was required to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considered both pipeline proposals as well as associated development activities.

    Big Flat Pipeline

    “BLM’s decision to consider Fidelity’s gathering pipeline system in isolation, and not take into account the environmental impacts from other projects necessary to make the gathering system work, is a textbook violation of environmental laws,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “As a result, BLM significantly underplayed the impacts from swelling oil and gas development in this remarkable landscape.”

    Oil and gas development has significantly expanded over the past five years with dozens of new wells already drilled or planned.  Along with that drilling, Fidelity has conducted intrusive seismic tests and installed other oil field infrastructure.  Heavy truck traffic is now common along Utah State Highway 313 leading to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and the region’s scenic redrock country.

    “The ever-expanding oil and gas extraction in the Big Flat region requires the BLM to conduct a full analysis of the numerous impacts to this iconic landscape,” said Moab resident William Rau.  “I am highly concerned over the safety of the pipeline, oil wells and increased heavy truck traffic, and the dangers they pose to the 500,000 annual visitors to the area.”

    In its third quarter earnings report, issued Monday, November 3, 2014 Fidelity’s parent company the MDU Resources Group announced its intention to sell Fidelity Exploration and Production.

    SUWA and Sierra Club’s challenge was filed with the BLM’s State Office in Salt Lake City.

     

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  • August 5th, 2014

    The Interior Board of Land Appeals has dismissed an appeal brought by the Western Energy Alliance and a small oil and gas company which challenged BLM’s decision not to offer certain wilderness character and culturally significant parcels in the San Rafael Swell for lease at the November 2013 oil and gas lease sale.

    San Rafael Swell Rally

    A woman protests proposed oil and gas leases during a rally in front of the BLM’s state offices September 16, 2013.

    “We’re pleased that industry’s appeal has been rejected,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM made the right decision not to offer these wild and culturally rich public lands in the Utah’s remarkable San Rafael Swell for oil and gas leasing and development.”

    Last year the BLM proposed to sell 57 oil and gas leases primarily located in Utah’s stunning San Rafael Swell. The leases would have green lighted development on more than 80,000 acres of proposed wilderness, the vast majority of which the BLM itself acknowledges are wilderness caliber landscapes. The leases would have also authorized surface activities in a culturally rich landscape and over the objections of The Hopi Tribe. Hundreds of people wrote and emailed the BLM asking them to “think first, and lease later.” More than 150 people rallied at BLM’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City and delivered this message personally. BLM ultimately withdrew these parcels from sale.

    Shortly thereafter an oil and gas trade group, the Western Energy Alliance, filed an appeal with the Interior Department seeking to overturn the BLM’s decision not to offer these leases. They were joined by a small oil and gas company who had hoped to buy some of these leases. The gist of their appeal was that because BLM initially made the wrong decision to offer these leases, it was required to do so no matter what kind of information the agency learned about the threats that development would pose to fragile cultural sites, threatened species, etc. In other words, industry pushed for the “good old days” of “lease first and think later.” The Interior appeals board flatly rejected these arguments and dismissed the appeal.

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  • July 25th, 2014

    SUWA is working with the Obama administration to bring balance back to public land management through tools like master leasing plans (MLPs), which take a closer look at which lands should be off-limits to new oil and gas leasing and development (and which should remain open to such activities).

    Currently, the BLM is preparing a Moab MLP that covers nearly 850,000 acres. Learn more about master leasing plans in this video from the Equal Ground Coalition:

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