Amid Pandemic, Interior Moves Forward with Enormous Oil and Gas Drilling Plan on Public Lands Near National Parks   

Jun 10th, 2020 Written by suwa

Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213-814-8666,
Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, 

Salt Lake City, UT – The Trump administration has released its proposal to open up more than 110,000 acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, most of which lies in southern Utah near Canyonlands, Arches and Capitol Reef national parks.

  • In total, the administration is opening up 114,050 acres of public land to oil and gas drilling.
  • Leases are within 0.4 miles of Canyonlands National Park, 4 miles of Arches National Park, 3 miles of Capitol Reef National Park, and 0.7 miles of the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Leases are also within 5 miles to Dead Horse Point State Park, and within 0.1 miles of the Green River.
  • Leases also encompass lands with wilderness characteristics including Duma Point, Goldbar Canyon, Hatch Canyon, Horse Thief Point, Hunters Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon areas. These are areas that appear natural (i.e., are free from signs of human development), and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation (e.g., hiking, camping, and hunting).

A map of the area is available here

Photographs of the area are available here

At more than 114,050 acres across 77 separate parcels of public land, the scale of the lease sale is the largest seen in the area since the oil industry giveaways at the end of the George W. Bush administration in December 2008, which ironically also included 77 parcels.

The nature and scale of that Bush-era lease sale was so controversial that it prompted a lawsuit from conservation groups that blocked the sale and led to long overdue and common sense reforms to the oil and gas leasing process. The Trump administration overturned those reforms shortly after taking office, setting the stage for a repeat of the disastrous December 2008 lease sale.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pressing ahead with its plans to proceed with the lease sale by beginning the public comment period, ignoring numerous calls for the agency to pause or extend comment periods until after the pandemic.

The BLM made the right decision last month to extend the comment period on a planning process for oil and gas leasing near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where many communities are focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping their members safe. The agency should also take community needs into consideration here and extend the comment period.

The U.S. Geologic Survey and other government and academic reports predict that southeastern Utah will warm more rapidly over the coming decades than nearly any other part of America.  By proposing to sell these leases to oil and gas extraction the Trump administration is ignoring the climate crisis and working to seal the fate of this area to be hotter, drier and less ecologically sustainable.

“This supersized lease sale will hand over oil and gas lease rights to famous Utah red-rock landscapes and lead to heavy industrial development and emissions that will degrade air quality and dark night skies, permanently mar the land, and exacerbate the climate crisis,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It’s plain to see that the Trump administration is trying to sell as many leases as it can before the November election; we’ve stopped this kind of short-sighted public lands fire sale before.”

“This is a huge expansion and a real threat to nearby national parks and monuments, as well as enormous amounts of the extraordinary red-rock landscape that Utah is famous for,” said Erika Pollard, associate director southwest for the National Park Conservation Association. “The public have a right to have their say about oil and gas drilling plans, and especially those as reckless as these. Forcing this through in the middle of a pandemic while people are preoccupied with keeping their families and communities safe demonstrates a complete disregard for the public. The Bureau of Land Management urgently needs to reconsider this entire oil and gas drilling plan and at the very least should postpone the process until the public can participate properly.”

“Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks are among the crown jewels of America’s National Park System, attracting over 2.5 million visitors to Utah in a normal year,” said Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “But this is not a normal year.  Leasing public land for oil and gas drilling on the doorstep of these national parks will always be a threat to these irreplaceable resources. And right now, there is no good reason for BLM to push through a lease sale as communities across the country continue to deal with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. We urge BLM to defer the leasing proposal until the fall, when the public will be better able to submit their comments on this questionable lease sale.”

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. SUWA promotes local and national recognition of the region’s unique wilderness character through research and public education; supports both administrative and legislative initiatives to permanently protect the Colorado Plateau wild places within the National Wilderness Preservation System, or by other protective designations where appropriate; builds support for such initiatives on both the local and national level; and provides leadership within the conservation movement through uncompromising advocacy for wilderness preservation.