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Once again, your voice in defense of Utah’s wild places is urgently needed.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing to lease 79 parcels for oil and gas development on approximately 100,000 acres of federal public lands in eastern and central Utah. Included in this list are parcels along the western edge of the San Rafael Swell, in the heart of the Desolation Canyon region, the Book Cliffs, and immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.
Leasing in the San Rafael Swell
For the third time in five years, the BLM is proposing to offer leases in the Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell—an area with high cultural and archaeological density and outstanding recreational opportunities. The agency’s initial decision to offer these leases in 2013 drew immediate and widespread criticism, including a large public protest in front of the BLM’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Ultimately, the agency determined that it did not have enough information regarding cultural and archaeological resources to justify leasing the area for oil and gas development. In 2015, the BLM once again deferred leasing in the Molen Reef region, citing the continuing need to gather more cultural and archaeological resource information.
To date, the agency has still not completed those cultural resource inventories. In fact, the BLM admits that it has surveyed at most only 2.9 percent of the proposed parcels and thus is in no stronger a position to justify leasing now than it was in 2013. The agency’s leasing flip-flop is a disservice to this remarkable wilderness-caliber landscape and its thousands of known—and yet to be discovered—cultural resources.
Leasing near Dinosaur National Monument and in the Desolation Canyon and Book Cliffs regions
In a return to the Bush administration’s scorched earth approach to oil and gas leasing in the Uinta Basin, the BLM is also proposing to offer leases in areas proposed for wilderness designation in the Desolation Canyon and Book Cliffs regions as well as immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.
This ill-advised proposal would, among other things, green-light oil and gas development right next to the monument, including along the primary access route travelled by thousands of visitors annually. One of the parcels was previously offered at the BLM’s infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale and later withdrawn from sale by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after a successful lawsuit by SUWA and others blocked its issuance.
In a letter to the BLM, the National Park Service has objected to the leasing proposal, citing adverse impacts to air quality, viewsheds, dark night skies, water quality, and natural soundscapes. Oil and gas development on the parcels near the monument would be visible from the Quarry Visitor Center as well as from numerous vantage points within the monument.
Terrific news! The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has pulled back an outrageous proposal to lease federal public lands for oil and gas development at the doorstep of Zion National Park.
And it was citizen action that made the difference!
The problem emerged this past winter when the BLM identified two parcels near Zion for inclusion in a September 2017 oil and gas lease sale. The parcels of land are less than two miles from the park boundary, lay clearly within the park’s viewshed, and are traversed by the Kolob Terrace Road – a popular access route to the backcountry portion of the park. The parcels also abut the town of Virgin and are transected by a popular mountain bike trail.
Local citizens, supported by conservation groups including SUWA, jumped into action. Several hundred people packed a local information meeting in the tiny community of Virgin. In response to the encouragement of local residents, the towns of Springdale and Toquerville passed resolutions against leasing. The Washington County Commission, concerned especially about impacts to water resources, followed suit. Two dozen local businesses joined together to write the BLM. And letters poured in from around the country. In total, more than 40,000 people wrote comments objecting to the proposed lease sale.
The public outcry even captured the attention of Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert. In a letter to the BLM, Governor Herbert asked that leasing be deferred, stating that oil and gas development in the area would threaten the recreation and tourism based economies of local communities and noting that the area was “not ideal for extraction.”
SUWA offers a big thanks and congratulations to everyone who helped. This victory is a great reminder that even in these tough times we can prevail in protecting Utah’s wild places when citizens join together to speak out!
The Bureau of Land Management’s Saint George field office is preparing to lease for oil and gas development approximately 4,730 acres of federal public land at its upcoming lease sale. Two of the parcels are located less than two miles from Zion National Park along the Kolob Terrace Road, a popular tourist route. Oil and gas development in this area will be visible from the gateway community of Virgin as well as from inside the park, threatening pristine night skies, air quality, and tourism.
View across lease parcels 42 and 43 at the outskirts of Zion National Park. Copyright Luke Henry/SUWA
The proposal to lease for oil and gas development on the doorstep of Utah’s most popular national park has been met, unsurprisingly, by strong opposition. Local residents packed the Virgin Community Center to express their concerns during a public meeting with BLM officials, and both the Washington County Commission and the Town of Springdale (gateway to Zion National Park) have passed resolutions in opposition to the lease sale.
Add your voice by sending a message to the BLM today.
The agency needs to know that it is unacceptable to auction off for private development the views, experiences, and heritage of one of Utah’s crown jewels. The more than four million annual visitors to the park come to be inspired by its beauty and grandeur, not to see views spoiled by pumpjacks, drill rigs, and wastewater pits.
The BLM is accepting public comments through this Thursday, March 9th. Click here to submit your comments now.
Yesterday afternoon, December 8, BLM announced its decision to defer from leasing two highly contested oil and gas lease parcels in Nine Mile Canyon, citing unresolved issues regarding impacts to rock art and other cultural resources.
The Utah BLM has kicked off its planning process for the San Rafael Desert Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for lands in eastern Emery and Wayne counties and is accepting public scoping comments through Friday, July 1.