BLM Preparing to Sell Oil and Gas Leases Along the Banks of Utah’s White River

Jan 12th, 2023 Written by suwa

Leasing Proposal Threatens Scenic River Landscape, “Paddler’s Paradise”

For Immediate Release


Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991,

John Weisheit, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, 435.260.2590,

Salt Lake City, UT (January 12, 2023): The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing to sell several oil and gas leases along the scenic White River in northeastern Utah, as well as on BLM-identified lands with wilderness characteristics in the wild Book Cliffs. These wild and undeveloped lands provide outstanding opportunities for hiking, camping, rafting, hunting, and other quiet recreation.

The White River is a “floater’s and paddler’s paradise” in eastern Utah that meanders through the high desert of the Colorado Plateau before reaching its confluence with the Green River. It is one of the few remaining undeveloped stretches of public land in the Uinta Basin, a region that suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation due to the more than 10,000 existing oil and gas wells drilled to date.    

“The White River is too special to drill,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Development of these leases will destroy the unique characteristics that make the river so special, while also exacerbating the climate crisis and threatening important fish and wildlife habitat. The BLM’s move to lock up more public land for oil and gas development is short-sighted and irresponsible—there is no legal mandate to offer these leases.”

White River. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

The White River region’s deep canyons, soaring cliffs, rocky ridges, and unique geological features provide stunning vistas for those lucky enough to visit the area. But oil and gas development in this region will replace the expansive vistas, quiet stillness, and intense night skies with the sights and sounds of industrial development.

“This stretch of the White River remains unaffected by the sights and rotten egg odor of hydrogen sulfide associated with oil and gas operations in the Uinta Basin,” said John Weisheit, a professional river guide in eastern Utah and a representative of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Aside from the health issues this presents for me and my companions, the sight, smell, and sounds of development foul the experience of enjoying these beautiful public lands. Drilling along the White River is not a wise use for this shared public asset.”

“There is a dangerous myth that the Tavaputs Plateau is an area with low scenic value and therefore worth sacrificing for short-term profit,” said Lauren Wood, owner and river guide at Holiday River Expedition and representative of Green River Action Network. “As someone who operates a rafting business in this region, I can assure you that whoever peddles that lie has never experienced the area the way I and tens of thousands of my guests have. The White River not only provides a scenic family-friendly wilderness experience, its flows are part of our region’s lifeblood. Protecting it from these destructive and irresponsible leases must be a priority if we intend to have intact ecosystems and a livable climate to share with our kids and grandkids in the challenging years to come.”

“With its large riparian forests, unique scenery, and outstanding opportunities for solitude, the White River offers an increasingly rare recreational experience,” said Cody Perry with Rig to Flip. “At a time when demand for river permits far outpaces the available supply, the White River will almost certainly see rising popularity in coming years. Oil and gas wells dominate the region, except for this thin strip along the river. For too long the BLM has failed to protect this outstanding landscape or honor the objectives set forth in the White River Special Recreation Management Area. Prioritizing fossil fuel development in this sensitive riparian corridor is not only shortsighted, but an abandonment of the agency’s multi-use mission.”

There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development—with only 42 percent of its total leased land in development. There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land leased for oil and gas development at the close of BLM’s 2021 fiscal year. (see here—follow hyperlink for “Documents (.zip)” and then select “Table2_AcreageInEffect”). At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.07 million acres of those leased lands in production (see here—follow hyperlink for “Documents (.zip)” and then select “Table6_AcreageOfProducingLeases”).

The agency’s proposed parcel list includes 13 leases covering approximately 16,619 acres of federal public land in Utah. The BLM is accepting public comment on its proposal through January 19, 2023 (more information is available here). 

Photographs of the White River are available here.