BLM Reaffirms Trump-Era Leases in Southern Utah; Including in Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness – 5.30.24

May 30th, 2024 Written by suwa

May 30, 2024

BLM Reaffirms Trump-Era Leases in Southern Utah; Including in Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness – 5.30.24

Landon Newell, Staff Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA); (801) 428-3991;
Grant Stevens, Communications Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA); (319) 427-0260;
Andrew Scibetta, Press Secretary, NRDC; 202.289.2421 (

Salt Lake City, UT –  Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it has reaffirmed Trump-era decisions to issue 51 oil and gas leases in Emery County, Utah – including one located within the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness (designated in 2019 as part of the Dingell Act). Below is a statement from SUWA Staff Attorney Landon Newell and NRDC Senior Advocate Josh Axelrod and additional information. 

“This decision doubles down on one of the most controversial oil and gas leases issued during the Trump era – located within the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness,” said Landon Newell, SUWA Staff Attorney. “It’s baffling to see the Biden Administration give its blessing to a leasing decision so rushed and poorly conducted that it garnered national media attention and a groundswell of opposition. SUWA intends to closely review today’s decision and take the necessary steps to protect this iconic landscape.” 

“Today’s announcement shows just how brazen the fossil fuel industry is, continuing their push to drill anywhere they can, regardless of the consequences,” said Josh Axelrod, Senior Advocate for the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The Bureau of Land Management has astonishingly acquiesced to industry’s pressure and chosen a course that again fails to take any measures that would protect the precious natural resource values of this area.”

Background info:

In February 2019, one month before the largest wilderness bill of the last ten years would become law, the BLM rushed to issue a lease to drill in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, which was formally designated as Wilderness by the Dingell Act. 

The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is bounded on the east by the Green River, and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River (from which the Wilderness takes its name), abuts the lease and passes through Bowknot Bend on its way to the confluence with the Colorado River. This stretch of river is one of the most iconic and world-renowned segments of river in the United States–Congress designated this stretch of river as Scenic under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as part of the Dingell Act.

The BLM’s decision to reaffirm this lease gives the Biden administration’s blessing to the myriad problems inherent in the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. In 2018, the BLM offered the Labyrinth Canyon oil and gas lease without allowing the public to review or comment on that decision. It also did not prepare site-specific analysis prior to offering the lease for development, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Notably, the BLM formally issued the lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019 only a few weeks before the Dingell Act became law–in which Congress created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. The BLM rushed to issue the lease with full knowledge that the area would soon be designated as Wilderness–a designation that prohibits new leasing and development.

Despite congressional Wilderness designation, and with time quickly running out on the Trump administration, as a last minute handout to its industry allies, BLM rushed through a decision to authorize drilling on this lease, within the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. NRDC, SUWA and other conservation partners challenged that approval in federal court in Washington D.C. and initially stopped the drilling project, but the court eventually allowed the development to proceed. Twin Bridges drilled the well, which turned out to be a dry hole. With today’s decision, however, the lease remains on the books.

Today’s decision also reaffirmed 50 leases sold by the Trump administration in the San Rafael Desert. The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and BLM-identified lands with wilderness characteristics such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. 

Additional background information:  

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is a nonprofit organization with members and supporters from around the country dedicated to protecting America’s redrock wilderness. From offices in Moab, Salt Lake City, and Washington, DC, our team of professionals defends the redrock, organizes support for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, and stewards this world-renowned landscape. Learn more at