BLM Refuses to Spare the ROD, Gives OK to Spoil Desolation Canyon

Yesterday was a bad news Monday.  The Obama Administration, in a disappointing move, approved the Gasco project in Utah’s Desolation Canyon wilderness.  By signing the Gasco Record of Decision (ROD), BLM has placed the interests of small-time speculators above that of the public and one of Utah’s largest primitive and roadless landscapes.

As we have blogged about before, the Gasco project is a large natural gas project in northeastern Utah, overlapping the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  This complex is one of the nation’s wilderness gems: a large and wild ecosystem replete with wildlife.  The Gasco project area alone covers habitat for deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, and mountain lion.

The Obama Administration was faced with an easy choice here.  It could have approved a compromise version of the proposed Gasco project that would have steered development away from the sensitive wildlands of this region—lands that the most recent Bush Administration acknowledged were wilderness caliber—while still allowing the company to drill over 1,100 wells or it could eschew all compromise and give the company the authorization to drill nearly 1,300 wells.  Unfortunately, they went with the latter.  They did this over the objections of our members, congressional representatives, the outdoor industry, and many others.  Apparently, it was more important to them to give away public lands for speculative gas development in an unproven area during times of record low gas prices.

Contrary to the BLM and company’s clumsy wordsmithing and semantic gymnastics, the Gasco project is most definitely within the larger Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  The BLM’s own environmental impact statement confirmed that the Gasco project overlapped with nearly 40,000 acres of the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex, an area that was “inventoried by the BLM and found to have wilderness characteristics” (Gasco Final EIS at 3-142).  Interior’s approval of the Gasco project undeniably places these lands at risk.

As these recent photos demonstrate, this is a wild and spectacular area.  Shame on the BLM for giving one company the green light to destroy it.

BLM’s approval of the Gasco project clears the way for development in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness (here in the mid-ground) and greater-Nine Mile Canyon region. Development could also proceed atop the Bad Land Cliffs (here in the background).
Gasco project area – wells would be located on high rims and central to left portion of this area.
Sand Wash and Desolation Canyon
Upper Desolation Canyon – Gasco could drill wells in the center flat landscape, coming to the river in the more relief area.