Last fall, SUWA successfully challenged a decision by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to approve oil and gas drilling on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah’s northeast corner. Our victory granted a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most scenic landscapes. Unfortunately, the reprieve was short-lived.

Now, the Biden administration, rather than distance itself from the last administration’s unlawful decision, is poised to okay the same drilling proposal. That will open this wild and highly scenic area to industrialization, with construction of new access roads, well pads, and the drilling of two wells—all about a quarter of a mile from the monument’s boundary.

The BLM’s Green River District is not merely on the verge of approving the project, it is bending over backwards to make it happen. The drilling and related development will take place on public lands that are currently subject to a “no surface occupancy” stipulation, which prohibits all surface disturbing activities. However, at the project proponent’s request, the BLM is proposing to waive that important stipulation and allow development of the area rather than require the company to operate in a less sensitive place.

Lands with wilderness characteristics in the Split Mountain Benches area near Dinosaur National Monument. Copyright Scott Braden/SUWA

SUWA, along with thousands of members of the public, recently commented on the BLM’s draft environmental assessment for the project and demanded that the agency deny the waiver. In fact, the proposal is so egregious that even Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, which rarely, if ever, opposes oil and gas development, requested that the BLM deny the waiver in order to protect “the unique visual resources in Dinosaur National Monument.”

Dinosaur National Monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts and paleontological resources. In addition, according to the National Park Service, the monument “is one of the darkest places remaining in the United States. Because there is little light pollution here, you can see the stars of the Milky Way galaxy with startling clarity.”

SUWA will fight this proposal at every step of the process to ensure that the monument and surrounding wilderness-caliber lands remain unspoiled.

—Landon Newell

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Summer 2021 issue)