Oil and Gas Development


  • June 29th, 2021

    Thanks to the steady and persistent work of our Wildlands Team and more than a half-decade of service expertise gained by our Stewardship Program, SUWA has successfully catalyzed overdue protection efforts for the diverse landscapes in the San Rafael Swell designated as wilderness over two years ago through the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

    A rock cairn basket marks (and mimics) natural formations in the Sid’s Mountain Wilderness.

    Making Progress on the Ground
    This spring we began working with the Bureau of Land Management’s Price field office—the office tasked with ensuring the integrity of those lands designated as wilderness: Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, Mexican Mountain, and many more of the San Rafael Swell’s iconic landscapes. The approach and processes we developed and continue to hone are concise, long term, and no-nonsense. Beginning with the foundation of years of data collected during fieldwork conducted by Wildlands Field Director Ray Bloxham, we rely on SUWA’s GIS team to incorporate this data into interactive maps identifying critical needs on specific public lands. Our Stewardship Coordinator Jack Hanley then revisits these sites with an attending BLM Ranger to assess, describe, and propose site-specific work plans to shore up wilderness boundaries and ensure that the impacts of ORV travel and dispersed camping are addressed head-on.

    This groundtruthing and collection of data then produce formal work proposals specific to a designated wilderness area. This spring, we targeted our efforts along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, as well as locations along the eastern flank of Sid’s Mountain Wilderness. After two trips and over 200 volunteer hours committed, we’ve completed stage one protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. Currently and through the summer, we are in the midst of scoping the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, with plans for multiple fall projects beginning with a run of three weekends in September and October surrounding National Public Lands Day: September 11/12, September 25/26 (National Public Lands Day), and October 2/3. And, already in the pipeline, we have plans to move forward into the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in the spring of 2022 and Muddy Creek Wilderness in the fall of 2022.

    Volunteer Jordan assembles the wire frame for a rock cairn basket which will serve as base for boundary signage along the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

    An Interdisciplinary Approach
    Once our proposal has run the gamut of BLM resource specialist approvals, we then design, schedule, recruit, and execute a series of stewardship projects with field crews consisting of SUWA members, new supporters, Emery County Public Lands Council members, BLM representatives, and SUWA staff. These projects are the heart of our program, the most public aspect of our work, and emblematic of what we do. However, they are notably and importantly the culmination of diverse and persistent work within our Stewardship Program and across SUWA’s Wildlands, GIS, and Legal Teams prior to and following these flagship events. Years in the making and with years of work ahead, our hands-on work implementing wilderness projects in the Swell is undoubtedly a team effort.

    A prime example of how rehabilitation efforts such as surface raking, “iceberging” of boulders, and “deadplanting” of downed vegetation can effectively disappear the tracks of illegal ORV travel. Featured here is the Mexican Mountain Wilderness’ western boundary.

    The Work
    While on the ground in the Swell, our first approach is minimalism: raking out tracks, removing campsites, and naturalizing the landscape by strategically placing downed brush and boulders. In some cases, we employ cairn basket building—a process by which wilderness signs are housed in a cylindrical, four-foot-tall wire mesh basket filled with locally-sourced rock. The signs are drilled at the base where wire is run through and around a small boulder. Both a preventative measure for sign removal or destruction and an educational tool, you will find these installations in washes and at the junction of former illegal routes. Once installed, we recruit additional volunteers to monitor these sites for impacts and inform our Stewardship Team of up-to-date conditions. This is a key component of our growing Wilderness Stewards Program.

    Yet, as robust as our initial strategies are—95 percent of our work has endured the onslaught of the recent Memorial Day Weekend crowd—we recognize that these endeavors are merely the first offensive in a years-long drive to support SUWA’s broader effort to ensure long-lasting and effective management of wilderness in the Swell. As recreation and travel plans are shaped and implemented, and as the impacts of industrialized recreation create new challenges for wild places, we know that our stewardship work will require consistent and timely review, redesign, and reinforcement. In other words, where wilderness is concerned, it is a fact that—to ensure effective protections—we must be in this for the long haul. 2021 is the first year of many that our staff and crews will manifest a new paradigm of management on the landscape. In the years that come, we hope that you and others will join us in ensuring that our work becomes the standard by which all wilderness-quality lands are protected and defended across Utah and the West.

    Visit our website and Apply Today!

    Click here to learn more about our Stewardship Scholarships offered to student applicants from historically underserved communities currently  enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college, university, vocational school, or technical school. 

    Our crew works in tandem, employing a rock sling to move exceptionally heavy boulders to where they will block future illegal travel into the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

     

  • June 14th, 2021

    The Biden administration is poised to authorize oil and gas drilling on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument. If approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the proposal will industrialize a remote and scenic area by greenlighting the construction of new access roads, well pads, and the drilling of two wells—all about ¼ of a mile from the monument.

    This ill-conceived project—proposed by Hoodoo Mining & Production Co. LLC—runs counter to every stated goal and objective of the Biden administration. It threatens some of our nation’s wildest, most scenic public lands, including a national monument, and will harm lands with wilderness characteristics as well as priority habitat for greater sage-grouse. On top of all this, it will exacerbate the climate crisis.

    The BLM is accepting comments through June 23rd. Please tell agency not to approve this terrible drilling proposal.

    Split Mountain Benches
    Wilderness-quality lands at risk near Dinosaur National Monument. © Scott Braden/SUWA

    Making matters worse, BLM is bending over backwards to facilitate the project. 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. When Hoodoo Mining acquired the lease it did so with full knowledge of this restriction. Now, at the company’s request, the BLM is proposing to waive that important stipulation rather than requiring the company to develop in a less sensitive area.

    Tell the BLM not to grant Hoodoo Mining’s request to waive the “no surface occupancy” stipulation.

    Dinosaur National Monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites 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.”

    With your help, SUWA will fight every step of this project to ensure that the monument remains that way.

    Please click here to submit your comments now.

  • May 24th, 2021

    Bending over backwards to help company, agency sets ball in motion to allow drilling within ½  mile of national monument; within greater sage-grouse priority habitat and wilderness-caliber lands

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:

    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org 

    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213-814-8666, lkelly@npca.org

    Salt Lake City, Utah (May 24, 2021) –  Today, the Biden administration released a proposal to authorize oil and gas drilling within ½ of a mile of Dinosaur National Monument. 

    The proposal, referred to as the Federal Pipeline Unit Wells project, involves the construction and installation of new well pads, roads, pipelines and the drilling of two wells; a plan that will industrialize the western edge of the monument. Dinosaur National Monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts and paleontological resources. 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.”

    “Drilling and road blasting about a quarter of a mile from Dinosaur National Monument would damage the views, quiet and dark night skies in a remote part of the park and pollute the park’s air and water,” said Cory MacNulty, southwest associate director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “This is a zombie lease from almost two decades ago that should never have been allowed in the first place and an urgent reminder of why our national oil and gas program needs immediate reforms.”

    The proposed development, if approved by the Bureau of Land Management, will destroy “priority” habitat for greater sage-grouse—that is, habitat identified by the Bureau “as having the highest value to maintaining sustainable [greater sage-grouse] populations.” The project would also destroy agency-identified lands with wilderness characteristics; lands the Bureau itself acknowledges are undisturbed and wilderness-caliber.

    “This proposal runs counter to every stated goal and objective of the Biden administration,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It threatens some of our wildest, most scenic public lands, including a national monument, priority habitat for greater sage-grouse, and will exacerbate the climate crisis.” 

    Making matters worse, the Bureau is bending over backwards to facilitate the project. The drilling and related development will take place on public lands that are subject to a “no surface occupancy” stipulation, which prohibits all surface disturbing activities. When the lessee, Hoodoo Mining & Production Co. LLC, acquired the lease it did so with full knowledge of this restriction. Now, and at the company’s request, the Bureau is proposing to waive that important stipulation and thereby greenlight the industrialization of the area rather than require the company to develop in a less sensitive area. 

    “Why on God’s green earth is the Bureau even entertaining this drilling project?” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The lessee knew the terms and conditions of its lease and yet now is seeking a special exception to drill right next to Dinosaur National Monument and in priority habitat for greater sage grouse? BLM needs to say “no thanks” and send the company back to the drawing board.” 

    Notably, the proposed action is identical to one previously approved by the Bureau’s Vernal  field office only to be remanded―under the Trump administration―by the Utah State Director for further environmental review (see here). Rather than conduct the required thorough analysis, the Vernal office has merely tried to paper over its previous illegal decision and is poised to once again authorize the industrialization of this wild area. 

    Additional Resources:

    Photos of wilderness-quality lands at risk from the drilling proposal (use with attribution permitted).

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  • April 22nd, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a travel management plan for the iconic Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area outside of Moab—a plan that will determine where off-road vehicle (ORV) use is allowed in this world-renowned area for decades to come.

    Please tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of sensitive areas in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    Labyrinth Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Home to irreplaceable cultural and historic resources, important wildlife habitat, and unmatched quiet recreational opportunities, the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region is a magnificent area of Utah’s backcountry. It encompasses the internationally-recognized Labyrinth Canyon section of the Green River, as well as its many side canyons including Mineral, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Ten Mile Canyons.

    The area’s unobstructed views, soaring redrock cliffs, and Green River corridor provide endless world-class opportunities for hikers, river runners, canyoneers, climbers, bikers, photographers, and campers. Unfortunately, this area has also experienced a dramatic increase in motorized recreation over the past decade, with ORV noise and dust disproportionately impacting the majority of public land users.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency’s current travel plan—pushed through in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration—blanketed the area with ORV routes, prioritizing motorized recreation at the expense of all other public land uses. The high density of ORV routes in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area means there are few areas to escape the whine of all-terrain vehicles (including the now ubiquitous “utility” models known as UTVs) and dirt bikes.

    Currently, 94% of the lands within the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area are within a half mile of a designated ORV route. And less than 1.5% of the lands in this area are two miles or more from an ORV route. As a result, motorized vehicle use is damaging important soil and riparian resources, priceless cultural resources, significant wildlife habitat, and quiet recreational opportunities.

    This travel plan will have a long-lasting impact on the future of this region by determining where ORVs will be able to travel, and in turn what areas will be managed for the protection of other resources and values such as wildlife, solitude, and non-motorized recreation.

    The BLM is currently in the initial “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues that must be considered. It is vital that the agency hears from the public that the current route network is unacceptable, and that significant route reductions are needed in order to protect public land resources and balance motorized and non-motorized recreation for decades to come.

    The BLM should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities, but it must also protect the reason people want to drive here: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    The most helpful comments mention specific trails (by name or number) or areas; how you enjoy hiking, camping, and other non-motorized pursuits in the area; and that motorized use in these places has conflicted with your particular use or enjoyment.

    The BLM is accepting comments through April 26, 2021. Be sure to make your voice heard.

    Thank you for taking action!