Oil and Gas Development

  • September 20th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is accepting comments on a draft travel management plan for the iconic Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area outside of Moab. The plan will determine where off-road vehicle (ORV) use is allowed in this remarkable landscape for decades to come, so public input is extremely important.

    Home to irreplaceable cultural and historic resources, critical wildlife habitat, and unmatched quiet recreational opportunities, the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region is a magnificent area of Utah’s backcountry. The BLM’s travel plan will have a long-lasting impact on the future of this region by determining where ORVs will be able to travel and what areas will be managed for the protection of wildlife, solitude, cultural values, and non-motorized recreation.

    Click here to tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of Labyrinth Canyon!

    Kayaker on the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon. © James Kay

    Labyrinth Canyon is a gem of the American West, where the placid Green River flows for more than 40 miles past towering canyon walls. This stretch of river provides an unparalleled multi-day wilderness experience for boaters of all ages and experience levels. It is also a designated Wild and Scenic River, noted for its outstanding recreational, scenic, ecological, and cultural values.

    Thanks to the previous efforts of SUWA supporters like you, the west side of Labyrinth Canyon is already protected as congressionally-designated wilderness. But the eastern side of the river is not yet similarly protected—meaning that the solitude and serenity of Labyrinth Canyon can be shattered in an instant by ORVs tearing up and down the river bank.

    Tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of Labyrinth Canyon’s river corridor, wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas.

    Currently, the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area is blanketed with over 1,200 miles of ORV routes. More than 94% of the land within the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area is within a half mile of a designated ORV route and less than 0.5% of the land is more than a mile from a designated route. This route density means there are few places to escape the whine of motorized vehicles—even when floating in Labyrinth Canyon.

    The BLM has released four alternatives for the future of Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges. It is vital that the BLM hear overwhelming public support for Alternative B. Alternative B would finally protect the entire Labyrinth Canyon river corridor while reducing route density in spectacular areas like Gold Bar Rim, Deadman Point, Day Canyon, and Ten Mile Point.

    Alternative B is the only option that protects Labyrinth Canyon and balances motorized recreation with the protection of natural and cultural resources and non-motorized recreation.

    Tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of the Labyrinth Canyon river corridor and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

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

    The BLM is accepting comments through October 7, 2022. Be sure to make your voice heard.

    Do you know Labyrinth Canyon especially well?
    Comments that draw from first-hand knowledge and experiences on the river are the most effective. If you have a personal affinity for Labyrinth Canyon and know the area well, you may want to submit your comments directly through the BLM comment portal. Send an email to issues-action@suwa.org and we’ll be happy to help guide you through the process.

  • August 19th, 2022

    Last Earth Day, President Biden issued an executive order calling on the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conserve mature and old-growth forests as a climate solution. This was a great step toward meaningful protections and policy, but now it’s up to us to ensure that this turns into real and lasting changes in how federal agencies manage —and  protect—older forests and ecosystems.

    In response to the executive order, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior have opened an official public comment period to solicit feedback on how “to define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands.” The deadline for public comments is Tuesday, August 30th.

    It is critical that we demonstrate widespread, overwhelming public support from every corner of the country for urgent action to permanently protect mature and old growth forests across all federal lands and, for wild lands here in Utah, to emphasize the importance of protecting old-growth dryland forests of piñon pine and juniper.

    Click here to submit your comments via the U.S. Forest Service web portal.

    A piñon-juniper forest on Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    In your comments, please urge the Biden administration to conduct a comprehensive inventory of mature and old-growth piñon pine and juniper forests on the Colorado Plateau during this first stage of implementing the president’s executive order. It is important that ALL old-growth and mature forests, in dryland ecosystems as well as the better-known alpine and Pacific Northwest environments, are conserved for the benefit of wildlife, air and water quality, climate adaptation, and so much more.

    Here are some key points to convey:

    • Covering 15% of the land area in five states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah), piñon pine and juniper forests are subject to temperature extremes and limited moisture availability. These forests are often the sole woodland provider of wildlife habitat, vegetative cover, watershed protection, and traditional food and medicine gathering in dryland and arid BLM-managed lands across the West.
    • Single-leaf piñon pine trees can reach ages of up to 600 years and juniper can reach ages of up to 1,600 years. These historic forests and associated undisturbed biological soil crusts store a disproportionate amount of carbon in dryland ecosystems, and are more resistant to disruptions caused by climate change.
    • Old-growth piñon-juniper forests are home to more than 70 bird species and are often the only suitable habitat for many of these species, whose populations are currently declining rapidly under intense pressure from climate change, development, and drought.
    • Although they cover hundreds of millions of acres and provide irreplaceable habitat and ecosystem benefits, piñon-juniper forests are among the least studied and most ignored North American forest types. The BLM should ensure that its inventory and criteria for mature and old-growth forests include piñon pine and juniper forests, which are the largest forest type by acreage managed by the agency.

    Please ask the Biden administration to properly inventory and protect old growth and mature piñon-juniper forests in Utah.

    As you know, threats to piñon-juniper forests on western public lands are many, including landscape-level mechanical deforestation projects (mainly for the benefit of cattle grazing) that tend to indiscriminately remove trees, including those that have existed on the landscape since long before Europeans landed on this continent. Making sure these ancient piñon-juniper forests and their characteristics are included in any nationwide definition of mature and old-growth forests (which will then be used to protect these areas) is extremely important, and would be a huge win for protecting the redrock wilderness.

    During this comment period, the BLM and Forest Service are focused on collecting input and information to help map and define old-growth and mature forests that they manage across America’s public lands. There are limited chances for the public to weigh in, so we need to take advantage of every opportunity. Policy decisions and recommendations for how to protect these forests and mitigate climate change, logging, development, and other impacts will happen in the next stage, and we’ll be sure to alert you to these engagement opportunities as they arise.

    Click here to submit your comments by the August 30th deadline.

    Thank you!

  • August 15th, 2022

    On Friday, the U.S. House passed the Inflation Reduction Act, following  a deal by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) that saw it pass the Senate earlier in the week. President Biden is expected to sign the bill sometime this week.

    The White House says the “bill would make the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, enabling America to tackle the climate crisis, [and] advancing environmental justice….”

    Some of the big environmental wins include:

    • Investments in clean energy and electric vehicles
    • Reducing U.S. emissions by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030
    • Establishing a fee for excessive methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas) emissions from oil and gas drilling and development
    • Earmarking $60 billion for environmental justice initiatives in communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change, air pollution, and other environmental ills
    • Providing $250 million for conservation and resource protection projects to the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
    • Providing more than $2 billion for zero-emission equipment to reduce emissions at US ports
    • Addressing community needs (tribal, state, local government) in addressing pollution, weather resilience, and mine reclamation through a block grant program

    A lease was sold in the Eagle Canyon lands with wilderness characteristics area (pictured) noncompetitively for $1.50 per acre. This type of leasing will no longer be possible under the Inflation Reduction Act, preventing speculation by oil and gas companies. Photo by Ray Bloxham.

    But what does the bill mean for Utah and the Colorado Plateau?

    The bill contains important provisions that will reduce oil and gas lease speculation, which is rampant in Utah.

    First, under current law, anyone can nominate public lands for oil and gas leasing, and can do so for free. This process encourages companies to nominate as much land as possible throughout Utah (and the West), requiring the BLM to expend significant time and energy reviewing these lease nominations –most of which are entirely speculative. The Inflation Reduction Act would establish a $5-per-acre fee to nominate parcels for leasing, which will reduce speculation by forcing companies to put up funds to nominate parcels. 

    Second, the Inflation Reduction Act raises the minimum bid price and eliminates noncompetitive, or “over-the-counter,” leasing. Both changes are long overdue and much needed. Currently, there are two ways to lease a parcel: 1) Through a competitive sale via auction, with a minimum bid of only $2 per acre, or 2) By purchasing, within two years,  a “noncompetitive lease” that failed to sell at auction for just $1.50 per acre. These fire sale prices promote lease speculation and allow operators to lock up huge swaths of public lands. In contrast, the Inflation Reduction Act eliminates noncompetitive leasing altogether and raises the minimum competitive bid to $10 per acre.

    Third, the Inflation Reduction Act raises the royalty and rental rates for leasing and development on public lands, bringing these rates closer to what operators pay for state and private land leases and development. Presently, before a lease is put into production, operators pay a nominal rental fee of as little as $1.50 per acre to hold the lease (oftentimes holding these leases for decades without ever putting them into production). The Act modernizes these rates while discouraging speculation by requiring rentals of $3 per acre for years 1-2, $5 per acre for years 3-8, and $15 per acre thereafter.

    Finally, once a lease is put into production, operators currently pay just a 12.5% royalty on all oil and gas extracted from our public lands–a below market rate that, in effect, subsidizes development of publicly-owned lands and minerals. This rate is raised to 16.67% by the Act –which, while still too low, is a significant step in the right direction.

    While the Inflation Reduction Act has a myriad of good things for public lands, climate change mitigation, and environmental justice, it is not perfect. One provision, offered as a compromise to win Sen. Manchin’s support, is a requirement that the Department of the Interior offer 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing and development each year for the next decade, or a total of 20 million acres of land and 600 million acres of offshore waters offered for development over the next decade.

    While this provision is concerning and frustrating to see included, the overall bill contains more good than bad, and represents the largest federal investment in climate mitigation and leasing reform to date.

  • June 15th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently seeking public input on new plans to better manage dispersed camping, protect resources, and improve visitor experiences in three high-use areas near Moab, Utah. The BLM’s Moab field office, which manages 1.8 million acres of public lands in southeastern Utah, including 830,000 acres of lands proposed for wilderness designation under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, is considering new dispersed camping plans for the the Labyrinth Rims/ Gemini Bridges Special Recreation Management Area, (120,037 acres), the Two Rivers Special Recreation Management Area (9,180 acres), and the Utah Rims Special Recreation Management Area (16,704 acres).

    Over the past decade, the rapid expansion of human-powered recreation across public lands in Utah has resulted in increasingly adverse impacts to wilderness values, wildlife, visitor experiences, and natural and cultural resources. According to a 2021 report by Dr. Christopher Monz, environmental impacts of human-powered recreation can be substantial and long-lasting, including soil compaction and erosion, loss of biological soil crusts, the spread of noxious weeds, destruction of cultural artifacts and landscapes, and wildlife habitat fragmentation and displacement.

    In Moab, this growth is particularly noteworthy. The area sees more than 3 million visitors annually, many of whom camp on BLM-managed public lands. As a result, the agency is seeing a proliferation of vehicle tracks and user-created routes, unattended campfires, more impacts to wildlife, destruction of fragile cultural sites, and damage to other natural resources. Accordingly, the BLM is revisiting its rules regarding dispersed camping in three of the most popular and highest-impacted areas.

    Most BLM-managed public lands in Utah are open to “dispersed camping,” meaning that visitors may camp in areas without dedicated campgrounds and associated facilities. According to the BLM, chief among the new management options it is considering is moving the three focus areas from an “open dispersed” to “designated dispersed” model. This means that free, no-amenity dispersed camping will still be available, but that instead of camping anywhere, visitors must set up in a designated site, usually marked with a sign or placard to indicate that it is a “designated” dispersed campsite.

    Click here to learn more about designated dispersed camping

    After an intensive inventory of existing disturbed camp areas, the BLM is proposing to select for designation sites that do not adversely impact resources such as wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other visitors’ experiences. According to the agency, these proposals “are designed to make dispersed camping more sustainable in high-use areas, while reducing user conflicts and protecting cultural and natural resources.”

    Additionally, the BLM is also considering requiring that all campers in these areas use a portable toilet system to pack out human waste (something already required by Grand County, Utah), a fire pan to prevent the proliferation of fire rings and associated trash and to make unintentional wildfires less likely, and prohibiting wood cutting and gathering.

    Recreation ecology tells us that the best management for recreation impacts is proactive management– especially when it seeks to accommodate likely continued increase in demand while also taking preventative steps to protect natural landscapes and resources. Although these new proposed management changes are certainly in response to a proliferation of negative impacts, we are heartened to see the BLM considering steps now to follow good ecological management practices.

    Below are some important points for the BLM to consider when analyzing what kind of management actions it should take in these high-impact dispersed camping locations around Moab. Please help us reinforce these points in your comments. The more you personalize and speak to your own experiences in any/all of the three areas and emphasize your appreciation of the wildlife, cultural resources, and wilderness values they contain, the better and more well-received your comments will be!

    Please encourage the BLM to move to a “designated dispersed” camping model in these three planning areas, and to select camping spots for designation only if their selection will not jeopardize wildlife habitat, breeding, and connectivity; cultural resources; and wilderness values like solitude, scenic values, and natural appearance and character. Public comments are due by June 23, 2022.

    Click here to submit your comments now

    Suggested points:

    • Dispersed camping on public lands near Moab is an important use for visitors and locals alike, but the unmanaged proliferation of disturbed sites in the past decade has resulted in degraded ecological and cultural resource conditions and user experiences.
      • Unmanaged dispersed camping and associated vehicle use can fragment habitat and result in loss of nesting, breeding, and rearing habitat for important local wildlife like raptors and desert bighorn sheep, and can directly eliminate populations of important native and endangered plants like Navajo sedge, San Rafael cactus, and Cisco milkvetch through trampling and surface-disturbance.
      • Cultural resources like ancestral habitation, ceremony, storage, and art sites have been gradually but consistently degraded as a result of campsite creation and expansion through vandalism, trampling, soil erosion, and illegal artifact collection.
      • Visitors seeking campsites often find human waste, trash, hacked trees, and trampled vegetation, while other recreationists are negatively affected by trash and impacts at trailheads, along heavily-used recreation trails, and at important scenic features.
    • By moving to a designated dispersed camping system, the BLM can best balance visitor use and enjoyment with protecting natural and cultural resources.
    • A sustainable dispersed camping system is one that is manageable, forward-thinking, and provides for a range of user needs and experiences.
    • The BLM should avoid designating sites that will impact lands proposed for wilderness under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and other BLM-identified wilderness-quality areas.
    • The BLM should require that visitors carry portable toilet systems and pack out all human waste, use fire pans at campsites, and refrain from wood cutting and gathering in and around dispersed sites.
    • The BLM should not establish dispersed sites within 0.5 miles of suitable nesting locations for raptors, including bald and golden eagles.
    • The BLM should not designate campsites in canyon bottoms or within 300 meters of canyon rims in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges management area to protect sensitive habitat for desert bighorn sheep.
    • The BLM should designate dispersed campsites away from cultural resources and naturalize past visitor impacts and disturbance that, if left unchecked, could lead to future damage. The BLM should also consult directly with Native American Tribes regarding the potential designation of specific campsites.

    Thank you for participating in this important public process!

  • April 5th, 2022

    More than a year ago, President Biden directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to pause all new oil and gas leasing on public lands while the agency conducted a comprehensive review of its outdated oil and gas program. The leasing pause was part of a broader executive order meant to address the climate crisis and represented a much needed pivot away from the prior administration’s relentless assault on our public lands.

    Immediately after the president ordered the leasing pause, the state of Utah and pro-drilling groups such as the Western Energy Alliance launched an aggressive campaign claiming the pause would have devastating effects on Utah’s rural economy. These doomsday predictions were wildly inaccurate.

    Now, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the calls for more public land leasing and development have grown louder. But the clamor for more extraction is a thinly a veiled attempt by fossil fuel interests to profit from the ongoing conflict. It is also based on a false premise: that more public land leasing will lead to more drilling and production, which in turn will lower the price of oil and natural gas.

    Not so.

    Most oil and gas drilling in Utah and across the United States takes place on state and private lands, not public lands. And on public lands, operators have stockpiled millions of acres of unused leases and more than 9,000 unused (but approved) drilling permits (see our recent blog post for more on this).

    The war in Ukraine has made it clear that the world needs to become significantly less, not more, reliant on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, climate scientists are speaking in one unified voice and telling us in no uncertain terms that if we continue drilling, transporting, and burning fossil fuels we are risking everything.

    For far too long the BLM has wrongly elevated oil and gas leasing and development as the primary use of our nation’s public lands, threatening our climate, wild places, cultural heritage, and the continued existence of thousands of species. This unbalanced approach must stop now. Our wild places—and the climate crisis—demand no less.