Oil and Gas Development Archives


  • May 7th, 2019

    Good news! Following SUWA’s appeal of the BLM’s decision to sell eight oil and gas leases for development at its March 2018 sale, the BLM has reluctantly agreed with SUWA that their leasing decision violated the law!

    Hatch Point. Photo copyright Neal Clark/SUWA

    SUWA argued that the BLM failed to take the necessary “hard look” at greenhouse gas emissions and climate change before offering the leases for sale. In a motion filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals last Friday, the BLM requested that the Board remand the issue back to the agency for further consideration, including additional environmental analysis. As a result, the leases cannot currently be developed for oil and gas!

    The leases included lands with wilderness characteristics in the Labyrinth Canyon, Hatch Wash/Hatch Canyon, and Goldbar Canyon areas near the Green River and Canyonlands National Park.

    This victory protects the wilderness values in each of those remarkable areas — and also strengthens SUWA’s ongoing efforts to challenge other leasing decisions in Utah in which BLM has made the same mistakes.

  • April 22nd, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    April 22, 2019

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552, steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (April 22, 2019) The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has filed a federal lawsuit challenging two decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer, sell, and issue thirty-five oil and gas leases totaling 54,508 acres of public lands for development on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.

    The lawsuit, filed on Friday, April 19, 2019, aims to protect some of the most culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. These lands include cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, petroglyph and pictograph panels, and Chaco-era (circa 900-1150 A.D.) great houses. Numerous Native American tribes consider these sites sacred. The lawsuit challenges Utah-BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 Monticello field office leasing decisions (March 2018 sale information here; December 2018 sale information here).

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach, which has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases and should come as no surprise given that it’s the same political appointee – David Bernhardt – steering the Interior Department.”

    The BLM, in its rush for “energy dominance,” ignored concerns raised by the National Park Service (NPS), Native American tribes, and the public, including SUWA. For the March 2018 sale, the NPS (BLM’s sister-agency in the Department of the Interior tasked with the management of nearby national monuments) submitted written comments condemning the BLM’s leasing proposal as being uninformed and ill-advised (see here). NPS explained that the BLM had “not fully evaluated” and had “not acted” to address its concerns regarding impacts of oil and gas development to national monuments including impacts to national monuments, dark night skies, air quality, water quality, and cultural resources, among others.

    The All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma both submitted formal protests of BLM’s December 2018 leasing proposal (see, here, here). They explained that the BLM had failed to consider and analyze impacts to historic and traditional cultural properties and national monuments, among other resources. The Hopi Tribe similarly requested that BLM not offer these leases for oil and gas development (See, e.g., here).

    “The BLM has placed the final pieces, completing its puzzle of oil and gas leases located at the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “And the BLM has done so without considering the ‘big picture’ impacts to national monuments and climate change and the surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The Obama administration had declined to issue new oil and gas leases in this same area, citing the need to collect and analyze additional information and data regarding cultural resources, potential impacts to national monuments, and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The BLM never collected or analyzed that information and data. However, without having collected or analyzed the information and data the agency previously determined to be necessary, the Trump administration has resumed leasing in this contested area and proceeded to build a mosaic of leases on the doorstep of these national monuments (see here).

    At the same time it has rushed to open up more lands for development, the Utah-BLM has also dutifully implemented the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda. Among other things, the BLM has taken steps to (1) eliminate opportunities for public engagement in the agency’s leasing decisions, (2) eliminate the agency’s obligation to fully analyze site-specific impacts of leasing and development, and (3) eliminate any additional BLM-identified “burden” on oil and gas leasing and development.

    SUWA’s lawsuit challenges the BLM’s failure to fully analyze the potential impacts of its leasing decisions, including to cultural resources, national monuments, climate change, and lands with wilderness characteristics. SUWA requests that the court set-aside and vacate the BLM’s leasing decisions and prohibit the BLM from approving future oil and gas development on the leases. Photographs of cultural and archaeological sites located on oil and gas leases at issue in this lawsuit are available here.

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  • March 28th, 2019

    Following public outcry and a formal protest from SUWA, this week the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deferred all of its proposed oil and gas leases in San Juan County from its March 2019 lease sale “due to additional environmental analysis required.”

    The proposed leases were on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments.*

    Simply put, these leases would not have been deferred if not for SUWA’s tireless defense of every acre of BLM public land deserving of wilderness protection in Utah.

    Our defense of Utah’s redrock wilderness relies upon the support of our members. Please become a member of SUWA today.


    It’s the nature of environmental defense that this victory is short-lived—although deferred, the parcels will likely be back up for sale at the September 2019 lease sale.

    But SUWA will be there to fight those leases, too, and this decision by the BLM puts us in a strong position in our challenges to other BLM lease sales (from March and December 2018), because those lease sales relied on the same environmental analysis (surprise!). If it is insufficient now, then it was insufficient then.

    Not all of our work results in victories, of course, and most of our work never makes the news. But you can be assured that SUWA will never give up and never give an inch in our defense of the Redrock.

    Please become a member of SUWA today.

  • January 31st, 2019

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE – THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY –
    SIERRA CLUB

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635

    Over the course of 12 months, the Trump Administration has systematically leased
    the Four Corners region, making the area Ground Zero for its “Energy Dominance” agenda

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 31, 2019) – Less than three business days after the end of the partial government shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to sell more than 217,000 acres of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah during its upcoming March 2019 lease sale. The BLM plans to auction off 156 oil and gas lease parcels, including parcels in Utah’s culturally significant Four Corners region near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments, as well as the wild and remote Book Cliffs.

    Utah BLM staff worked during the federal government shutdown to prepare for this lease sale. Taken together, the parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy. Photographs of places proposed for upcoming sale are available here.

    Throughout the course of three lease sales conducted over the past 12 months, the Trump administration’s BLM has systematically leased more than 112,000 acres in southeast Utah’s Four Corners Region, blanketing one of the densest accumulations of cultural resources in the country with oil and gas leases and setting the stage for the area to be drilled and developed.  A map illustrating the BLM’s all-out assault on this fragile region is here.

    “The BLM is placing the final pieces to complete its puzzle of oil and gas leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The BLM has done so without considering the big-picture impacts to these national monuments and surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies, air quality, and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The National Park Service, the BLM’s sister agency in the Interior Department, has written the BLM on two occasions – before the March 2018 and now the March 2019 lease sale – urging the BLM to not lease parcels on the doorstep of Hovenweep National Monument. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns.

    In response to the BLM’s notice of the March 2019 sale, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma have demanded that the BLM defer selling leases in the area until the agency conducts a thorough cultural resources review of the region.  The Hopi Tribe has previously written the BLM demanding the same review. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns, either.

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases, which should come as no surprise given that it’s the same Bush political appointee – David Bernhardt – now steering the Trump Interior Department.”

    In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, the BLM plans to lease nearly 100 parcels in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and Book Cliffs region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, largely due to the BLM’s ineffective and lax management of oil and gas leasing and development. Rather than take steps to bring the Uinta Basin into compliance with air quality standards, the BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development. The Book Cliffs are a wild and remote region prized by hunters and guides for trophy big game.

    “With BLM staff already stretched thin, it’s hard to believe that the six days the government was open since comments were submitted on this lease sale could be sufficient to address the many risks to wildlife, wilderness and archaeological resources on 217,000 acres of public lands,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “And the fact that all of these parcels are still in the sale raises some red flags.”

    “How many times can we say this? This is another egregious example of short term profit margins being put ahead of invaluable cultural and archeological resources – with areas near Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancient national monuments being put back on the chopping block for the third time in a year,” said Utah Sierra Club Director Ashley Soltysiak. “Once lost, these incredible places are gone forever.”

    There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development,with only forty-five percent of its total leased land in development.  There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (see here and follow hyperlink for Table 2, Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year – the last year in which BLM has provided oil and gas statistics. At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6, Acreage of Producing Leases).

    More information regarding BLM’s March 2019 lease sale is available here.

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  • January 29th, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    January 29, 2019

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Salt Lake City — In a remarkable about-face following a protest from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) announced yesterday that it had dropped its proposal to sell twelve oil and gas leases totaling roughly 5,700 acres located on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to the highest bidder.

    While these SITLA-managed lands contain the same irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources that are found on adjacent federal public lands, they are not formally part of the monument.  Two of the proposed leases were also immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and several proposed leases were visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks.  A number of the leases were also in the Lockhart Basin proposed wilderness area.

    Last Friday, January 25th, SUWA protested SITLA’s proposed leasing decision and urged the agency to defer leasing until the federal litigation challenging Trump’s unlawful rollback of the monument has been resolved.

    “SITLA made the right decision to withdraw the twelve protested oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “We hope that SITLA will continue to defer leasing in Bears Ears until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources.”

    Four of the twelve protested parcels received bids but SITLA announced yesterday that it had withdrawn the parcels from sale and would refund the high bidder monies.  SITLA also announced that none of the twelve parcels would be available for non-competitive leasing for the next several months, as is usually the case.

    On December 4, 2017, President Trump purported to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument and designate two much smaller monuments, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa’. There are currently three lawsuits pending in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging President Trump’s unlawful action; the lead case is Hopi Tribe et al. v. Trump.  SUWA is a plaintiff in one of the other lawsuits, a case referred to as Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Trump.  Each of these lawsuits asks a federal judge to declare unlawful and invalidate President Trump’s December 4, 2017 proclamation. Such a decision would have significant bearing on access to any SITLA oil and gas lease sold within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, access which is subject to federal regulation and control.  SITLA’s solicitation for this lease sale contained no mention of the fact that the leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, nor did it advise potential bidders that Trump’s unlawful action is the subject of three lawsuits.

    The proposed sale of these leases was also contrary to SITLA’s mandate to manage its lands for both short and long term economic gain and, when necessary, to consider a land exchange which would preserve unique non-economic values (such as the cultural, paleontological, and biological resources in Bears Ears).  This is precisely why President Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land exchange with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument.  Unfortunately, the State refused to pursue such an exchange.  SITLA’s mission is “[a]dministering trust lands prudently and profitably for Utah’s schoolchildren and other trust beneficiaries.”

    Resources for reporters:

    Photos of the leases are available for media use here.

    A map of the twelve leases is available here.

    Learn about the Five Native American Tribes working to protect Bears Ears.

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