Oil and Gas Development


  • September 24th, 2020

    Trump administration forced to reverse course; rescind approval for oil/gas wells on public lands located less than a quarter-mile from the national monument; in greater sage-grouse Priority Habitat Management Area

    For Immediate Release 

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3991, landon@suwa.org 

    Salt Lake City, Utah (September 24, 2020) – The Trump administration recently announced that it has withdrawn its approval of an oil and gas drilling proposal on public lands at the edge of Dinosaur National Monument.

    In September 2019, the Bureau of Land Management approved the so-called Federal Pipeline Unit Wells project and the drilling of two oil and gas wells in a remote area just west of Dinosaur National Monument. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) appealed the local  manager’s approval of this project to the Bureau’s State Director.

    SUWA argued that the project, if implemented, would adversely impact the adjacent national monument, greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy agency-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts the Bureau had failed to fully analyze and disclose. In his decision, the Deputy State Director for Lands and Minerals, the individual charged with overseeing the Bureau’s oil and gas program in Utah, agreed, reversed the local manager’s approval of the project, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.” The Deputy State Director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most remote landscapes. 

    “For years, the Bureau of Land Management has stubbornly refused to analyze and disclose the true costs of oil and gas development in Utah and across the West, even as the agency makes decisions that drive our country and the world into climate chaos,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The Deputy State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.”

    “Piece by piece, well by well, we are working to dismantle decisions made by the Trump administration that threaten everything special about Utah’s wildest public lands and hasten the climate crisis,” said Steve Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  

    The large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed within one-fourth of a mile of Dinosaur National Monument. The monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs—and paleontological resources. The National Park Service has recognized 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 our Milky Way galaxy with startling clarity.” The proposed development also would have destroyed greater sage-grouse “priority” habitat—that is, habitat identified by BLM “as having the highest value to maintaining sustainable [greater sage-grouse] populations.” 

    The Deputy State Director’s recent withdrawal of this project is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Earlier this year, based on similar legal shortcomings, the Bureau had to withdraw approval of 175 oil and gas drilling permits, and over the past two years the Bureau on four separate occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah. 

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  • September 16th, 2020

    Proposal will open 4,231 acres of public lands to coal mining and contribute millions of new greenhouse gas emissions—emissions that are driving the climate crisis, including the wildfires and droughts currently engulfing the western United States 

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Taylor McKinnon, Senior Public Lands Campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

    Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians, 303-437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    Salt Lake City, Utah (Sept. 16, 2020) – Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management released its plan to lease public lands along eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs escarpment for coal mining. This plan, referred to as the “Williams Draw Lease by Application,” would authorize the mining of more than 32 million tons of coal.

    The Bureau’s proposal grants UtahAmerican Energy, Inc (UAE)—a wholly owned subsidiary of the bankrupt Murray Energy Corp.—the right to mine for coal on 4,231 acres at the edge of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness. This area is emblematic of the larger Book Cliffs region—an area that, according to the Bureau, is “an extremely steep and rugged area cut by canyons that are 1,000 to 3,000 feet deep.” According to the Bureau, the area contains “outstanding” opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation such as hiking due to, among other factors, “the quality of the scenic, geologic, wildlife, and cultural features.”

    “The Williams Draw coal lease was a bad idea in 2002 when it was first floated and it has only gotten worse over time” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The vivid images unfolding in front of our eyes this year of wildfires, hurricanes, and rapidly melting ice sheets makes clear that the climate crisis and its devastating impacts are real and demand urgent action. Making more dirty fossil fuels available to be mined and burned flies in the face of everything we know to be happening and what’s necessary to stop it. Simply put, the world doesn’t need another coal mine.”

    This proposal comes on the heels of a separate proposal put forth by the Bureau of Land Management over the summer that would allow UAE to expand its existing Lila Canyon coal mine by an additional 1,272 acres of public lands. Taken together, these proposals will release millions of tons of new greenhouse gas emissions and consume millions of gallons of surface and groundwater, exacerbating the climate crisis and the decades-long draught in the southwestern United States. For example:

    • The Bureau estimates that coal mining activities in this area will contribute millions of tons per year of climate driving greenhouse gas emissions.

    • The Bureau estimates that 1 million tons of mined coal in this area consumes approximately 6,943,000 gallons of water. Thus, the Bureau’s proposal will consume more than 222,176,000 gallons of water over the life of the project.

    “Pushing more coal pollution as fossil-fueled fires scorch America’s West Coast epitomizes the climate insanity of this public lands policy,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous plan should be shelved just as the federal fossil fuel leasing programs must end.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal is a handout to Bob Murray and Murray Energy Corp., one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, and comes at a time when coal mines across the country have begun to shut down due to unfavorable economic factors. This all but ensures that the public will not receive just compensation for the loss of its land, air, and water. In 2016, then-Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell launched a comprehensive review of the federal coal program “to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment.” The review included “a pause on issuing new coal leases while the review is underway”—a pause that encompassed the Williams Draw lease. However, that review process was never finalized and the necessary data and analysis never prepared. Instead, the Trump administration, upon assuming office, quickly reversed course and threw out the review in pursuit of its “energy dominance” agenda—an agenda that has opened up millions of acres of federal public lands to fossil fuel exploration and development.

    This has nothing to do with energy, it’s a corrupt attempt to bail out a bankrupt coal company at the expense of public lands, the climate, and clean air and water,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians.  “The Trump administration wants to force Americans to pay for more costly coal. We’re saying enough, it’s time to keep it in the ground.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal also comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s attack on our nation’s bedrock environmental law—the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—having taken effect. The new Trump-era NEPA regulations went into effect on Monday, September 14. Now, only two days later, the Bureau has formally proposed the Williams Draw lease—a proposal that will be scrutinized by the agency in light of these significantly watered-down (and likely unlawful) regulations.

    Additional Resources:

    Link to this press release on the web.

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  • August 13th, 2020

    Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) each recently sent separate letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging against the leasing of nearly 87,000 acres of redrock country near Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks, including significant landscapes that would be protected within America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Great news: it worked! The combined pressure from these members of Congress, conservation groups, and activists like you led the Bureau of Land Management this week to remove all parcels from the lease sale in San Juan and Grand Counties. The result is that no leases will be offered in the September sale that conflict with America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If your member(s) of Congress signed one of these letters, please click here to thank them.

    Joining Senator Durbin on his letter were 15 senators:

    Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
    Cory Booker (D-NJ) Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
    Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Edward Markey (D-MA) Tom Udall (D-NM)
    Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
    Ron Wyden (D-OR) Kamala Harris (D-CA)
    Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
    Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

    Representative Lowenthal was joined by 32 colleagues, who in the letter wrote, “Development of these parcels would threaten to ruin the stunning scenic beauty and visitors’ use and enjoyment of these iconic national parks, redrock canyons, and mesas with drill rigs, pipelines, and natural gas flaring. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive down demand for oil and gas leases on public lands while oil and gas wells are being shut-in or abandoned at unprecedented rates, providing little economic justification for this sale. We urge the Department of the Interior to cancel this lease sale.”

    Joining Rep. Lowenthal were the following representatives:

    Rep Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA)
    Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
    Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
    Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
    Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
    Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
    Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
    Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
    Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
    Rep. Nanette Barrigan (D-CA) Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
    Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
    Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)
    Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA) Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
    Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
    Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA)
    Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) Rep. A Donald McEachin (D-VA)

    To read the Durbin letter, click here. To read the Lowenthal letter, click here.

    This kind of pressure from Congress helps us protect the redrock we all love! If any of these members represent you, please take time to thank them today!

  • August 12th, 2020

    Contact: Steve Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-859-1552, steve@suwa.org 

    Anne Hawke, Senior Press Secretary, Natural Resources Defense Council,  646-823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org 

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

    Emily Thompson, Associate Director of Engagement, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, 202-758-3936, Emily_Thompson@protectnps.org 

    Salt Lake City, UT (August 12, 2020) – The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Utah state office announced yesterday that it will defer all of the controversial 87,000 acres of oil and gas lease parcels in southeastern Utah’s redrock country that it had proposed to be offered for lease at the September 2020 sale. 

    The BLM’s original proposal for the September lease sale would have opened up lands at the doorstep of Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks, resulting in widespread public outcry.

    Conservationists praised the BLM’s reversal:

    “The Bureau of Land Management made the right decision to pull back from leasing 87,000 acres of wild public lands in southeast Utah’s redrock country for oil and gas development at the agency’s upcoming September 2020 lease sale,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This particular sale highlights why the odious practice of oil and gas leasing on public needs to come to a halt: the proposed leases in southeast Utah were located on some of Utah’s wildest public lands, lands with at best a trivial amount of oil and gas but where development would scar the land for decades if not permanently; the Bureau failed to properly consult with Native American tribes about impacts of leasing and development to culturally significant resources; local communities had been ignored in the rush to lease; and, developing fossil fuels is fundamentally inconsistent with addressing the looming climate crisis.”

    “At the same time, the Bureau is proceeding with the sale of new leases on more than 27,000 acres of other public lands in Utah, which will only further exacerbate the climate crisis. SUWA and its conservation partners will evaluate the remaining parcels proposed for the September 2020 sale and decide which to formally protest.”

    “This enormous oil and gas drilling plan was a mistake from the very beginning and we’re relieved it has finally been deferred,” said Erika Pollard, associate southwest director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “To open up such enormous swathes of land on the doorstep of some of the country’s most spectacular national parks was irresponsible, and to do so during a pandemic in which tribal communities could not be properly consulted about the plans for their sacred land would have been anti-democratic and disrespectful. 

    “This decision is a huge victory for the many park advocates, tribal communities, outdoors enthusiasts, and local governments and residents who spoke out against these dangerous plans and have now successfully protected some of Utah’s wildest public lands. 

    “This victory will ensure, for now, the spectacular views at Arches and Canyonlands remain unspoiled by industrialization, while protecting the parks from air pollution caused by oil and gas drilling, and preserving the visibility of their famous dark night skies. Plus ensuring the carbon emissions stay in the ground will benefit all national parks that rely upon a healthy climate to thrive.”

    “This is something to celebrate at a time when good news is sparse,” said Alison Kelly, senior attorney for the lands division at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “BLM was poised to hand over prized public lands to polluters without a meaningful process to engage the public.  Its decision to defer this massive lease sale is a win for the community, good for the recreation and tourism industries, and a recognition that these lands generate economic value that doesn’t depend on dirty fossil fuels.”  

    “We are relieved that the Bureau of Land Management has made the decision to defer lease sales that would have greatly impacted Utah’s national parks,” said Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “Oil and gas leases should not be permitted where they will impact resources at America’s special places. 

    “We are grateful to all of the park advocates, tribal communities, partners, and members of the public who raised their voices in protest. While we must continue to be vigilant in the fight to protect our national parks, today we celebrate the victory.” 

     Additional Resources:

    Map of the original BLM September lease sale proposal.

    Photographs of lands originally proposed for lease (use with attribution permitted).

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    Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.

    NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org.

    The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. SUWA promotes local and national recognition of the region’s unique wilderness character through research and public education; supports both administrative and legislative initiatives to permanently protect the Colorado Plateau wild places within the National Wilderness Preservation System, or by other protective designations where appropriate; builds support for such initiatives on both the local and national level; and provides leadership within the conservation movement through uncompromising advocacy for wilderness preservation. www.suwa.org

    The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks represents over 1,800 current, former, and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service, with over 40,000 collective years of stewardship of America’s most precious natural and cultural resources. Recognized as the Voices of Experience, the Coalition educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation and protection of the National Park System, and mission-related programs of the National Park Service. More information can be found at https://protectnps.org

     

  • June 29th, 2020

    As you may have heard by now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wants to open up more than 114,000 acres of wild lands in Utah—including more than 86,000 acres in southeastern Utah—to oil and gas drilling as part of its upcoming September lease sale.

    If this massive lease sale goes through, oil and gas wells could appear at the doorstep of Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks—as well as near Bears Ears National Monument, Labyrinth Canyon, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Green River, and in lands proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Tell the BLM: No oil and gas leasing near Utah’s National Parks!


    The BLM is accepting comments on the lease sale through next Thursday, July 9th. Trump’s BLM needs to hear from you. Tell them:

    • The BLM must put a halt to all new leasing of public lands if there is any chance of avoiding the most severe impacts of a changing climate. Fossil fuels extracted from public lands including oil and gas account for nearly 24 percent of the nation’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.
    • Even without the climate crisis, this lease sale would be unacceptable. The BLM is proposing to blanket southern Utah’s redrock country with oil and gas leases, opening the door to development of some of the nation’s most remarkable public lands, including lands surrounding three of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks.
    • The BLM is promoting wide-scale lease speculation. The world is currently awash in unneeded oil, as evidenced by the BLM recently giving royalty relief to oil and gas operators in this same area because those operators cannot economically develop the leases they already have.

    Click here to tell the BLM what you think about their latest giveaway to the oil and gas industry.

    Thanks to SUWA supporters like you, thousands of messages have already been sent to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, demonstrating the widespread opposition to the Trump administration’s attempt to flood southern Utah with new oil and gas wells.

    The BLM needs to get that message as well. Please take a moment to submit your comments today.

    Thank you for taking action.