Oil and Gas Development


  • December 22nd, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
    Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2424, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org
    John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 22, 2020) — A federal judge today enjoined the Trump administration’s approval of a plan to punch a helium well into the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in Utah just two days before Christmas. Road construction had been set to begin Wednesday.

    “Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We’re grateful the court enjoined this ill-conceived project and gave this incomparable landscape a brief reprieve. We’ll be ready for round 2 with the Trump administration and company in early January.”

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers sought a temporary restraining order to stop the Bureau of Land Management from granting approval to Twin Bridges to begin drilling the helium well pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed last week. The lawsuit says the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place.

    “The Bureau of Land Management tried to pull a fast one in racing this permit out,” said Josh Axelrod, senior advocate for the Nature Program at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). “But this unique wilderness area should never have been on the table for development, and we’ll fight to make sure it’s protected.”

    The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river canyon. This national treasure is bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 secured its permanent protection as wilderness. (See photos here.)

    This dangerous drilling would destroy what Congress sought to protect by designating the spectacular Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re pleased the court stopped this project for now, but we won’t rest until this reckless plan is canceled entirely.” 

    Twin Bridges had planned to break ground on the project Wednesday, but today’s order from U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras enjoins any further action on the plan until at least Jan. 6, pending resolution of the lawsuit.  

    “Today’s order validates the importance of taking the courageous step of protecting the treasured landscapes of Utah’s canyon country,” said John Weisheit, conservation director with Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “We appreciate the opportunity that Judge Contreras has afforded us to hear our critical case at the upcoming hearing.” 

    Background

    The Bureau of Land Management formally issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The agency rushed to close the deal knowing the area was about to be permanently closed to future leasing and development. The Bureau had been racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease just before the Christmas holiday.

    The proposed helium operation will industrialize one of the most remote areas of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. If the plan is approved, Twin Bridges will drill up to seven wells, permanently disturbing 43 acres in this remote and austere landscape and forever diminishing the unique wilderness values found in the area. The project will also involve road grading, construction of three separate pipelines, construction of a 10-acre processing facility and increased vehicle traffic.

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    Plaintiffs SUWA, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers are represented by Landon Newell, Joseph Bushyhead, and Stephen Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and William Eubanks II and Nick Lawton with Eubanks & Associates, PLLC. Plaintiff NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The case is captioned Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Bernhardt, 1:20cv3654 RC (D.D.C.).

  • November 3rd, 2020

    SUWA Staff Attorney Landon Newell discusses a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to allow a helium drilling project within the newly-established Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness along the Green River. This is the latest in a long series of outrageous actions on public lands by President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management, but there are ways for you to get involved in the effort to stop the drilling of this spectacular wilderness before it starts.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin.

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  • October 28th, 2020

    One month before the largest wilderness bill of the last ten years was passed (the Emery County Public Land Management Act, signed into law as part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act on March 12, 2019), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rushed to issue a lease to drill in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, which was formally designated as wilderness by the Dingell Act.

    The BLM had full knowledge that lands encompassing the leased area would soon be designated as wilderness—but went ahead and issued the lease anyway. SUWA protested that decision but the BLM’s state director rejected our challenge.

    Now, the agency has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) to approve a helium drilling project on this lease inside the wilderness. The public comment period is open through November 9, 2020.

    Click here to tell the BLM not to allow drilling in the heart of Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness!

    Aerial view of Labyrinth Canyon with lease area highlighted. Photo © Pete McBride/EcoFlight

    If allowed to proceed, the project will involve months of extensive construction in this remarkably quiet and remote place, including, at a minimum, road improvements (upgrading and graveling of existing two-tracks), well pad construction (5-7 acres of disturbance), pipelines, infrastructure on the well pad, and construction of a 10-acre processing facility on nearby Utah school trust lands. The project developer plans to drill at least two wells for helium, which requires a federal oil and gas lease to develop and which will have many of the same on-the-ground impacts as conventional oil and gas drilling.

    The Labyrinth Canyon section of the Green River, which was designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a “Scenic” segment, is one of the most iconic, remote, and world-renowned river segments in the United States.

    Please contact the BLM today and tell them:

    • Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill (this includes the wilderness area itself as well as the adjacent Labyrinth Canyon Scenic segment of the Green River).
    • The area is very remote, quiet, and scenic, and industrialization of the area will significantly degrade—or destroy—these values.
    • Both the lease and this last-minute rush to approve development before a potential change in presidential administration highlights everything that is wrong with the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda.

    Click here to submit your comments today.

    P.S. This Salt Lake Tribune article has more detail on how this lease was slipped in during the 11th hour before Labyrinth Canyon was designated as wilderness.

  • 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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