Oil and Gas Development Archives


  • January 17th, 2020

    The Trump administration’s rush for “energy dominance” encounters another setback in Utah; BLM forced to reanalyze environmental impacts of oil and gas development

    For Immediate Release

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Ann Alexander, Natural Resources Defense Council, 415.875.8243, aalexander@nrdc.org
    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 17, 2020): Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that it had withdrawn its approval of 175 controversial oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in the Desolation Canyon region of eastern Utah.

    In September of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the Horse Bench Natural Gas Development Project and the drilling of up to 175 natural gas wells on “Horse Bench,” a prominent prow of land overlooking Nine Mile Canyon and the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and The Wilderness Society appealed the local BLM manager’s approval of this project to the Utah BLM state director. 

    The conservation groups argued that the project, if implemented, would decimate greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy BLM-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts that the BLM had failed to fully analyze. In his decision, the state director agreed, reversed the BLM’s drilling approvals, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.”  

    “The Desolation Canyon region, one of Utah’s most remote areas, provides critical habitat for wildlife—including greater sage-grouse—as well as outstanding opportunities for hiking and camping, and evidence of a rich cultural history,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Without this victory, these values would have been lost to the sights and sounds of industrial development.” 

     The state director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most culturally significant landscapes. The BLM itself has recognized that the Desolation Canyon region at issue here is “one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States.” 

    “The original finding that plunking down 175 natural gas wells next to the Desolation Canyon wilderness would have no significant environmental impact was clearly out of whack with reality’” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.” 

    “For far too long our public lands have been handed off to the oil and gas industry without any consideration for the enormous impacts of these decisions on our climate, wildlife and health,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “We welcome the BLM’s decision and hope the agency will move towards managing our public lands to be a key solution to climate change, not a growing contributor.”

    In addition, the large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed through Nine Mile Canyon to access Horse Bench. Nine Mile Canyon is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs, kivas, and granaries—and is significant to several Native American tribes. The canyon also contains important historic sites, including evidence of the post-Civil War era Buffalo Soldiers and early settlers. The BLM has described the canyon as “the world’s longest art gallery” and an “outdoor museum.” Dust and pollution from passing trucks could harm these irreplaceable treasures, and proposed roads would make the area more accessible to vandals.

    “Nine Mile Canyon is a cultural and archaeological treasure,” said Pam Miller, Director of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. “This victory goes a long way to protecting these world-class resources for future generations.” 

    The BLM’s withdrawal this week of 175 oil and gas drilling permits is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Following several significant legal precedents, including a pivotal March 2019 federal court ruling, the BLM on four recent occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah due to inadequate environmental analyses (more about these decisions here). 

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  • November 12th, 2019

    Fourth Time This Year BLM Has Suspended Leases in Utah; Feds Ignored Climate Change, Opened Scenic, Cultural Lands to Fossil Fuel Extraction

    For Immediate Release 

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521, ddascalujoffe@biologicaldiversity.org
    Sarah Stock, Living Rivers, (435) 260-8557, sarah.livingrivers@gmail.com

    Salt Lake City, UT (November 12, 2019)― The Trump administration has pulled 130 oil and gas leases in Utah because the Bureau of Land Management failed to fully analyze greenhouse gas emissions and the potential harm to climate from fossil fuel extraction. It’s the fourth time this year that the agency has suspended leases for drilling and fracking in Utah after the leases were sold because they violated federal law.

    The BLM’s latest decision to put a temporary hold on leasing activity comes in response to a September lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers. The agency pulled the leases from auction in late September.

    “The Trump administration’s BLM is writing the textbook on how to make an uninformed and unlawful leasing decision,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Utah BLM’s formula has been to lease as much public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible. Unsurprisingly, this approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” 

    The 130 oil and gas leases encompass some of the most scenic, wild and culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. 

    Most of the leases are in areas designated by the BLM as having “wilderness characteristics,” which means they’re natural, undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation. This includes the Bitter Creek, Desolation Canyon, Dragon Canyon and White River areas in the Book Cliffs region of the Uinta Basin, and the Eagle Canyon area in the San Rafael Swell.  

    Eagle Canyon in southern Utah, an area with wilderness characteristics at issue in the litigation.

    “The BLM’s uninformed rush to align itself with the Trump administration’s oil and gas ‘energy dominance’ agenda has repeatedly — and unsurprisingly— backfired,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The agency has tripped over itself in its haste. This is a legal mess of the BLM’s own making.”

    Because of challenges brought by conservation groups, the BLM this year has been forced to pull back leases covering more than 300,000 acres of public land in Utah. More information on BLM’s other retracted leasing decisions can be found here, here and here.

    “This is another setback for the Trump administration’s irresponsible, illegal decision to lease these beautiful public lands for fracking and drilling,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “BLM officials are starting to recognize the error of their rush to ignore climate science and public health to unleash a fracking frenzy. Now the administration must acknowledge the irreparable harm these irrational decisions have on our fragile climate.”

    “Both human and wildlife communities in the rural regions of the arid west are getting hammered by reckless oil and gas development. We have no choice but to intervene,” said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers. “Oil and gas development on our federal public lands is contributing massively to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This will almost surely deplete the amount of water available in this region, adding great challenges for water managers and ecosystems in the coming years. The BLM needs to think through the full impact of development before leasing these precious lands.”

    In March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the agency, for the first time, to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This court ruling has had broad ramifications in Utah and across the United States.

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    Living Rivers is a nonprofit environmental membership organization, based in Moab, Utah. Living Rivers promotes river restoration and seeks to revive natural habitat and the spirit of rivers by undoing the extensive damage done by dams, diversions and pollution on the Colorado Plateau. Learn more at www.livingrivers.org

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a nonprofit environmental membership organization dedicated to the preservation of outstanding wilderness found throughout Utah and the management of wilderness-quality lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. Learn more at www.suwa.org

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. Learn more at www.biologicaldiversity.org

     

  • September 12th, 2019

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT (September 12, 2019)— Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for failing to consider the climate pollution from 130 oil and gas leases spanning 175,500 acres of public lands in Utah.  

    Eagle Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, Utah, the location of one of 130 oil and gas leasing parcels being challenged in court for failing to consider the impact on climate.

    Today’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, says the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving five lease sales from 2014 to 2018 without accounting for the climate pollution that would result from oil and gas development. It asks the court to invalidate all eight approvals and their 130 leases.

    The lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution over the coming decade. New oil and gas leases, whose production can last decades, commit public lands to more pollution. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution results from fossil fuel development on public lands. 

    “The climate crisis is being exacerbated by the BLM’s reckless and uninformed oil and gas leasing and development on public lands,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The development of these leases will push us closer to the point of no return on climate, while sacrificing some of the most wild, scenic and culturally significant public lands in America.”

    Most of the challenged leases resulted from the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. In addition to slashing environmental reviews to hasten oil and gas leasing, the administration has attacked federal development and reliance on climate science in agency decisions and reports.  

    “Each new oil and gas lease commits us to more greenhouse gas pollution that our planet can’t afford,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are already more fossil fuels under development in the world than can be safely burned. New leases dangerously disregard urgent climate warnings from scientists. These leases were irresponsible and illegal, and we’re hopeful that a court will agree.” 

    The leases also threaten public lands and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Fracking sucks up enormous amounts of water and threatens to pollute the Colorado River and tributaries where the fish live.

    “Several accidents involving water pollution have already happened on the Green River and its tributaries,” said John Weisheit, a professional river guide in eastern Utah and a representative of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Combined with diminished flow volumes for these rivers, the multimillion-dollar investment already made to ensure a successful endangered fish program must not be further compromised.”

    Background
    Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

    Federal fossil fuels that have not yet been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution. Those already leased contain up to 43 billion tons. 

    Existing laws provide executive authority to stop federal leasing on public lands and oceans. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.

  • July 18th, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Approximately 57,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands

    temporarily spared from oil and gas development

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City (July 18, 2019): For the third time in less than three months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reluctantly recognized that its rushed “lease first, think later” mentality to oil and gas leasing and development under the Trump administration violated the law.

    In a recent court filing, the BLM told a federal district court judge that the agency plans to revisit its decision to sell thirty-six oil and gas leases and open up approximately 57,000 acres of public lands near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients, and Hovenweep National Monuments in Utah for development.

    The BLM’s decision is in response to litigation filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) challenging the BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 oil and gas lease sales in southeast Utah’s Monticello field office (more information here). The BLM is pulling back its leasing decisions because the agency has recognized that it failed to fully analyze the greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts of those decisions in determining whether leasing is appropriate in the first instance.

    Copyright Johathan Bailey

    The thirty-six oil and gas leases at issue encompass 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. Many of the leases suspended by the BLM also encompass lands identified by the BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; that is, the agency has determined that the lands appear natural and undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined primitive types of recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping. Photographs of cultural sites on the leases at issue are available here.

    “The Trump administration’s BLM is writing the textbook on how to make an uninformed and unlawful leasing decision,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Utah BLM’s formula has been to lease as much public lands as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible. Unsurprisingly, this approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.”

    This is the third time in less than three months that the BLM’s Utah state office has been forced to pull back a leasing decision for violating federal environmental laws. Over this period of time, the BLM has been forced to pull back 138 leases, consisting of approximately 267,000 acres of public lands in Utah. In May 2019, the agency took similar steps to pull back eight other oil and gas leases located near Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. More information on that decision is available here. One month later BLM pulled back more than 204,000 acres of oil and gas leases located in the San Rafael Desert region for the same reason. More information on that decision is available here.

    Notably, the three recent decisions by the BLM to pullback oil and gas leases are not isolated events. All of the agency’s leasing decisions in Utah over the past two years suffer from the same legal flaws that forced BLM to set-aside its leasing decisions in these instances. In other words, the agency will likely be forced to pullback hundreds of thousands of acres of additional oil and gas leases across Utah that it unlawfully offered and sold for development.

    “The BLM will be forced to pull back all of these leasing decisions,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Each decision suffers from the same legal flaws. The BLM made this bed; now it has to lie in it.”

    Over the past two years, the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda has suffered several significant legal setbacks. Of particular importance here, in March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., held that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the BLM–for the first time–to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This court decision spells trouble for all the Utah BLM’s leasing decisions over the past two years: the agency made the same unlawful mistake in each.

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  • June 13th, 2019

    Approximately 204,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands temporarily spared from oil and gas development
     

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (June 13, 2019): For the second time in less than two months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reluctantly recognized that its rushed “lease first, think later” mentality to oil and gas leasing and development violated the law. Earlier this week, the BLM informed the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) that the agency plans to revisit its decision to open up approximately 204,000 acres of public lands in Utah’s scenic San Rafael Desert and northern Dirty Devil region for oil and gas development. BLM’s decision is coming after it denied a protest by SUWA and other conservation groups over this lease sale and an appeal of BLM’s leasing decision being filed at the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).

    San Rafael Desert. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The San Rafael Desert and Dirty Devil region lies between Goblin Valley State Park and the newly designated San Rafael Reef Wilderness on the west and the Horseshoe Canyon component of Canyonlands National Park on the east. This is one of the sublime and least traveled areas of federal public lands in Utah. The majority of the leases pulled back by the BLM encompass lands identified by the BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; that is, the BLM has determined that the lands appear natural and undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined primitive types of recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping. Photographs of the San Rafael Desert are available here.

    “It’s not surprising that BLM’s fire sale approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Over the past two years Utah BLM has eagerly embraced this agenda by removing every obstacle to selling off as much federal public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible.”

    This is the second time in less than two months that the BLM has been forced to pull back a leasing decision in Utah for violating federal environmental laws. Just last month the agency took similar steps to pull back a separate leasing decision made in March 2018 that involved public lands on the doorstep to Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. More information on that decision is available here. Notably, these two decisions by the BLM to pullback oil and gas leases are not isolated events. All of the agency’s leasing decisions in Utah over the past two years suffer from the same legal flaws that forced BLM to set-aside its leasing decisions in these instances. In other words, the agency will likely be forced to pullback hundreds of thousands of acres of oil and gas leases across Utah that it unlawfully offered and sold for development.

    “The chickens have come home to roost,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM has had its head stuck in the sand for two years, eagerly walking in lockstep with the Trump administration’s large-scale assault on our public lands. This ‘lease first, think later’ mentality has come back to haunt BLM.”

    Over the past two years, the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda has suffered several significant legal setbacks. Of particular importance here, in March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., held that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the BLM–for the first time–to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This decision spells trouble for all the Utah BLM’s leasing decisions over the past two years: the agency made the same unlawful mistake in each. SUWA has already filed the first of several court challenges to begin to overturn all these decisions. More information on SUWA’s filed lawsuit is available here.

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