For Immediate Release – January 22, 2013

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.807.6918 (cell)
Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.289.2397

SALT LAKE CITY (January 22, 2013) — Last Friday, January 18, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Salt Lake City challenging the Interior Department’s decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region.

Approved last year, the “Gasco project” was heavily criticized in editorials across the country and whose calls for a compromise decision were rejected by Secretary Salazar.  The drilling project was also roundly decried by congressional leaders, representatives from the outdoor industry, and environmental leaders who called on the Interior Department to protect Desolation Canyon while allowing a reasonable level of development in less sensitive areas.

“Regrettably, Secretary Salazar made the wrong decision to approve the Gasco project which will result in significant, long lasting damage to the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness,” said Peter Metcalf CEO/President of Black Diamond, Inc. “This decision made no sense, particularly when congressional leaders, conservation organizations, the American outdoor industry, and tens of thousands of citizens endorsed an alternative drilling plan that would have allowed Gasco to develop the majority of the project area and at the same time protected the sanctity of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.  This decision didn’t square with my understanding of President Obama and Secretary Salazar’s call for a balanced approach to energy development.”

“This is a drastic expansion of drilling in Utah’s proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness and frankly, it was a terribly misguided decision by the Department of the Interior,” said Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Beyond threatening a remarkable landscape, this approval will aggravate the Uinta Basin’s serious ozone pollution levels; levels which right now are once again spiking well above federal standards. Americans hunger for wild lands, not another industrialized spot with bad air.”

“The Interior Department should have followed the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce the project’s footprint and protect the Desolation Canyon wilderness, while still allowing the company to develop its leases,” said Stephen Bloch, General Counsel for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “By bowing to the company’s proposal, Secretary Salazar put one company’s profits above the protection of this world-class landscape.  Americans are worse off because of this short-sighted decision.”

“Desolation Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon along the Green River are some of the wildest places left in Utah, and they should be protected from drilling,” said Nada Culver, Director and Senior Counsel of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “The Interior Department’s decision to permit the drilling of 215 new oil and gas wells in this remarkable region is simply unacceptable, especially when there are other, better alternatives for this project.”

“Desolation Canyon is an essential part of one of the nation’s most important wildlife areas, the Book Cliffs,” said Mark Clemens of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club.  “We call this area America’s Serengeti.  To mar this area permanently with 215 natural gas wells is a serious error in land-management decision making.”

Background on the Gasco project:

The BLM has described the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness as one of the largest unprotected roadless complex in the lower 48 states. Centered around the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, the area’s spectacular solitude and endless vistas are awe-inspiring. In approving the so-called Gasco Energy, Inc. development project, the Interior Department authorized nearly 1300 wells, 215 of which are in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area (along with roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure in an area that federal officials agree is a wilderness caliber landscape).  An alternative proposal supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, congressional leaders and tens of thousands of citizens from across the country would have allowed for more than 1,100 new natural gas wells while protecting the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.

The Interior Department considered two alternatives to the company’s proposed action, both of which would have provided ample drilling opportunities for the company but barred drilling in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and afforded greater protections for the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon badlands. But the administration ended up supporting the company’s plans to drill in all these sensitive places. Gasco – a Colorado-based natural gas company – has now begun the permitting process at a time when Eastern Utah has experienced several years of record high wintertime ozone levels that is largely linked to oil and gas development. According to Gasco’s own data, this project will add to those unsafe pollution levels.