Conservation Groups Denounce Utah BLM’s Decision to Offer Oil and Gas Leases on Doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument and in the San Rafael Swell

Sep 1st, 2017 Written by suwa

September 1, 2017

Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518

Salt Lake City: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced plans to offer seventy-five leases for oil and gas development on federal public land on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument and in the San Rafael Swell. In keeping with the Trump administration’s goal of achieving “energy dominance,” this decision by BLM will sacrifice some of Utah’s wildest and most culturally significant lands to chase this quixotic goal.

“This is an outrageous proposal to lease and develop some of Utah’s most culturally rich and wildly scenic federal public lands,” said Landon Newell, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM has quickly come full circle and brought us back to the ‘drill now-drill everywhere’ days of the early 2000s, and once again Utah is front and center on the national stage for these disastrous policies.”

BLM is proposing to offer leases in the Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell—an area abundant in cultural resources and archaeological sites, outstanding recreational opportunities, and wilderness-quality lands. As highlighted in its comments to BLM, the Utah Rock Art Research Association provided significant new information regarding cultural and archeological resources located on the lands being offered for sale, including hundreds of newly documented rock art sites. The agency has brushed aside this information and prioritized energy development over the protection and preservation of the region’s unique cultural and archaeological history.

“This is more evidence of the Trump administration’s true agenda: putting the fossil fuel industry before the public,” said Sharon Buccino, director of the Land and Wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Secretary Zinke’s handout of public lands to private industry is troubling. It will mean a loss of wilderness-quality lands, harm to a treasured national parks, air and water pollution—and all without a clear public benefit.”

The administration’s push to put energy development first has also drowned out the voices and concerns of local residents, the National Park Service, and even Utah Governor Gary Herbert. In a letter to BLM, Governor Herbert asked the agency to defer leasing on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument, citing potential impacts to viewsheds and soundscapes, as well as recreation. The National Park Service raised similar concerns regarding impacts to air quality, dark night skies, natural soundscapes, and wildlife, among other values, and asked that BLM reconsider its leasing proposal.  Instead of fully deferring these leases from sale, BLM is proceeding to offer a parcel that is clearly visible from the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center.

“Issuing oil and gas leases on wilderness-quality lands loved and used by the public, and at the doorsteps to these iconic places, continues a disturbing trend to blindly sacrifice our public lands to the fossil fuel industry without considering impacts to the environment, people, or these irreplaceable landscapes,” said Nada Culver, Senior Director for Agency Policy at The Wilderness Society.

BLM’s December 2017 competitive oil and gas lease sale is scheduled for the week of December 11, 2017 (here). BLM plans on offering seventy-five parcels totaling approximately 94,000 acres. More information regarding the BLM Price and Vernal field offices’ lease sale is available here and here, respectively. At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, it had leased to oil and gas operators approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect). However, at that same time, the operators had placed into production only 1.139 million acres—less than forty percent of the total land under lease (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).

>> Click here for photos of areas at risk in the San Rafael Swell


The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is dedicated to 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.  For more information please visit:

The Wilderness Society (TWS) is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.  For more information please visit: 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 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 and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.