For Immediate Release – June 18, 2012

Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.289.2397
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.5818 x.117
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

SALT LAKE CITY (June 18, 2012) — A coalition of environmental leaders today condemned the Interior Department’s decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region.

Below are the reactions of leading voices that oppose the Interior Department’s plans to approve the Gasco project, which has been criticized in editorials across the country and whose calls for a compromise decision were rejected:

“The wild public lands of Desolation Canyon are a national treasure that belong to the American people and should be protected for generations to come,” said Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would protect some 9 million acres of BLM wilderness in Utah, including Desolation Canyon. “Unfortunately this decision ignores the counsel of myself and several other Members of Congress who made the modest request that 1,100 wells be drilled instead of 1,300 – thereby preserving the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area. What took millions of years for nature to create should not be destroyed by this irresponsible decision at the Department of the Interior.”

“Secretary Salazar absolutely 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 makes no sense, particularly when there was a viable alternative supported by congressional leaders, conservation organizations, the American outdoor industry, and tens of thousands of citizens 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 doesn’t square with my understanding of President Obama and Secretary Salazar’s call for a balanced approach to energy development.”

“This head-long rush to drill for oil and gas will almost certainly produce serious consequences for our air, our waters, our lands and our health,” said Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Such a drastic expansion of drilling in Utah’s proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness will also aggravate Uintah Basin’s already-unenviable status as one of the most polluted regions in America. 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 for significant development.”

“Secretary Salazar’s approval of the controversial Gasco project is wholly inconsistent with several recent agreements between industry, the Interior Department, and conservation groups over equally large and complex natural gas projects in eastern Utah,” said Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “With this decision, the Secretary’s rhetoric of a collaborative approach to tackling difficult problems has fallen flat.”

There are more than 1,000 approved BLM drilling permits going unused by oil and gas companies in Utah alone.

“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. “With this decision, we see some recognition of the need to preserve the spectacular wilderness-quality lands, the rare and extraordinary rock art, and the threatened plant and wildlife species in Desolation Canyon –now that recognition needs to become a reality on the ground.”

“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 Serengetti.  To mar this area permanently over 200 new natural gas wells is a serious error in land-management decision making.”

Background on Today’s Decision:

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 215 new wells, along with roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure in an area that conservationists and federal officials agree is a wilderness caliber landscape.  This approval comes in the face of calls by the Environmental Protection Agency, congressional leaders and tens of thousands of citizens from across the country to approve an alternative to Gasco’s proposal that 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 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 – is now authorized to begin permitting for more than 1,300 new gas wells in the area, including more than 215 new wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas.  This approval comes at a time when natural gas prices are at near-record lows due to an abundance of gas supplies, and companies are idling drilling rigs in developed fields in the Uinta Basin.  In addition, Eastern Utah has experienced several years of record high winter-time 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.