A federal judge has issued an order rejecting a plan by Gasco Energy to drill 16 natural gas wells on public lands along the Upper Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River in eastern Utah.

The plan is part of the highly controversial Gasco Natural Gas Development Project, which the BLM approved in 2012.  The agency’s approval cleared the way for nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in the greater Desolation Canyon region, including 215 new wells and associated roads, pipelines, and other industrial clutter in what conservationists and federal officials agree is a wilderness-caliber landscape.  The project of 16 wells was one of the first site-specific authorizations to follow.

The Upper Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River offers excellent opportunities for solitude, flatwater boating, and camping for families and river runners alike. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

The 2012 Gasco project earned heavy criticism in editorials across the country, including the New York Times and Akron Beacon Journal.  Congressional leaders, the outdoor industry, and environmental leaders all denounced the project and called on the Interior Department to modify it to protect Desolation Canyon.

The wells at issue in the judge’s ruling would have been drilled from three drilling pads along a stretch of river that offers opportunities for families and boaters to enjoy solitude between high canyon walls, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

The BLM approved both the original Gasco project and its 16-well offshoot at a time when eastern Utah had experienced several years of record high wintertime ozone levels which are largely the result of oil and gas development (see sidebar, opposite).  The judge’s October decision held that the BLM’s evaluation of air pollution, and in particular ozone pollution, was inaccurate and inadequate.  The judge also agreed with us that the agency did not seriously consider the noise from drilling these wells and how that would affect river runners and families.

We thank all our members who submitted comments on the Gasco project, wrote letters to the editor opposing the project, or otherwise supported our efforts to send this one back to the drawing board. We couldn’t have done it without you!

This case was brought by SUWA, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society.  A team of SUWA attorneys staffed this case, led by our former colleague David Garbett.

–Steve Bloch

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, autumn/winter 2016 issue)