A federal judge recently issued an order rejecting a natural gas project on public lands along the Upper Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River in eastern Utah. This ruling received local and national media attention.
The plan at issue in the ruling is part of the highly controversial Gasco Natural Gas Development Project, which the BLM approved in 2012. The “Gasco project” cleared the way for nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s greater Desolation Canyon region, including 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 16-well project was one of the first site-specific authorizations to follow.
The BLM has described the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness as one of the largest unprotected roadless complexes in the lower 48 states. The area, which surrounds the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, is awe-inspiring, offering spectacular vistas and abundant solitude.
The Gasco project was heavily criticized in editorials across the country when it was approved in 2012. It was also roundly decried by congressional leaders, the outdoor industry, and environmental leaders, who called on the Interior Department to protect Desolation Canyon.
The 16-well project at issue in the judge’s ruling was slated for construction on three drilling pads adjacent to the Upper Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River—a section of water that offers opportunities for families and river runners to enjoy solitude between high canyon walls, sandy beaches and groves of cottonwood trees.
The BLM’s approval of the Gasco project and the 16-well project came at a time when eastern Utah had experienced several years of record high wintertime ozone levels that are largely the result of oil and gas development. The recent court 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.
A big thank you to 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.