Interior Board of Land Appeals Dismisses Attempt to Drill the Swell

The Interior Board of Land Appeals has dismissed an appeal brought by the Western Energy Alliance and a small oil and gas company which challenged BLM’s decision not to offer certain wilderness character and culturally significant parcels in the San Rafael Swell for lease at the November 2013 oil and gas lease sale.

San Rafael Swell Rally
A woman protests proposed oil and gas leases during a rally in front of the BLM’s state offices September 16, 2013.

“We’re pleased that industry’s appeal has been rejected,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM made the right decision not to offer these wild and culturally rich public lands in the Utah’s remarkable San Rafael Swell for oil and gas leasing and development.”

Last year the BLM proposed to sell 57 oil and gas leases primarily located in Utah’s stunning San Rafael Swell. The leases would have green lighted development on more than 80,000 acres of proposed wilderness, the vast majority of which the BLM itself acknowledges are wilderness caliber landscapes. The leases would have also authorized surface activities in a culturally rich landscape and over the objections of The Hopi Tribe. Hundreds of people wrote and emailed the BLM asking them to “think first, and lease later.” More than 150 people rallied at BLM’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City and delivered this message personally. BLM ultimately withdrew these parcels from sale.

Shortly thereafter an oil and gas trade group, the Western Energy Alliance, filed an appeal with the Interior Department seeking to overturn the BLM’s decision not to offer these leases. They were joined by a small oil and gas company who had hoped to buy some of these leases. The gist of their appeal was that because BLM initially made the wrong decision to offer these leases, it was required to do so no matter what kind of information the agency learned about the threats that development would pose to fragile cultural sites, threatened species, etc. In other words, industry pushed for the “good old days” of “lease first and think later.” The Interior appeals board flatly rejected these arguments and dismissed the appeal.