The climate crisis is being driven in part by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) oil and gas leasing program. According to the most recent data available from the United States Geological Survey (2014), nationwide emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands represent 23.7 percent of national emissions for carbon dioxide, 7.3 percent for methane, and 1.5 percent for nitrous oxide over a ten-year period. In other words, nearly a quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions come from fossil fuels extracted from our federal public lands.

Well near Long Canyon, copyright James Kay.

Oil & Gas Leasing and Development

In recent years, we have had numerous successes in defending Utah’s wild public lands from fossil fuel development. For example:

  • Since 2019 we have filed three lawsuits in federal court challenging BLM leasing decisions. These challenges forced the BLM to suspend hundreds of oil and gas leases so that the agency could reanalyze and disclose the environmental impacts of offering the leases for development (more information about these challenges is available here).
  • Since 2017 we have successfully challenged the BLM’s approval of more than 200 drilling permits. These victories protected wilderness-caliber lands in the Desolation Canyon region, near Dinosaur National Monument, atop the West Tavaputs Plateau, and in the southern Uinta Basin (more information about some of these challenges is available here, and here). Despite the Trump administration’s relentless onslaught against our public lands, oil and gas operators did not drill a single well on lands proposed for wilderness designation in Utah.
  • We fought off attempts by the Trump administration to offer leases for development at the doorstep of Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks, and near Bears Ears and Dinosaur National Monuments.

Molen Reef. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Under the Trump administration, we successfully fought off many attempts to sell new oil and gas leases and drill new wells on wilderness-quality lands across the state. Unfortunately, the administration’s four-year “energy dominance” agenda blanketed Utah with oil and gas leases, including on lands proposed for wilderness designation. As a result, the oil and gas industry has stockpiled nearly 2 million acres of leased federal land in Utah that are not in development. We are actively pursuing legal challenges to many of these leasing decisions.

The Biden administration has paused all new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands to respond to the “profound climate crisis.” This is a long-overdue and necessary step to avoid the worst outcomes of a changing climate—which is being driven in large part by fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Despite the irrefutable benefits to our climate, wildlife, and wild places, the state of Utah and pro-pollution groups such as the Western Energy Alliance are engaged in an aggressive misinformation campaign against the leasing pause. SUWA has prepared this fact page to respond to and clarify many of these untruths. Oil and gas development on public lands endangers our rich American cultural heritage, dark night skies, and outstanding opportunities for solitude and recreation, and also threatens our wildlife, clean air, and clean water. It is even a driving force behind the climate crisis.

While the leasing pause is in effect, the BLM will conduct a comprehensive review of the agency’s leasing program, including potential climate change and other environmental impacts associated with oil and gas activities on public lands. SUWA will engage in this review process and advocate for the long-term protection of Utah’s wilderness-caliber lands. With the help of our members and activists, SUWA will continue working to protect these magnificent landscapes for the enjoyment of current and future generations.