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 and 7.3 percent for methane 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.

Beyond its significant role in climate change, oil and gas development on public lands threatens our wildlife, clean air, and clean water. It also endangers our rich American cultural heritage, dark night skies, and outstanding opportunities for solitude and recreation.

Well near Long Canyon, copyright James Kay.

Oil & Gas Leasing and Development

In recent years, with the support of our members and activists, 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 those 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).
  • 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.
  • We successfully challenged the Biden administration’s June 2022 lease sale, which resulted in the BLM cancelling that sale.

Molen Reef. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Unfortunately, the Trump 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 working to undo these decisions.

Shortly after taking office, the Biden administration paused all new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and waters to respond to the “profound climate crisis.” This was a long-overdue step to avoid the worst outcomes of a rapidly changing climates. Within days, the State of Utah and pro-drilling groups such as the Western Energy Alliance challenged the leasing pause in federal court and launched an aggressive misinformation campaign (SUWA prepared this fact page and this story map to respond to and clarify many of these untruths). The litigation continues to work its way through the court system.

Congress and the White House Weigh In

In August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was signed into law by President Biden. The legislation makes significant investments in our nation to build a clean energy economy and reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution. However, the Act also requires that the BLM offer for sale 2 million acres of public lands or half of the lands nominated by industry for development (each year for the next ten years), whichever is less. Stated differently, the Act makes significant investments in transitioning our nation to a greener economy but unfortunately binds our country to another ten years of potential fossil fuel leasing and development.

In addition to ongoing litigation and the recently passed legislation, the BLM also is conducting a comprehensive review of its leasing program, including taking a closer look at potential climate and other environmental impacts associated with oil and gas development on public lands. SUWA continues to engage in this review process and advocate for the long-term protection of Utah’s wilderness-caliber lands. With your help, SUWA will continue working to protect these magnificent landscapes for the enjoyment of current and future generations.