SUWA has long sought to force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to look before it leases. To that end, we filed two lawsuits last summer challenging the agency’s oil and gas leasing decisions in Utah. Victories in both have bought us time in the effort to protect wild and culturally important landscapes from fossil fuel leasing and development.

The first of the two suits challenged the agency’s decision to sell 35 parcels for development on public lands sandwiched between the Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments to the east, and Bears Ears National Monument to the west. These are some of the most culturally rich lands in the United States.

In the second lawsuit, SUWA and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the agency’s decision to sell 130 leases in eastern Utah. These are located in important wildlife habitat, are adjacent to waterways including the Green River, and are on lands with wilderness characteristics such as the Desolation Canyon and White River areas. By bringing these lawsuits, we forced the BLM to suspend all 165 leases, prepare new analysis on the climate impacts of the lease offerings and the ensuing development activity, and ultimately to reevaluate its decision to lease in these areas in the first place. While the leases are suspended, no surface disturbing activities can occur.

SUWA also forced the BLM to suspend more than 65 additional oil and gas leases through administrative appeals filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals—an administrative board responsible for reviewing challenges to things like leasing decisions. These leases are located in the San Rafael Desert, near the Horseshoe Canyon portion of Canyonlands National Park, and on wilderness-quality lands in the Labyrinth Canyon area. The BLM must now re-analyze the climate impacts of offering these leases for development.


Keeping Drill Rigs Out of the Redrock
The cumulative effect of these wins is substantial. In the last year, we have compelled the BLM to suspend a total of more than 230 leases covering more than 300,000 acres of redrock lands. This achievement—possible only with your support—is especially important in light of the increasingly critical global climate crisis.

SUWA also successfully opposed the BLM’s approval of oil and gas development projects on already-leased lands. Early this year we won a challenge to the BLM’s decision to approve 175 wells on Horse Bench—a prow of land located above the culturally rich Nine Mile Canyon and the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. We likewise blocked a 16-well drilling proposal for lands within one mile of the Green River near the entrance to Desolation Canyon.

Greed Springs Eternal
Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s BLM shows no sign of curbing its zeal for oil and gas leasing and development in Utah. Despite record low oil and gas prices, the agency has received hundreds of industry “expressions of interest” for new leasing in Utah, including on more than 100,000 acres of public lands on the doorsteps of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

The SUWA staff is actively preparing to fight these new threats. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to get involved.

—Landon Newell

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2020 issue)