- News &
For Immediate Release: December 6, 2006
SALT LAKE CITY (December 6, 2006): The Bureau of Land Management’s Vernal field office has received more that 30,000 public comments in opposition to a plan to drill more than 50 natural gas wells on federal and state lands just south of Utah’s White River. Outfitters and conservationists are also asking BLM for a comprehensive analysis of the development proposal from Denver-based Enduring Resources, LLC, including the potential impacts to the natural quiet and beauty of this remote area.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society submitted detailed comments to the BLM over the proposal by Enduring Resources, LLC to heavily develop this largely pristine area. A coalition of local river outfitters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and river-based conservation groups also submitted comments opposing the project as drafted. The state of Utah also commented on the project’s potential impacts to air and water quality.
“We’re calling on the BLM to ‘think first, then act” said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM needs to consider the impacts that this project along with several others under consideration or recently approved by the agency will have to the White River in a comprehensive environmental impact statement. As currently planned, this project and others will change the face of the White River for generations and leave a legacy of blighted lands, dirtied skies, and polluted waters.”
“We are seriously concerned that paying visitors will begin to choose other places to spend their time and money if the White River continues to be severely impacted by natural gas development.” said Amy Roberts, Director of Government Affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association. “Ultimately, this project may be the one that ‘breaks the camel’s back’ altering the river experience to such a degree that wilderness characteristics would be eliminated and the river’s recreational opportunities would be severely impacted.”
In 1999, the BLM recognized that much of the White River and nearby lands within the proposed project area were wilderness quality and designated the “White River wilderness inventory area.” http://www.access.gpo.gov/blm/utah/pdf/ne140.pdf. BLM described the area this way “The area’s scenic beauty is exceptional. . . . The deep canyons, high ridges, cliffs, and unique geologic features create spectacular vistas.” BLM also noted that the “John Wesley Powell expedition highlighted a feature in the [White River] unit known as “Goblin City,” which is an area of unique geologic beauty.” The gas development proposed by Enduring would be seen and heard from the Goblin City overlook, a popular hiking trail from the White River.
Plans to potentially designate this area as Wilderness were de-railed in 2003 by the controversial “No More Wilderness” settlement between then Interior Secretary Norton and then Utah Governor Leavitt. Conservationists have challenged that settlement in federal court.
At the same time that it is reviewing Enduring’s proposal, the BLM is also considering whether to protect the larger White River area through a number of administrative protections, including recommending the White River for designation under Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and designating the area as an “area of critical environmental concern.” These other protections being considered as part of the Vernal office’s ongoing land use planning process will almost certainly not be implemented if Enduring’s project is approved and completed.
Like most Western states, Utah has a surplus of BLM lands that have been leased for oil and gas development but are not in production, as well as a surplus of applications for permission to drill. For example, at the end of fiscal year 2005 there were just over 4.1 million acres of BLM managed lands in Utah under lease, but less than 1 million acres in production. In addition, between January 2001 and November 2006, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 7,064 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in Utah. At the end of November 2006, there were 3,048 approved drill permits from that nearly six-year period that had not yet been drilled. According to Bloch, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups have challenged only a handful of drilling projects - fewer than half of one percent during this period.
“The White River provides a truly unique wild river experience for our customers. I fear that the proposed Rock House development will significantly jeopardize the special qualities this river contains,” said Marty Genereux, President of Centennial Canoe Outfitters, Inc.
“We need not sacrifice our last wild places for energy security. Lands now open to drilling combined with the West’s supply of renewable energy can take us to a clean, healthy and secure future.” said Sharon Buccino, Director of the Land Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
BLM has not said when or how it will announce a decision regarding Enduring’s proposal.