For Immediate Release: February 1, 2007

Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (801) 486-3161, ext. 3981


Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Wins Appeal Challenging BLM Oil and Gas Development


SALT LAKE CITY Yesterday, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) ruled in favor of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and overturned an October 2003 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to lease approximately 14,000 acres of public lands for oil and gas development in Utah’s rugged and scenic backcountry.

The IBLA agreed with SUWA that BLM failed to make any real effort to identify fragile archaeological sites such as rock art and cliff dwellings prior to selling the contested leases, as required by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The IBLA also agreed with SUWA that BLM’s failure to consult with Native American tribes in a meaningful fashion prior to leasing the lands was a violation of the NHPA.

The IBLA stated that BLM’s decision asserts that the agency’s “field offices ‘completed a cultural report which addressed Native American religious concerns’; sent letters to tribes and thereby ‘consulted’; and made a determination that there is little or no potential to affect historic properties. BLM’s [] decision asserts that these actions constitute a ‘good faith effort’ in evaluating these [lease] parcels. The record lends scant support for these assertions.”

The Interior Board of Land Appeals is an administrative appeals board within the Department of the Interior which reviews appeals of BLM decisions.

“This is another important rebuke to BLM’s policy under the Bush Administration of ‘leasing first, and thinking later” said Stephen Bloch, a SUWA staff attorney. “By failing to consult with the tribes and the public, and making no real effort to locate irreplaceable cultural sites in the leased areas before selling its oil and gas leases, the BLM’s decision to lease was fatally flawed.

The sixteen parcels at issue in this appeal covered approximately 14,000 acres. Eleven of the sixteen parcels are located just north of the well known Nine Mile Canyon in eastcentral Utah, an area with world-class cultural resources such as petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and pit houses. Of the remaining five parcels, three are located along the southern slope of Utah’s imposing Book Cliffs which together with the Roan Cliffs in Colorado form the longest continuous escarpment in the world, and two parcels are located south of Dinosaur National Monument.

Additional background: BLM conducts oil and gas lease sales on a quarterly basis, and this appeal challenged leases sold at Utah BLM’s August 2003 sale. Utah BLM’s next oil and gas lease sale slated for February 20, 2007 includes several parcels in the culturally rich Hatch Wash area south of Moab. A recent survey conducted in this same general area located over 100 previously unrecorded cultural sites. The February 2007 sale is also proposing to include several leases near the Parowan Gap, just north of Cedar City. The Parowan Gap area is described by the State of Utah’s website as “a nationally recognized extravaganza of petroglyphs a superb ‘gallery’ of native Native American rock art…local Native Americans consider them to be an important part of their cultural history relating stories of their ancestor’s lifeways.” http://www.utah.com/playgrounds/parowan_gap.htm. SUWA and a coalition of organizations intend to challenge the February lease sale based on, among other things, the BLM’s failure to protect these world-class sites.

This ruling follows several other recent federal court and IBLA decisions overturning Utah BLM lease sales. In August 2006, Utah federal district court judge Dale Kimball ruled in SUWA’s favor and overturned Utah BLM’s November 2003 lease sale a decision that has had profound impacts on BLM’s leasing program across the west. Also, from 2004 to 2006, the IBLA overturned several other Utah BLM lease sales involving
sensitive public lands.

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 approved drilling permits (known as APDs). 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, from January 2001 through December 2006, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 7,131 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in Utah. At the end of December 2006, there were 3,044 approved drill permits from that six-year period that had not yet been drilled. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups have challenged only a handful of drilling projects roughly one percent during this period.

 

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