Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance * National Trust for Historic Preservation *
Natural Resources Defense Council * The Wilderness Society *

For immediate release: May 3, 2006

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801/486-3161 x. 3981
Mike Smith, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 202/588-6031
Suzanne Jones, The Wilderness Society, 303/650-5818, x. 102

Proposed Sale of Utah Historic and Recreational Areas to Oil and Gas Draws Fire from Preservationists,  Environmental Groups, and River Outfitters

Upcoming BLM lease sale to include land near Capitol Reef National Park, in Nine Mile Canyon, and near prime rafting rivers

SALT LAKE CITY (May 3, 2006) An oil and gas lease sale scheduled for May 16 by the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will open to oil and gas development 18 parcels of land near Capitol Reef National Park and 5 parcels of land in a historic district near Nine Mile Canyon, an area that is world-renowned for its fragile Native American rock art. The BLM will also auction land near a section of the San Juan River that is being considered for Wild and Scenic River designation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, conservation and environmental groups, and river outfitters are all submitting formal protests objecting to the inclusion of numerous parcels that are slated for oil and gas leasing by the BLM.

 The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, NRDC, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have submitted a formal protest to BLM over the inclusion of sale parcels, such as the lands in Labyrinth Canyon, near the San Rafael and Green rivers, and numerous parcels of land that are proposed for designation as “areas of critical environmental concern.” 

 “Nine Mile Canyon is home to one of the most significant collections of Native American petroglyphs in the United States, as well as other historic resources representing the lives of early settlers and ranchers in Utah,” said Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Oil and gas development would severely threaten or destroy the fragile and irreplaceable cultural resources in the Nine Mile Canyon area. For that reason, BLM must comply with federal preservation laws and take into account cultural resources before deciding whether or not to issue these leases.”  In 2004, the National Trust listed Nine Mile Canyon as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, in part to raise concerns about the harmful effects of energy development in the Nine Mile Canyon area.

BLM has also received protests from several river outfitters, including: Red River Canoe Co., Inc. (Moab, UT), Wild River Expeditions (Bluff, UT), Moki Mac River Expeditions, Inc. (Salt Lake City, UT), and Centennial Canoe Outfitters, Inc. (Centennial, CO). The lease sale includes public lands near the Green and San Rafael rivers, areas that are highly popular among families and river runners alike. Although the BLM is not leasing within one-quarter mile of the actual rivers, outfitters say that the industrial impact of the drill pads could be significant and would adversely impact their business.

“I have a number of clients who return each year to experience this same unique stretch of Green River, primarily because of its solitude, wild character, and peacefulness,” said Theresa Butler of Red River Canoe Company, who submitted a protest with the BLM over the lease sale. “The leases directly threaten the interests of these clients and this aspect of my business.”

In protesting the inclusion of the San Juan River area parcels, Taylor McKinnon, co-owner of Bluff’s Wild Rivers Expeditions, cited the “potential for rig-related water pollution…that could jeopardize the river’s ecology, its value to recreational users, and again, our business.”

“People love these rivers because they are so peaceful,” said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance “Rafters, hikers, and campers will still hear the racket and see the lights at night, even if the leases are a quarter-mile from the river. The solitude, natural quiet, and unforgettable night skies will be gone forever.”

The 18 parcels that BLM will auction near Capitol Reef National Park include two parcels that the National Park Service asked BLM to offer for sale only if all surface disturbance was prohibited because of their proximity to the Park; BLM ignored this request.  Also on the auction block are thousands of acres that BLM itself determined to be “wilderness quality” because of their unspoiled nature, 110 parcels in proposed “areas of critical environmental concern,” and many that BLM was specifically told not to lease in 2005 by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), BLM’s oversight board.

“It is mind-boggling that the BLM and the Department of the Interior are rushing to lease and develop sensitive lands, ignoring its own oversight board and a request from the National Park Service,” said Bloch. “With each lease sale, it seems that BLM is upping the ante on selling off public treasures that are of great historical and natural significance.”

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. Between 2001 and 2005, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 5,077 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in Utah. At the end of 2005, there were 2,044 approved drill permits from that five-year period that had not yet been drilled. According to Bloch, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has challenged only a handful of drill projects - fewer than half of one percent.

The Utah sale will come on the heels of another highly controversial BLM oil and gas sale on May 11 in Colorado. That sale is already drawing fire because it is slated to include habitat for the endangered black-footed ferret, wilderness quality land, and tens of thousands of acres of public lands currently undergoing Resource Management Plan (RMP) revisions.
“Because the industry is saddled with a backlog of permits, it seems reasonable to ask both the industry and BLM to take a more prudent approach to drilling,” said Suzanne Jones of The Wilderness Society. “In Colorado and Utah, the BLM is consistently putting sensitive lands up for sale. As the country becomes increasingly aware that we can’t drill our way out of our energy problems, the ‘drill everything’ approach seems extraordinarily short-sighted.”


Protests to the May Lease Sale:

Formal Protest Submitted by SUWA
Letter Submitted by the Superintendant of Capitol Reef National Park
Formal Protest by Red River Canoe Company
Formal Protest by Centennial Canoe Outfitters
Formal Protest Submitted by Wild Rivers Expeditions
Formal Protest Submitted by Moki Mac River Expeditions

Lease Sale Maps:

Capitol Reef/Sevier River Area Lease Sale Parcels
Price River Area Lease Sale Parcels
Price River South Lease Sale Parcels
San Juan River Area Lease Sale Parcels
Tavaputs Plateau Area Lease Sale Parcels
Green River Area Lease Sale Parcels


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