FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts: Heidi McIntosh, SUWA Conservation Director, (801) 486-7639, ext 15

UTAH WILDERNESS STUDY AREA TO BE EXPLORED FOR OIL
First Time Since 1991 Conservationists Appeal Decision

SALT LAKE CITY- (November 12, 2002)  For the first time since 1991, when the first President Bush was in office, the federal Bureau of Land Management has approved oil and gas exploration in a wilderness study area. Known as the Winter Ridge WSA, the area is in the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the BLM is required to protect the pristine character of these scenic and undeveloped lands until Congress makes a formal decision to place them in the wilderness preservation system.

Two areas proposed for designation as wilderness in Americas Redrock Wilderness Act Hideout Canyon and Mexico Point would also be explored for oil. It would also impact one of the states most valuable habitats for black bear, and in an area favored by wild horses.

SUWA, The Wilderness Society and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club will appeal the decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals and seek a temporary injunction based on the irreparable harm that the seismic exploration will do to the black bear, to fragile desert soils, and primitive recreation opportunities like hiking. The BLM has given the green light to the oil industry without even looking at how it will impact wildlife like the black bear, which are already stressed from the drought. Theres just no balance to their approach,explained Herb McHarg of SUWA.

The Bush Administration is encouraging oil companies to exploit our most pristine and scenic places first yet these are the very last places where we should put oil rigs and the roads and waste pits that go with them,said Heidi McIntosh of SUWA. This is a stinging slap in the face for the millions of Americans who love these special places.

Oil Development Projects Fast-Tracked in Utah Controversial oil projects in Utah have been routinely fast-tracked and approved late on Friday afternoons, or over the weekend. The BLM approved this one on the Saturday of Veterans Day weekend, and put it into immediate effect, allowing the work to begin on Sunday. The BLMs strategy makes it virtually impossible to obtain judicial review prior to commencement of the project.

Marching Orders From the Top -- The Bush Administration began to develop plans to exploit wilderness study areas for oil production shortly after they took office. In March 2001, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton drafted a policy paper which pushed for Congress to release WSAs so they could be developed for oil. Vice-President Cheney incorporated this concept in what became the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy in May of 2001.

At about the same time, the Department of Interior ordered the BLM to revise its outdated planning documents to support increased oil exploration and drilling throughout the west.

On May 18, 2001, President Bush signed executive orders requiring all agencies to prepare statements of adverse effectson energy supplies. DOI implemented the order by forcing BLM field staff to prepare written justifications for decisions not to open lands to oil development; no such justifications are required for decisions to open lands to leasing

Also on May 18, 2001, the President ordered all agencies to expedite their review of permits or take other actions as necessary to accelerate the completion ofenergy related projects.

In January 2002, the Washington DC BLM office directed the Utah BLM to make oil and gas development its No. 1 priority.

Utah Onslaught This project comes on the heels of a series of controversial oil exploration projects that have turned Utah into a battleground in the debate over how much public land to open to oil companies.

  • On October 4, 2002, the Bush Administration approved the largest oil and gas exploration project ever undertaken in Utah the 3,000 square mile project in the Book Cliffs involves the detonation of 5,000 explosive charges on nearly 500 miles of seismic line. Seven areas proposed for wilderness designation would be criss-crossed with seismic lines. SUWA, the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society filed suit in Utah challenging this decision in October.
  • In February 2002, the Bush Administration authorized an oil exploration project on the border of Arches National Park. The decision has been stayed temporarily by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which will hold a hearing in the case on Friday, December 13, 2002.
  • In all, the Bush Administration has either approved, or is working to approve, seven projects in Utah that impact proposed wilderness lands, or other landscapes with remarkable scenery, archeological sites or wildlife habitat.

Enactment of an energy bill modeled on the Bush/Cheney energy plan is a top priority for the Republican-controlled House and Senate when they begin work in January.

 

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