Court Turns Back SUWA Challenge to Ill-Conceived Seismic Project
Remote San Rafael Desert in the cross-hairs

Utah’s San Rafael Desert is a remote and sublime landscape, home to pronghorn antelope and reclusive species such as the kit fox and the burrowing owl and containing hundreds, if not thousands of important archaeological sites. 

In May 2007 the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Price field office approved a 39,000 acre three-dimensional seismic project in the San Rafael Desert, located east of state Highway 24 between I-70 and Hanksville and west of the Green River. The so-called ‘San Rafael Saddle 3-D’ seismic project authorizes 64,000-pound “vibroseis” trucks to travel cross-country throughout the 61-square-mile project area.  The seismic or “thumper” trucks will pound their way over a total of 685 miles, the distance from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles during a project that will take three to four months to complete.

The BLM okayed the project, even though it recognizes most of the project area -- over 32,000 acres -- as being of wilderness quality.  The Sweetwater Reef and San Rafael River “wilderness character areas” (WCAs a new BLM acronym) are proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Redrock Wilderness Act.  Visitors to this region can experience profound solitude in a unique and intact desert and sand dune ecosystem where there is little sign of human impact or development.
 
Within days of the project’s approval, SUWA challenged BLM’s decision in court as having violated the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.  These cases are notoriously hard to win. SUWA successfully challenged BLM’s so-called ‘Yellow Cat’ seismic project east of Arches National Park in 2002 but has lost others in between.  Still, we believed that this was an important case and that the project could wreak serious, long-term damage to this important landscape. 

Unfortunately, the federal district court recently ruled against SUWA, holding that the BLM had done the bare minimum necessary to have its decision upheld.  SUWA immediately appealed that decision and has asked the district court judge to order the BLM not to allow the project to proceed on the ground until our appeal is heard.  We’ll keep you posted on how things progress before the Tenth Circuit.

 

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