SUWA Wins Three Victories for Book Cliffs/Desolation Canyon

Upper Desolation Canyon
Upper Desolation Canyon.  Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.
Utah’s magnificent redrock wilderness is now perhaps more than any time in the past at risk from unbridled oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development.  Over the past six years, the Bush administration has shown little regard for protecting Utah’s most spectacular public lands from the heavy hand of oil and gas development, and we’re expecting things to only get worse as time runs out on this terrible legacy of public lands mismanagement.

Fortunately, with the support of people across the country who care about the future of these spectacular National lands, we have been able to push back on the administration’s drive to “drill it all.” SUWA has recently received three favorable decisions on the oil & gas front, protecting close to 15,000 acres of proposed wilderness near Desolation Canyon from the significant impacts of new roads and oil wells.

  • In November, a proposal by a Denver-based petroleum company to drill new wells in the Wolf Point proposed wilderness in the heart of the Book Cliffs was denied, pending further analysis by the Bureau of Land Management.  The agency must now consider a directional drilling alternative which would minimize surface disturbances in an area home to Sage Grouse, Elk, Pronghorn, Mule Deer, Cougar, and Black Bears.

  • Shortly thereafter, an enormous proposal for 54 new oil and gas wells in the upper Desolation Canyon roadless area west of the Green River was also denied, based on a flawed analysis of the proposal by the BLM.  SUWA challenged the proposal on the grounds that it did not evaluate a less environmentally harmful alternative, did not adequately consider air quality issues, and overlooked impacts to the area’s wilderness characteristics and suitability as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.   

  • A third proposal for yet another spate of oil and gas wells in the upper Desolation Canyon roadless area, this time to the east of the Green River, has also been denied.  

Far from advocating a broad “no lease/no drill” policy, SUWA and its conservation partners are extremely selective about filing administrative or legal challenges to gas exploration or development projects in Utah, and throughout the Intermountain West. 

A close review of the undiscovered oil and natural gas resources on proposed BLM wilderness in Utah reveals that drilling these lands will have an insignificant impact on the price of oil and gas both nationally and in Utah.  There is little question, however, that exploration and development will leave lasting scars on this magnificent landscape, including the fragmentation of wildlife habitat, long-term damage to fragile desert soils, and the loss of wilderness values.  Quite simply, once these lands are gone, they are gone forever, so future leasing and development of these lands should be prohibited.


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