As an environmental attorney for one of our nation’s oldest conservation groups, much of my time is spent in search of solutions for the growing threats to our public lands and wilderness areas. Reading case law, mulling over permit applications and environmental assessments, and meeting with our regional partners to facilitate sound approaches to land management are just a few of the tasks I deal with each day. Being a true conservationist at heart, I have to think through a lot of tough decisions, including when to settle very contentious lawsuits against those who threaten to tarnish our valuable public lands. When there are opportunities to protect large amounts of land through agreements, for example, the recent Desolation Canyon/Tavaputs Plateau agreement with the Bill Barrett Corporation, I consider every possible detail in the negotiations, including determining if an agreement guarantees protection for these lands. With Desolation Canyon, we feel it was the best possible decision for everyone involved.
The Desolation Canyon agreement involved stakeholders from around the region as well as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and National Parks Conservation Association. This multi-year battle followed the decision by the Bush administration that gave the Bill Barrett Corporation the rights and leases to drill over 200 sites within the West Tavaputs Plateau. The past administrations “lease and drill everywhere” approach opened up public lands across the west to increased development. Our groups knew this was not acceptable and we fought back.
We pushed back every step of the way, filing protests, organizing local citizens, reaching out to our members for support, and finally taking legal action to stop this massive build-out in a region full of scenic vistas, wilderness, and cultural history stretching back for generations. While going from 200 drill sites to 5 is not perfect, we think it is a huge victory and one that we achieved based on our hard work and support from our members to show the Bureau of Land Management that the oil and gas industry that they needed to protect the West Tavaputs Plateau.
Make no mistake that without this agreement it is very likely that we would have seen drilling on every acre of these spectacular lands.
Significant protections were made through this agreement, especially considering the rights to develop the land had already been handed over to the oil and gas industry. In fact, all natural gas extraction will be done through a combination of technology to keep activities underground, keep drilling sites out of sight, and through additional measures to protect air quality. This really was a compromise from industry.
This story is only one illustration of the battles we conservationists face daily, on behalf of our public lands and those who value these special places. We hold our public lands in high regard and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure that we preserve and protect these places for future generations. We’ll continue to count on our members and partners on the ground to help us reach these goals.