Desert News - Amy Joi O'Donoghue
SALT LAKE CITY — Two of Utah's scenic landmarks — Arches National Park and Desolation Canyon — made a list released Tuesday by the Wilderness Society as areas "too wild to drill."
The group said areas adjacent to Arches National Park and Desolation Canyon are under threat to oil and gas drilling, which would spoil the visitor experience.
"There are many different qualities that make these places special, but they all have one thing in common: they are threatened by oil and gas drilling,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.
“Keeping these places safe from drilling maintains the strong community and economic benefits that they currently offer, and provides a balance to the millions of acres of federal lands already open to oil and gas development," he said.
In late 2008, leases were proposed near Arches National Park, as well as Canyonlands National Park — leases that were the subject of a lawsuit and at the center of the notorious environmental activism of Tim DeChristopher who posed as a bidder to drive up the leases' value.
DeChristopher was subsequently convicted of two felonies for his actions at the Salt Lake City auction and he spent 18 months in federal prison. The controversial 77 leases under protest were ultimately rescinded by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Some of those leases have since been re-offered at auction, but some remained off the table. The leases in proximity to Arches included land that was three miles from the park's western boundary, land bordered by School and Institutional Trust Lands, according to the BLM.
Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy at the Wilderness Society, said despite the lawsuit and Salazar's actions, threats have not diminished to the areas that made the list.
“There are opportunities right now to safeguard these lands and we need to ensure that we strike a balance that puts conservation on equal ground with oil and gas development," she said.
The group contends that Desolation Canyon, prized for its rugged terrain and geology, has become the "target" of oil and gas drilling, referencing 1,300 wells approved in the area, some "right up to the river."
The Bureau of Land Management, however, said its approval of the Gasco project downsized the number of allowable wells and well pads. No well pads will be located within a half mile or line of sight of the Green River or within 2 miles of the Sand Wash campground/boat launch or Desolation Canyon.
Approval of Gasco's project also bars development in the Green River floodplain and Nine Mile Canyon.
Other places that made the list include the Greater Dinosaur area in Colorado and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
In 2008, the Wilderness Society released its first "Too Wild to Drill" report in its efforts to work against the encroachment of oil and gas development on wild lands. It said since then it has successfully protected areas on that report, including Vermillion Basin in Colorado and Carrizo Plain in California.