Wilderness Society challenges Gasco oil and gas plan for Utah's Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon is threatened by the Gasco oil and gas drilling plan.
Ray Bloxham, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Utah's Desolation Canyon region is one of the most rugged stretches of the American West, but its wildness is jeopardized by plans for oil and gas drilling.

Because Desolation Canyon is so remarkable, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups are challenging a decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region, situated in the Utah's portion of the Colorado Plateau

Urge President Obama to make wildland protection -- not just drilling -- a part of his legacy.

We filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Salt Lake City on Jan. 18. It challenges Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to move forward with the Gasco Energy development project, which authorizes the drilling of 1300 wells, 215 of which are in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area (along with roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure in an area that federal officials agree is a wilderness caliber landscape).

Interior approved the Gasco project last year, despite widespread criticism and the presence of other alternative plans that would allow for drilling in less sensitive areas, while protecting Desolation Canyon's most sensitive areas, including the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area.

The Gasco project was heavily criticized in editorials across the country. The drilling project was also roundly decried by congressional leaders, representatives from the outdoor industry, and environmental leaders who called on the Interior Department to protect Desolation Canyon while allowing a reasonable level of development in less sensitive areas.

What's at stake in Desolation Canyon

The Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness is one of the largest unprotected roadless complexes in the lower 48 states. Centered around the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, the area’s spectacular solitude and endless vistas are awe-inspiring.

“Desolation Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon along the Green River are some of the wildest places left in Utah, and they should be protected from drilling,” said Nada Culver, Director and Senior Counsel of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “The Interior Department’s decision to permit the drilling of 215 new oil and gas wells in this remarkable region is simply unacceptable, especially when there are other, better alternatives for this project.”


Desolation Canyon. Photo by: Ray Bloxham, SUWA

An alternative proposal supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, congressional leaders and tens of thousands of citizens from across the country would have allowed for more than 1,100 new natural gas wells while protecting the  Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and affording greater protections for the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon badlands.

Gasco – a Colorado-based natural gas company – has now begun the permitting process at a time when Eastern Utah has experienced several years of record high wintertime ozone levels that is largely linked to oil and gas development. According to Gasco’s own data, this project will add to those unsafe pollution levels.

Facts about Desolation Canyon

  • Carved by the Green River, Desolation Canyon remains one of the most rugged stretches in the American West.
  • Popular destination for rafters: The Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, which is downriver from the Gasco project, is one of the nation’s classic river running opportunities. Permits are highly sought after by commercial outfitters and private individuals alike.  The stretch of the river above Desolation Canyon (the “Upper Desolation Canyon leg” is enticing to youth groups and family rafters for its relatively mellow waters and abundant opportunities to explore canyon country and remnants of the American West.
  • Nine Mile Canyon, a tributary of Desolation Canyon, is a living archaeology museum with more than 1,000 examples of rock art, cliff dwellings and archaeological sites.
  • Named by John Wesley Powell, Desolation Canyon (and the greater proposed wilderness complex) are some of the wildest lands in the lower 48.

Today the Desolation Canyon Proposed Wilderness remains threatened by oil and gas development.

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