Public Says No to Drilling Utah’s Canyon Country. Will Government Listen?

Utah Canyon Country.

Will the Bureau of Land Management listen to more than 1 million Americans  and halt its plan to lease some of the Utah canyon country’s most pristine and spectacular wildlands?

The BLM ignored conservation groups in the fall when they protested the agency’s plans to open much of the canyon country to energy development as part of new management plans that govern public land in eastern Utah.

On Election Day, almost immediately after those plans became final, the BLM announced that in its Dec. 19 lease sale it would auction to the oil and gas industry more than 92 parcels of public land in places as famous and wild as Desolation Canyon along the Green River, Labyrinth Canyon, the benches and mesas east of Canyonlands National Park and land along the White River.

The newly-approved management plans were the ticket the BLM needed to declare open season on these remote and rugged redrock wildlands.

In the Price, Vernal and Moab BLM field areas, where most of the contested parcels exist, new management plans together call for more than 8,500 new oil and natural gas wells, potentially putting drilling rigs within sight of national parks.

In fact, analyses by The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center, which played a leading role in analyzing and protesting six management plan revisions in Utah, show that most wildlands and other special places could have been protected from development while still allowing for most of the expected energy development to occur in each BLM field area.

After hearing complaints from the National Park Service about lease sale parcels being designated adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument, the BLM deferred some of the parcels, whittling the total contested parcels down to 92. But despite the agency’s best attempts to put a positive spin on it, the BLM’s response leaves many iconic areas at risk and even those parcels that are being deferred can reappear in future lease sales, maybe even as soon as early 2009.

Now, The Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are protesting, asking the BLM to defer all 92 parcels in Utah’s most precious wildlands. The BLM’s self-imposed deadline for a final decision on parcel deferral is Dec. 12. The Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Colorado Plateau Archaeological Coalition are also protesting.

If the BLM had erred on the side of conservation when writing its new management plans for eastern Utah and protected all the wildlands that The Wilderness Society, other groups and many citizens wanted protected, the agency could still allow more than 7,000 new wells to be drilled in the Price, Vernal and Moab field areas.

Let’s hope the BLM pays attention to our protest so that these wildlands won’t be sacrificed to drilling rigs.

For more information, see our links below and check out Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance's website.