Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

SUWA FILES ADMINISTRATIVE CHALLENGE TO GASCO OIL WELLS

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Alleges That Approval Overlooked Numerous Environmental Issues

September 29, 2011; Salt Lake City, Utah

On Tuesday, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed a petition for a stay and administrative challenge to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of two Gasco Production Company-proposed oil wells in the Riverbend area of Utah’s Uinta Basin.  SUWA filed this challenge with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, an administrative court that has the authority to overturn BLM decisions.

In August of this year the BLM approved Gasco’s proposal to drill two oil wells on federal public lands: the Federal 23-30G-9-19 and the Federal 34-19G-9-19 locations.  However, as SUWA alleges in its administrative challenge, the BLM’s approval of this project failed to consider environmental impacts to water and air as well impacts on nearby at-risk communities.  These wells would be located in the Uinta Basin where ozone pollution is widely recognized as being some of the worst in the country.

“We are troubled by the BLM’s disregard for important environmental issues in this area,” said Steve Bloch, an attorney with SUWA.

If SUWA’s appeal is upheld, the BLM’s approval of these two wells will be set-aside and BLM will be instructed to prepare a new analysis.  In that case, Gasco could not drill these wells or benefit from production until BLM issued a new authorization, if at all.

SUWA, is a Utah-based environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of public lands in Utah.  It has frequently challenged BLM oil and gas approvals on public lands in the state and succeeded in reversing such decisions.  Recently, it was a lead group in obtaining a court order that prevented the BLM from issuing oil and gas leases auctioned as the controversial December 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah.

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Contact:  David Garbett; 801-486-3161; david@suwa.org; www.suwa.org; 425 E 100S, Salt Lake City, Utah.

David Garbett

Environmental Justice and the Uinta Basin

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As SUWA’s Utah field director I spend most of my days traveling the state, meeting with BLM staff, investigating potential new projects that threaten proposed wilderness areas, and photo-documenting the wilderness character in some of Utah’s wildest places.  I’m especially fortunate because my family and I spend much of our free time in these same places and so it’s easy to transition from work to family time.

For the past several years I have spent a good amount of my time working on SUWA’s energy campaign.  This has meant many repeated trips to eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin, as well as far flung corners of the state like the “Tar Sands Triangle” (a story for another day).  Recently, I have noticed a troubling trend in the Uinta Basin: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal and state agencies have been ignoring the impacts of oil and gas development projects on many of the small towns and hamlets and their residents.  In BLM speak, this involves the issue of “environmental justice.”

Environmental justice is essentially the fair treatment—as in no one bears an unfair share of the pollution and environmental harm—and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income in the implementation of federal programs.  In the Uinta Basin, this federal program is the BLM’s oil and gas leasing and development efforts and the enforcement of air quality regulations by the Utah Division of Air Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The fair and equal application of the law appears to have become more of a quaint theory than a reality when it comes to air pollution in the Uinta Basin.

For example, take two Uinta Basin communities located in the middle of Utah’s “oil patch,” Fort Duchesne and Randlett.  According to the 2000 Census these communities have greater than 50% of their residents living in poverty and greater than 90% of their residents are minorities.

To date, BLM environmental analyses that approve leasing and development have largely ignored the impacts of air pollution on these local residents.  I think it’s high time that practice comes to end.  The costs of developing oil and gas in eastern Utah should not fall so heavily on the shoulders of those least able to bear it.

Ray Bloxham

Colorado Business Leaders Ask Obama to Protect Greater Canyonlands

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When President Obama flew from California to Denver yesterday, did he look out the window?

If he did, the “purple mountains majesty” that graced the horizon were a reminder that the American West contains some of the last remaining and most magnificent wild landscapes in the world. As President, Obama has the ability to significantly influence the future of these lands – if he chooses to act.

And Colorodans are asking him to act. Earlier this month, sixteen outdoor business owners from seven different communities in western Colorado sent a letter to Obama (opens in PDF) urging him to “provide the highest level of protection for the Greater Canyonlands area.” They wrote:

Many of us have hiked, rafted, climbed and camped in the Greater Canyonlands for years and can attest to the area’s world class scenic, recreational, cultural and ecological values. As people who make their living in the outdoor industry, we also know how important preserving the wild landscapes of the Greater Canyonlands is to the outdoor and tourism-related economy of Colorado.

Over this summer, more than 2,000 Colorado citizens signed postcards urging President Obama to provide protection for the Greater Canyonlands area. In addition, a number of elected officials personally wrote the administration, urging President Obama to use his administrative authorities to protect Greater Canyonlands.

All of this reflects the widespread enthusiasm that exists across Colorado for protecting Greater Canyonlands. While Coloradans love the mountains for which their state is famous, many residents consider Greater Canyonlands part of the landscape they call “home” and cherish this awe-inspiring area as a place of recreation and renewal with family and friends. Their plea to Obama is provide Greater Canyonlands with the kind of meaningful protection it truly deserves. Let’s hope he is listening.

Terri Martin

What President Obama Will See In Denver

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Tomorrow, President Obama will be arriving in Denver as part of a series of stops in Western states to talk about jobs.

And when he arrives, he’ll be greeted by television and newspaper ads that ask him to do his job — and protect the Greater Canyonlands region of Utah.

Take a moment to watch the TV ad:


Click here to see the full page ads in the Denver Post (opens in PDF).

Just a few weeks ago, Obama’s Department of Interior rejected a request for a public process to begin discussing the future of Greater Canyonlands — the 1.4 million acres of BLM land surrounding Canyonlands National Park that is under threat from rampant off-road vehicle abuse and proposed uranium and tar sands mining.

In fact, the Obama administration has gone so far as to defend President Bush’s plans for the area — the same plans that opened up more than 3,000 miles of off-road vehicle trails in proposed redrock wilderness areas.

That’s why SUWA — along with Coloradans for Utah Wilderness, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness — is bringing the message directly to President Obama when he visits Denver: it’s time for him to lead, and to protect Greater Canyonlands.

The Greater Canyonlands region is within a day’s drive of most residents of Colorado — in a sense, it’s in Colorado’s “back yard.”

But the lands belong to all Americans, wherever we live. Please take a moment to amplify our message to President Obama by sending him an email and telling him to protect Greater Canyonlands, or by calling the White House at 1-202-456-1111.

Mathew Gross

Ralston To Obama: Protect Greater Canyonlands

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Aron Ralston, the inspiration for Danny Boyle’s film 127 Hours, published an op-ed in Saturday’s Denver Post calling on President Obama to use his executive powers to protect the Greater Canyonlands region of Utah. In an open letter to President Obama, he writes:

Unfortunately, your administration has perpetuated the Bush-era management plans for about 11 million acres of southern Utah that put at risk some of the most spectacular areas in that state. Those plans, rushed through by the Bureau of Land Management in 2008, protected only 15 percent of our lands with wilderness characteristics and opened up 80 percent to oil and gas drilling, while designating an astonishing 20,000 miles of off-road-vehicle routes.

After waiting years for revision of those deeply-flawed plans, this spring the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance petitioned the BLM to take a smaller step: close about 1,000 miles of off-road vehicle routes near Canyonlands National Park. Joined by several national environmental groups this summer, SUWA asked the BLM to conduct a public comment period on that petition. The Bureau has stiff-armed the request.

Mr. President, I still believe that you care about our public lands. Though Blue John Canyon and the Greater Canyonlands region stand yet unprotected, there is something you can do. It is what Theodore Roosevelt did to first protect the Grand Canyon, how Franklin Roosevelt preserved the Tetons, and what George W. Bush did on an unprecedented scale in 2006 in the Pacific Ocean. You can use your authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906: Issue an executive order to designate the million-acre area outside Canyonlands National Park as a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

Read more of Aron’s piece here — then, take a moment to contact President Obama and ask him to protect Greater Canyonlands

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