If the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) didn’t realize the depth of public opposition to its proposed oil and gas lease sale in the San Rafael Swell, it does now.
More than 200 people packed the plaza outside the BLM’s headquarters today, holding aloft a sea of signs and chanting “No wells in the Swell” and “Don’t drill the Swell.” Speakers from conservation organizations, the outdoor industry, local business and the community called on the BLM to back off the proposed sale.
The message was clear: The San Rafael Swell is just too precious to drill for oil and gas.
Tim Wagner of the Sierra Club described the San Rafael Swell as a “must see” landscape for national and international visitors, noting that the Swell’s geologic wonders have been proposed for protection as a national park, a national monument, a national conservation area, and as wilderness.
“Some places simply should not be drilled and the San Rafael Swell is one of them,” Wagner said.
David Garbett, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called on President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to revise the Bush-era land use plans that throw open 80% of the San Rafael Swell area to potential oil and gas leasing, noting that these plans were written when “BLM’s marching orders were ‘Drill Baby Drill.’” Unless Obama and Jewell act, said Garbett, the San Rafael “will be sacrificed at the altar of the dollar, its roads choked with heavy machinery and oil tankers, its air and water polluted, its landscapes scarred by a network of pipelines.”
“These leases are totally unnecessary,” stressed Garbett, noting that BLM currently has a 3-miilion-acre-surplus of public lands under lease in Utah that are not being developed.
Craig Otterstrom, a native of Castledale, a small community located immediately next to the Swell, described how his parents – a coal miner and school teacher – had great respect for the beauties of the Swell, taking him on many trips into the area as a child, and instilling in him a deep love of the area. At 76, he has continued the same tradition, running a half marathon last weekend through the Swell with 3 generations of his family. “Our children and grandchildren deserve the opportunity to experience the beauty of this special place, unspoiled by the intrusion of oil rigs, pipelines and air pollution,” he said.
Peter Metcalf, CEO, President, and founder of Black Diamond, Inc. from Salt Lake City,
stressed the importance of the Swell “to the future of one of Utah’s largest and most sustainable economic sectors – the outdoor industry.” Metcalf noted that Utah’s outdoor industry “seeks neither largess not handouts for its success in creating jobs. It simply seeks a commitment from our leaders and our bureaucrats that they will not destroy the integrity and wildness of some of our most iconic, god given landscapes that are the source or our industry’s vibrancy and our citizens’ quality of life.”
Lauren Wood, a 7th generation Utahn and 3rd generation river runner whose grandfather founded Holiday River Expeditions, described the proposed lease sale as “forfeiting beautiful wilderness areas to industrial development” and “in direct opposition to what makes our community great.”
“We have no time to waste on archaic extraction methods,” she said, “and we are not going to let the BLM continue to write Bush-era policy into our state’s future. It’s time for the BLM – and the Obama administration — to move forward and dare to create a healthier future for our communities instead of rolling back into self-destructive projects such as drilling the San Rafael Swell.”
Today, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, joined by multiple other conservation organizations, filed a formal administrative protest with the BLM. Nearly 5,000 members of the public have already submitted comments opposing the lease sale.
The BLM’s San Rafael lease sale is currently scheduled for November 19.
(view more photos here)