Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

CONSERVATION GROUPS CHALLENGE DRILLING PROGRAM IN DESOLATION CANYON REGION

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NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL * THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY * SIERRA CLUB
SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE *

For Immediate Release – January 22, 2013
Contacts:

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.807.6918 (cell)
Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.289.2397

SALT LAKE CITY (January 22, 2013) — Last Friday, January 18, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Salt Lake City challenging the Interior Department’s decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region.

Approved last year, the “Gasco project” was heavily criticized in editorials across the country and whose calls for a compromise decision were rejected by Secretary Salazar.  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.

“Regrettably, Secretary Salazar made the wrong decision to approve the Gasco project which will result in significant, long lasting damage to the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness,” said Peter Metcalf CEO/President of Black Diamond, Inc. “This decision made no sense, particularly when congressional leaders, conservation organizations, the American outdoor industry, and tens of thousands of citizens endorsed an alternative drilling plan that would have allowed Gasco to develop the majority of the project area and at the same time protected the sanctity of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.  This decision didn’t square with my understanding of President Obama and Secretary Salazar’s call for a balanced approach to energy development.”

“This is a drastic expansion of drilling in Utah’s proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness and frankly, it was a terribly misguided decision by the Department of the Interior,” said Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Beyond threatening a remarkable landscape, this approval will aggravate the Uinta Basin’s serious ozone pollution levels; levels which right now are once again spiking well above federal standards. Americans hunger for wild lands, not another industrialized spot with bad air.”

“The Interior Department should have followed the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce the project’s footprint and protect the Desolation Canyon wilderness, while still allowing the company to develop its leases,” said Stephen Bloch, General Counsel for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “By bowing to the company’s proposal, Secretary Salazar put one company’s profits above the protection of this world-class landscape.  Americans are worse off because of this short-sighted decision.”

“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 is an essential part of one of the nation’s most important wildlife areas, the Book Cliffs,” said Mark Clemens of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club.  “We call this area America’s Serengeti.  To mar this area permanently with 215 natural gas wells is a serious error in land-management decision making.”

Background on the Gasco project:

The BLM has described the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness as one of the largest unprotected roadless complex 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. In approving the so-called Gasco Energy, Inc. development project, the Interior Department authorized nearly 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).  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.

The Interior Department considered two alternatives to the company’s proposed action, both of which would have provided ample drilling opportunities for the company but barred drilling in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and afforded greater protections for the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon badlands. But the administration ended up supporting the company’s plans to drill in all these sensitive places. 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.

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Steve Bloch

BLM Refuses to Spare the ROD, Gives OK to Spoil Desolation Canyon

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Yesterday was a bad news Monday.  The Obama Administration, in a disappointing move, approved the Gasco project in Utah’s Desolation Canyon wilderness.  By signing the Gasco Record of Decision (ROD), BLM has placed the interests of small-time speculators above that of the public and one of Utah’s largest primitive and roadless landscapes.

As we have blogged about before, the Gasco project is a large natural gas project in northeastern Utah, overlapping the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  This complex is one of the nation’s wilderness gems: a large and wild ecosystem replete with wildlife.  The Gasco project area alone covers habitat for deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, and mountain lion.

The Obama Administration was faced with an easy choice here.  It could have approved a compromise version of the proposed Gasco project that would have steered development away from the sensitive wildlands of this region—lands that the most recent Bush Administration acknowledged were wilderness caliber—while still allowing the company to drill over 1,100 wells or it could eschew all compromise and give the company the authorization to drill nearly 1,300 wells.  Unfortunately, they went with the latter.  They did this over the objections of our members, congressional representatives, the outdoor industry, and many others.  Apparently, it was more important to them to give away public lands for speculative gas development in an unproven area during times of record low gas prices.

Contrary to the BLM and company’s clumsy wordsmithing and semantic gymnastics, the Gasco project is most definitely within the larger Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  The BLM’s own environmental impact statement confirmed that the Gasco project overlapped with nearly 40,000 acres of the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex, an area that was “inventoried by the BLM and found to have wilderness characteristics” (Gasco Final EIS at 3-142).  Interior’s approval of the Gasco project undeniably places these lands at risk.

As these recent photos demonstrate, this is a wild and spectacular area.  Shame on the BLM for giving one company the green light to destroy it.

BLM’s approval of the Gasco project clears the way for development in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness (here in the mid-ground) and greater-Nine Mile Canyon region. Development could also proceed atop the Bad Land Cliffs (here in the background).

Gasco project area – wells would be located on high rims and central to left portion of this area.

Sand Wash and Desolation Canyon

Upper Desolation Canyon – Gasco could drill wells in the center flat landscape, coming to the river in the more relief area.

David Garbett

ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERS CONDEMN INTERIOR’S APPROVAL OF NEW DRILLING WELLS IN DESOLATION CANYON REGION; THEY WARN OF DISASTER

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NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY * SIERRA CLUB

SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE *

For Immediate Release – June 18, 2012



Contacts:
Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.289.2397
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.5818 x.117
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

SALT LAKE CITY (June 18, 2012) — A coalition of environmental leaders today condemned the Interior Department’s decision to allow nearly 1,300 new oil and gas wells in Utah’s Desolation Canyon region.

Below are the reactions of leading voices that oppose the Interior Department’s plans to approve the Gasco project, which has been criticized in editorials across the country and whose calls for a compromise decision were rejected:

“The wild public lands of Desolation Canyon are a national treasure that belong to the American people and should be protected for generations to come,” said Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would protect some 9 million acres of BLM wilderness in Utah, including Desolation Canyon. “Unfortunately this decision ignores the counsel of myself and several other Members of Congress who made the modest request that 1,100 wells be drilled instead of 1,300 – thereby preserving the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area. What took millions of years for nature to create should not be destroyed by this irresponsible decision at the Department of the Interior.”

“Secretary Salazar absolutely made the wrong decision to approve the Gasco project which will result in significant, long lasting damage to the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO/President of Black Diamond, Inc. “This decision makes no sense, particularly when there was a viable alternative supported by congressional leaders, conservation organizations, the American outdoor industry, and tens of thousands of citizens that would have allowed Gasco to develop the majority of the project area and at the same time protected the sanctity of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.  This decision doesn’t square with my understanding of President Obama and Secretary Salazar’s call for a balanced approach to energy development.”

“This head-long rush to drill for oil and gas will almost certainly produce serious consequences for our air, our waters, our lands and our health,” said Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Such a drastic expansion of drilling in Utah’s proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness will also aggravate Uintah Basin’s already-unenviable status as one of the most polluted regions in America. The Interior Department should have followed the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce the project’s footprint and protect the Desolation Canyon wilderness, while still allowing for significant development.”

“Secretary Salazar’s approval of the controversial Gasco project is wholly inconsistent with several recent agreements between industry, the Interior Department, and conservation groups over equally large and complex natural gas projects in eastern Utah,” said Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “With this decision, the Secretary’s rhetoric of a collaborative approach to tackling difficult problems has fallen flat.”

There are more than 1,000 approved BLM drilling permits going unused by oil and gas companies in Utah alone.

“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. “With this decision, we see some recognition of the need to preserve the spectacular wilderness-quality lands, the rare and extraordinary rock art, and the threatened plant and wildlife species in Desolation Canyon –now that recognition needs to become a reality on the ground.”

“Desolation Canyon is an essential part of one of the nation’s most important wildlife areas, the Book Cliffs,” said Mark Clemens of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club.  “We call this area America’s Serengetti.  To mar this area permanently over 200 new natural gas wells is a serious error in land-management decision making.”

Background on Today’s Decision:

The BLM has described the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness as one of the largest unprotected roadless complex 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. In approving the so-called Gasco Energy, Inc. development project, the Interior Department authorized 215 new wells, along with roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure in an area that conservationists and federal officials agree is a wilderness caliber landscape.  This approval comes in the face of calls by the Environmental Protection Agency, congressional leaders and tens of thousands of citizens from across the country to approve an alternative to Gasco’s proposal that would have allowed for more than 1,100 new natural gas wells while protecting the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.

The Interior Department considered two alternatives to the company’s proposed action, both of which would provided ample drilling opportunities for the company but barred drilling in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and afforded greater protections for the Green River and Nine Mile Canyon badlands. But the administration ended up supporting the company’s plans to drill in all these sensitive places. Gasco – a Colorado-based natural gas company – is now authorized to begin permitting for more than 1,300 new gas wells in the area, including more than 215 new wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas.  This approval comes at a time when natural gas prices are at near-record lows due to an abundance of gas supplies, and companies are idling drilling rigs in developed fields in the Uinta Basin.  In addition, Eastern Utah has experienced several years of record high winter-time 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.

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admin

County (Hot) Seat: Official’s talking points flunk the test in Congress

7:51 am

It was with some amusement that we watched Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee deliver testimony this past Thursday in front of the House Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing regulations on his community.  Given Mr. McKee’s prolific appearances on behalf of the oil and gas industry, we were pretty sure of what he would say: XX policy has killed jobs in Uintah County, industry is fleeing, we are suffering.

Suffering?  Uintah County may be suffering from record winter ozone levels, but not from unemployment, which is 4.1% there – the lowest in the state.

Fortunately, Red Rock champ Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) teased some of this inconvenient information out of a reluctant Mike McKee, who comes up with some pretty novel scientific reasoning for ozone pollution.

Watch for yourself:


SUWA was at the forefront of tracking the winter ozone problem in the Uintah Basin, which, as Rep. Connolly pointed out, has reached levels worse than Los Angeles, and which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described as “unearthly.”  Commissioner McKee is correct that scientific studies are still underway to determine exactly what roles various factors such as sun and snow play in the formation of the complex pollutant known as ozone.  However, nobody is arguing that oil and gas production be removed from the equation entirely as McKee asserts in his response to Rep. Connolly’s questioning.  In fact, the Bureau of Land Management acknowledges that oil and gas activity is likely the leading cause of ozone pollution in northeast Utah.

It’s extremely disappointing then that the Interior Department appears ready to follow Mike McKee’s “head in the sand” approach by approving 1,300 new gas wells in the Desolation Canyon region – a project which according to the BLM’s own findings will worsen the ozone problems in the Uintah Basin.  The disastrous Gasco project is out of step with other recent agreements between industry and conservation interests, including SUWA, which reduced the number of wells drilled while still extracting the natural gas resource – in turn reducing the amount of ozone causing pollutants emitted during development.

There’s still time for the Obama administration to make the right choice on the Gasco project – if you haven’t yet, please take action today!  Click here to sign our petition on Change.org.

Tell Retiring BLM Director to Spare Desolation Canyon

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Desolation Canyon - proposed drilling area
Desolation Canyon.  Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

The current director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bob Abbey, recently announced that he plans to retire at the end of this month.  Please write him and urge him not to authorize approval of the disastrous proposed Gasco development project as one of his final acts as director.  This devastating natural gas project at the doorstep of Desolation Canyon is not the legacy he should be remembered by.

Over the last few months we have updated you about the alarming progress of this ill-conceived plan that would put over 200 wells inside of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.  Your efforts in this matter are making a difference.

In March, the BLM released a final environmental impact statement indicating that it intended to approve this ruinous gift to industry (despite the fact that it had before it an alternative—Alternative E—that would have allowed for the drilling of over 1,100 wells while still protecting the proposed Desolation Canyon wilderness).  Like a child on Christmas morning, Gasco had visions of dollars and drills dancing in its head as it anticipated smooth sailing to project approval.  Not quite.  The Gasco project has been roundly panned in editorial pages across the nation and by thousands of citizen activists just like you.[1] Due to these efforts the record of decision (the final approval of the development) has hit some turbulence and has not been finalized.

With the project not yet finalized and Director Abbey retiring, we have an additional opportunity to help the BLM change course.  Please take advantage now by writing Director Abbey and telling him to think of his legacy.

Director Abbey can leave a legacy of a tarnished Desolation Canyon, sacrificed on the altar of one company’s greed, or a spared Desolation Canyon, saved for creatures and recreationists alike.  Please write him today and ask him to select Alternative E, the conservation alternative, for the sake of the wilderness and his legacy as BLM Director.

You can also add to your impact by signing our Change.org petition and spreading the word.



[1] These editorials include the New York Times, the Akron Beacon Journal, and the Salt Lake Tribune (twice).

Steve Bloch