“From well-known places like Arches National Park to less protected regions of Utah like Desolation Canyon, the potential for oil and gas drilling threatens the very reasons these places deserve protection – they hold special wildlife, recreation, cultural and scientific values,” Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy at The Wilderness Society, said in a news release. “There are opportunities right now to safeguard these lands and we need to ensure that we strike a balance that puts conservation on equal ground with oil and gas development.”
In 2008, several parcels located near Arches and Canyonlands national parks were included in proposed oil and gas lease offerings by the Bureau of Land Management. Environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, filed a lawsuit which ultimately stopped the sale of some 77 proposed parcels at that time.
Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher disrupted the December 2008 lease sale in Salt Lake City by placing winning bids totaling $1.8 million on 14 of the controversial parcels with no intention to pay for them. DeChristopher, who became known as Bidder 70 – the number on his bidding paddle – was later found guilty of two felony charges and served 21 months in federal prison for his actions.
The controversial leases were taken off the auction list in early 2009 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Most of the leases have remained off the auction block, including those located near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
The Wilderness Society also claims that Desolation Canyon “has also become the target of oil and gas drilling.” The group says more than 1,300 wells were approved for drilling in the canyon, “some of them right up to the edge of the river,” and argues that large drilling operations, and providing housing for those workers, has made it difficult to find lodging for those who wish to visit Desolation Canyon.
The BLM has said restrictions included in the approval of those drilling projects has actually reduced the number of well pads and allowable drilling sites. Well pads are barred within one-half mile or line-of-sight of the Green River and within two miles of the Sand Wash campground and boat launch for Desolation Canyon. Development in the Green River floodplain and Nine Mile Canyon is also prohibited, according to the BLM.
But Wilderness Society officials said that because there is still potential for oil and gas drilling in many nearby places, “the threat still exists.”
“There are many different qualities that make these places special, but they all have one thing in common: they are threatened by oil and gas drilling,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “Keeping these places safe from drilling maintains the strong community and economic benefits that they currently offer, and provides a balance to the millions of acres of federal lands already open to oil and gas development.”
Other areas named on The Wilderness Society list include Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Thompson divide in Colorado and the Los Padres National Forest in California.
The full report is available online at wilderness.org/article/too-wild-drill.