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NRDC Challenges Interior Decision to Drill in Utah Wilderness

Bobby McEnaney

Posted January 24, 2013 in Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Desolation Canyon.jpgAs we have written about in prior posts, NRDC has been focused on opposing a drilling plan approved by the Interior Department that would allow oil and gas drilling within the famed Desolation Canyon wilderness area of Utah.  The plan would benefit one drilling producer, Gasco, who has received initial permission to drill 1,300 wells on nearly 200,000 acres of federal land in the region.  But the crux of the issue is that 215 of those wells would occur inside the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area – a wild land defined by its incomparable river canyons and unspoiled scenic vistas.  This is a region that the administration should be actively working to permanently protect, not allow further exploitation of its resources.  This is particularly true given that this part of the world is already being overwhelmed by a boom of oil and gas drilling, to the extent that the region’s air quality is dirtier than what can be found in Los Angeles or Houston on a bad day.

Because of these factors, NRDC along with our partners, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club have filed a federal lawsuit to protect this incredible wilderness from the short sighted actions of the administration and the drilling company. Regrettably, this all could have been avoided if only the administration and the Gasco drilling company had been genuinely committed to working with stakeholders in seeking a solution that avoided the most sensitive areas.  For an alternative existed, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would have allowed Gasco to drill on nearly 200,000 acres of lands, but avoid the handful of acres identified as wilderness (less than 3% of the total project area). 

Others have agreed with that premise. The region’s leading paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, issued an editorial today that says as much:

"Their action [the lawsuit] is in Utah’s best interest, and all Utahns should welcome it. Desolation Canyon and proposed wilderness areas in the region are among Utah’s outdoor recreation gems. Allowing this scale of energy development in such a sensitive environment is neither necessary nor prudent. Alternative proposals would allow drilling while protecting Desolation Canyon and its value to the state."

NRDC and its partners still believe that a workable solution can be arranged that benefits all of the varied interests – that would protect the Desolation Canyon wilderness while balancing the needs of developers in accessing the plentiful oil and gas resources found on federal land. 

(Photo Credit: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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