The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Eric Young, NRDC, 202-289-2373 or 703-217-6814 (cell)

Bush Administration Christmas Gift to Oil Companies Will be Announced on Election Day

Sale of Pristine Wilderness Slated to Happen Six Days Before Christmas


On election day, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to
announce that it will sell oil and gas leases on areas in eastern Utah,
including sections of Desolation Canyon, White River, Diamond Mountain,
Bourdette Draw, and other lands in the Nine Mile Canyon region. These
public lands had largely been off-limits to new oil and gas leasing
because of a series of federal court and administrative decisions
overturning earlier illegal BLM leasing decisions.

BLM had previously declared these pristine lands to be
wilderness-caliber landscapes. Photographs of these special places can
be viewed at

administrations proved that there can be a balance between wilderness
protection and oil and gas development," said former BLM Director Jim
Baca. "Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has worked tirelessly to
appease the oil and gas industry no matter the cost to our national
heritage of wild and untamed places. Extraordinary places like
Desolation Canyon deserve to be protected."

December 19 sale threatens large swaths of several magnificent public
landscapes, including Upper Desolation Canyon, where the Green River
meanders through hundreds of thousands of acres of unprotected
wilderness in the northern Book Cliffs. Desolation Canyon was named and
apparently first described by John Wesley Powell during his historic
expedition in 1869 down the Green and Colorado rivers to the Grand
Canyon. Upon entering the canyon, Powell described the area in his
diary as the "wildest" and a "wilderness." In its 1999 re-inventory of
the area, the BLM wrote of Desolation Canyon, "This is a place where a
visitor can experience true solitude -- where the forces of nature
continue to shape the colorful, rugged landscape." The BLM also cited
the area's "...cultural, scenic, geologic, botanical, and wildlife

"What makes this
action by the Interior Department so deplorable is that BLM itself
determined these areas to be wilderness-quality lands," said Stephen
Bloch, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
"Nonetheless, BLM is condemning these lands to a future of oil rigs and
gas pipelines and almost certain disqualification from future
wilderness designation."

most Western states, Utah has a surplus of BLM lands that have been
leased for oil and gas development but are not in production, as well
as a surplus of applications for permission to drill. At the end of
fiscal year 2006, there were approximately 4.6 million acres of BLM-
managed lands in Utah under lease, but just more than 1 million acres
in production. In addition, between January 1, 2001 and September 30,
2008, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 9,724 permits
to drill new oil and gas wells in Utah. As of September 30, there were
3,640 approved drill permits from that nearly eight-year period that
had not yet been drilled. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other
conservation groups have challenged only a handful of drilling projects
during this period.

giveaway to the oil companies on the way out of town borders on
criminal malfeasance," said Bobby McEnaney, an expert on public lands
at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "At a time when oil
companies already hold millions of acres of public lands under lease --
but not being developed -- there is simply no reason for BLM to rush
ahead with this lease sale."

over the magnificent Desolation Canyon and the surrounding wild lands
is the bow atop the massive gift to the oil and gas industry we've seen
for the last eight years," said Suzanne Jones, regional director of The
Wilderness Society's Central Rockies office. "For the American public
and our natural heritage, this Administration will act as Scrooge again
-- leaving us with very little, while rushing to let the privileged few
drill and mine every last piece of wild land."

The tracts of public lands that will be opened to leasing are dominated
by lands that BLM inventoried in Utah between 1996 and 1999 and again
between 2001 and 2007 and determined to have wilderness character. They
are largely all part of the lands proposed for Wilderness designation
in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R.1919/S.1170), a bill that has
been supported in the 110th Congress by 19 senators and 160 members of
the House of Representatives.

Bush administration's energy policy, which favors development
regardless of the environmental cost, endangers our national treasures
such as Dinosaur National Monument," said Karen Hevel-Mingo, program
manager for the National Parks Conservation Association's Southwest
Regional Office. "Increasingly surrounded by oil and gas development,
Dinosaur's resources, including air quality, soundscapes and visual
resources, are in peril. The latest leases, especially those near
Diamond Mountain would further exacerbate the problem.".

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