Judge Halts Drilling Leases in Utah


Injunction preserves 110,000 acres of wildlands


Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (393) 996-9611

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in favor of conservation groups on a temporary injunction they filed against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the leasing of more than 110,000 acres of Utah wilderness.

Earthjustice sought the injunction December 22 on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the Wilderness Society, and Earthjustice. The groups filed a lawsuit December 17 to stop the leasing.

The groups argued that the leases did not meet legal requirements regarding air quality analysis, the impacts of climate change, and the presence of archaeological sites. One of the contested areas, Nine Mile Canyon, is world-renowned for its remarkable rock art panels and other cultural features.

“In their rush to get these leases out the door, the Bush administration cut corners,” said Robin Cooley, attorney at Earthjustice. “We are hopeful that the Obama administration will reconsider BLM’s decision to sacrifice these magnificent lands to development.”

“This ruling makes clear that allowing oil and gas companies to lease and drill on Utah’s public lands would cause permanent and irreparable damage to some of our nation’s most pristine wilderness,” said Sharon Buccino, Senior Attorney for NRDC. “The case will now be heard in court, and we will do all we can to permanently protect Utah’s wilderness.”

The merits of the case will be heard later in 2009. Until that time, BLM is prohibited from cashing the checks issued for the contested acres of Utah wilderness.

“We’re thrilled with this decision,” said Stephen Bloch, Conservation Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s attempt to sell these leases just before the Bush administration left office has been showcases for what it really is — a parting gift to the oil and gas industry. Judge Urbina’s decision firmly puts the brakes on these plans.”

The contested areas near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon include lands that contain the nation’s greatest density of ancient rock art and other cultural resources. These lands were recently made available to industry through hastily approved resource management plans that have serious ramifications for 3 million acres of public lands. 

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